In the Aftermath of NewtownPosted by Anne Santa on December 15, 2012
Dear Parents and Educators,
Our children are growing up in a world where they are more and more aware of times of disaster, natural and human made. With the media and rapid travel of news, only our very youngest children are now out of “earshot of news.” Today our country suffers the loss of children’s lives in Newtown, Connecticut. Many of your children may hear of this heartbreaking and senseless event over the next few days. As this shooting occurred in a school and to children, the impact of it on you and your children is deep. With this in mind, we want to provide some ideas of ways for parents and educators to support students and families.
For teachers of young children, listen closely to children’s conversations and watch their play. If you see a child talking about the shooting, talk to that child one-on-one, addressing his/her concerns in order to provide comfort and reassurance. Be sure to let the child’s parents know.
Older children may want and need to talk about it, with their friends or with their teachers. Our suggestions for helping those conversations are very similar to those we would offer for younger children, with an additional reminder that in homes where there are younger children, those talks should happen away from them. At school, some discussion may emerge. Teachers should monitor those and listen both to the information students share and for the feelings that may accompany them. Both warrant a response along the guidelines suggested below.
At home, we hope you will consider these strategies:
- Increase parent availability. Children are likely to be anxious and fearful if they know about this shooting. They may identify with the school children at the school in Newtown and they will need both physical and emotional support.
- Reduce access to media and “Breaking News.” Parents should be the ones to answer questions they raise. Do not flood children with details. Children should not be exposed to the repeated images of children and families in the middle of a disaster.
- It is better to respond to questions by saying I don't know than to oversimplify by saying the shooter was “mentally ill.” That can cause more fearfulness of others down the way.
- Ask your older children to be mindful of discussions that might be upsetting to their younger siblings. Be aware that your children listen to hushed voices and may overhear conversations between adults.
- Acknowledge your own feelings and listen to what your child is feeling.
- If your children ask about their own safety at school, remind them of the ways their school keeps its community safe. For example, at Bank Street we have a security guard, ID cards, teachers, and parents who know each other well.
- More information on school violence prevention and response is available from the National Association of School Psychologists.
Millions of children go to school safely every day and that will continue. Parents and teachers are dedicated to that every day. Our hearts are sad. We are grateful we work in our communities where adults work together to love and talk to our children in ways that will soothe and reassure. Please take care of yourselves in the aftermath of this tragedy.
Dr. Anne Santa, LS & MS Psychologist
Bank Street School for Children
- TIME for Kids interviews Dr. Anne Santa on "Teaching Tough Topics" (PDF)
- Bank Street Resource Guide: Helping Children and Families Cope with Tragedy