“I’ve reached out to a local school psychologist and done some research on the best ways to help protect our children from fear,” Benedetto said. “Both national and local sources emphasize that the first thing we need to do is reassure our children that they are safe.
“According to a school psychologist with whom I spoke, we need to emphasize that schools are very safe and have many safety provisions in place. Let’s face it, we can never be 100 percent certain that something won’t happen to us at any moment, but we shouldn’t worry about it every minute. I urge parents to contact their schools for complete information, and for other resources for discussing the issue with their children.
"Children, staff and parents all have an important role in promoting school safety and reassuring students that schools are generally very safe places for children and youth. The psychologist stressed that our mutual goal is to reassure students that, although there is always the possibility of violence occurring in school, the probability of a school experiencing a violent act is extremely low. We want to work together with parents and community to support our students in feeling safe when they are at school. Adults can provide leadership by reassuring students that schools are generally very safe places for children and youth and reiterate what safety measures and student supports are already in place in their schools."
The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), confirms this and has numerous resources online to help parents and teachers talk to children about violence (www.nasponline.org/resources).
Here are their tips for talking to children about high profile acts of violence, which can confuse and frighten children who may feel they, or friends and loved ones, are at risk:
1. Reassure children that they are safe. Emphasize schools are safe and 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 thee feeling appropriately.
2. Make time to talk. Let their questions be your guide as to how much information to provide. Be patient; children and youth do not always talk about their feelings readily. Watch for clues that they may want to talk, such as hovering around you while you do the dishes or yard work. Some children prefer writing, playing music or doing an art project as an outlet. Young children may need concrete activities (such as drawing, looking at picture books, or imaginative play) to help them identify and express their feelings.
3. Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate. Elementary, middle, and high school students all have appropriate approaches. For example, elementary school children need brief, simple information that their school and homes are safe, and that adults are there to protect them. While middle and high school children will be more vocal in asking questions about school safety and have strong and varying opinions about the causes of violence in schools and society. The complete explanation for each level is on the NASP website page.
4. Review safety procedures. This should include procedures and safeguards at school and home. Help children identify at least one adult at school and in the community to whom they can go if they feel threatened or at risk.
5. 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. Some children, however, may be at risk for more intense reactions, especially if they’ve had a past traumatic experience, personal loss, have special needs, or suffer from depression or mental illness. Seek the help of a mental health professional if you are at all concerned.
6. Limit television viewing of these events. Limit television viewing and be aware if the television is on in common areas. Developmentally inappropriate information can cause anxiety or confusion particularly in young children, Adults also need to be mindful of the content of conversations 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.
7. 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 away if they seem overwhelmed.
The American Psychological Association (APA), is another source for information on this subject and they have a help center with additional information and resources: http://www.apa.org/topics/violence/school-shooting.aspx.
“The school psychologist I spoke to also emphasized that ‘working together is so important. Be vigilant and report any suspicious activity. Ask them who they’d go to if they saw anything or anyone who made them feel unsafe. We are all in this together and keeping our students safe is our number one priority. They deserve to feel safe and we need to work together to keep them safe.’”
Benedetto is a 2018 candidate for Oswego County Family Court Judge, http://thomforjudge.com.