Over 1500 School Shootings- Discussion Points
At Total Learning Centers (TLC) today we had an all-school assembly to talk about the shooting last week in Florida.
Students are, of course, upset about the news. This is normal. My daughter was just starting high school when the first school shooting occurred. She remembers being anxious at school and wants the students at Total Learning Centers to feel safe. We all do!
Following is a quick overview of the discussion and some resources for you all if you would like to continue the conversation at home. Any concerns, please reach out to me directly, anytime.
These are the points I emphasized at today’s School Assembly based on recommendations from the National Association for School Psychologists (NASP).
- Reassure children that they are safe. Emphasize that schools are very safe in general and TLC specifically. We have safety measures in place, such as people who come in the building cannot use our restrooms or “look around.” They have to have an appointment and be approved. Validate their feelings. Explain that all feelings are okay when a tragedy occurs. Let children talk about their feelings, help put them into perspective, and assist them in expressing these feelings appropriately.
- Make time to talk.Let their questions be your guide as to how much information to provide.
- Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate.
- Elementary school children need brief, simple information that should be balanced with reassurances that their school and homes are safe and that adults are there to protect them. Give simple examples of school safety like reminding children about exterior doors at home are locked, child monitoring efforts outside and inside, and emergency drills practiced during the school day. For example, earlier in the day we had a successful fire drill.
Upper middle school and high school students will have strong and varying opinions about the causes of violence in schools and society. They will share concrete suggestions about how to make school safer and how to prevent tragedies in society. Based on one student’s concern we also suggested anyone who wanted to make a card or write a letter of support to the students in Florida were welcome to do so.
Emphasize the role that students have in maintaining safe schools by following school safety guidelines (e.g., not providing building access to strangers, reporting strangers at school, reporting threats to the school safety made by students or community members, etc.), communicating any personal safety concerns to school administrators, and accessing support for emotional needs.
- Review personal safety procedures.This should include procedures and safeguards at school and at home. Help children identify at least one adult at school and in the community to whom they go if they feel threatened or at risk. We reviewed all the adults that students could seek out.
- Observe children’s emotional state. Some children may not express their concerns verbally. Changes in behavior, appetite, and sleep patterns can also indicate a child’s level of anxiety or discomfort. In most children, these symptoms will ease with reassurance and time.
However, some children may be at risk for more intense reactions. Children who have had a past traumatic experience (such as bullying) or personal loss, suffer from depression or other mental illness, or with special needs may be at greater risk for severe reactions than others.
Seek the help of mental health professional if you are at all concerned.
- Limit television viewing of these events.This may be the most important. Our children see it not only on TV but on Youtube. Even worse, violent images are repeated over and over and stick with our students much longer than we would like.
Be aware developmentally inappropriate information can cause anxiety or confusion, particularly in young children.
Adults also need to be mindful of the content of conversations that they have with each other in front of children, even teenagers and limit their exposure to vengeful, hateful, and angry comments that might be misunderstood.
- Maintain a normal routine.Keeping to a regular schedule can be reassuring and promote physical health. Ensure that children get plenty of sleep, regular meals, and exercise. Encourage them to keep up with their schoolwork and extracurricular activities but don’t push them if they seem overwhelmed.
Suggested Points to Emphasize When Talking to Children
Schools are safe places.
School staff works with parents and public safety providers (local police and fire departments, emergency responders, hospitals, etc.) to keep students safe.
The school building is safe because … (For example, at TLC we share with students that we know who comes in. The front is under observation and there is only one entrance. The back is ALWAYS locked and can only be an exit).
We all play a role in the school safety. Be observant and let an adult know if you see or hear something that makes you feel uncomfortable, nervous or frightened.
There is a difference between reporting, tattling or gossiping. You can provide important information that may prevent harm either directly or anonymously by telling a trusted adult what you know or hear.
Although there is no absolute guarantee that something bad will never happen, it is important to understand the difference between the possibility of something happening and probability that it will affect you (our school community).
Senseless violence is hard for everyone to understand. Doing things that you enjoy, sticking to your normal routine, and being with friends and family help make us feel better and keep us from worrying about the event.
Sometimes people do bad things that hurt others. They may be unable to handle their anger, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or suffering from mental illness. Adults (parents, teachers, police officers, doctors, faith leaders) work very hard to get those people help and keep them from hurting others. It is important for all of us to know how to get help if we feel really upset or angry and to stay away from drugs and alcohol.
Students should stay away from guns and other weapons. Tell an adult if you know someone has a gun.
Violence is never a solution to personal problems. Students can be part of the positive solution by participating in and learning conflict mediation skills, and seeking help from an adult if they or a peer is struggling with anger, depression, or other emotions they cannot control. NASP has additional information for parents and educators on school safety, violence prevention, children’s trauma reactions, and crisis response at www.nasponline.org.
Written by: Dr. Carol Utay