If you are an educator, school leader or parent- you are facing this question from the young people in your life right now. While experts scramble to find solutions to school violence, we owe it to our students and our own children (I have four of my own so I feel these tragedies as an educator and as a mother) to help them. Here are some ideas on how to talk with them and some resources that may help you help them.
1. Make sure your own emotions are under control
This is a time when our students and our own children need to have the adults in their lives be calm and reassuring. If you need help with your own emotions, get the help now. There are times we all need help and it can come from a variety of places- a spouse, a dear friend, a close trusted peer, a doctor, counselor or religious leader.
2. Do not talk about the violence within ear shot of a student or child
unless, of course, you are intentionally talking with that student to help them. My husband and I were checking in to a hotel for a conference last Friday and two women in front of us in line were teachers. They were talking about the most recent school violence. They were talking in loud, scared voices and their conversation was laced with emotion. While I completely understand and respect their fears, their voices carried over the marble floor and the young family checking in behind us heard every word. The look in the children’s eyes revealed they, too, had heard every word and were scared. We must be very careful who overhears our conversations.
3. Don’t assume- take time to understand.
Your students may or may not know about the recent school shootings. Some may have heard things from friends or overheard adults talking. Their information may be inaccurate. Ask questions to find out what they know, correct misinformation, and then give them opportunities to ask questions as needed. Don’t make the mistake of giving too much information if it is not needed or requested. The National Association of School Psychologists offers comprehensive guidelines about age appropriate conversations regarding violence: http://nasponline.org. Search “talkviolence” and you will find excellent tips in multiple languages for all age groups.
We can remind our students about all the people in their lives who are working very hard to keep them safe such as policemen, parents, teachers, security personnel.
5. Give students time and opportunities to process.
Your students will process the information differently based on their age and proximity to the event. For example, students near the small town of Santa Fe, TX (the site of the most recent tragedy as of the writing of this article) will probably need much more help, support and time to heal than students in a state that has never directly experienced violence. Art therapy, music therapy, or time spent reading an appropriate book may help. Check out this DC library website; it has some great age appropriate books to read to your students: https://www.dclibrary.org/helpingkidscope.
6. Give students a way to help.
Often, the best therapy is to get busy helping someone else. Involve your students by asking them how they would like to help. Suggestions could include writing notes or coloring pictures of hope and comfort and sending them to those who have been directly impacted by the tragedy. For older students, they could develop and run a fundraising event (e.g. charity auction, 5K race) to help others. Or they may want to write to legislators, write an op-ed, start a blog or make a podcast.
7. Keep your routine.
Students find comfort in the normalcy of routines. By keeping to your regular classroom routines as much as possible, it can help your students feel secure.
8. Love, love, then love your students some more.
Our students will need an extra dose of kindness, comfort and hope from the adults in their lives. They will be looking to us and thinking “Who is going to keep me safe?” The Fred Rogers Company has some great ideas on how to help children and young people dealing with tragedy. Check out the website at:
My heart and my prayers are with all of you who have answered the call to be educators. You are my heroes!
“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.” –Helen Keller