SchoolFamily Voices

Join our bloggers as they share their experiences on the challenges and joys of helping children succeed in school.

Reassuring Students After the Unthinkable Happens

I had another post all ready to go for this week…then the unthinkable happened in Newtown, Conn. This is such a horrific tragedy, especially for the families of the victims. It is also a pivotal event for American teachers. People should be aware of how this has impacted everything that we, as teachers, strive to accomplish in our classrooms—and how hard it is not to personalize this awful event.

I have spent 25 years of my career as a 1st grade teacher, interacting daily with 6- and 7-year-old children. Each day the children and I would share the joys and the struggles of learning. I have firsthand knowledge of how a classroom operates, and how that operation creates a safe and nurturing environment.

Yet so many times in the past few years, my school has been required to conduct “Code Red” drills. If my students became anxious or scared about the drills, I would always reassure them that this was just a practice—that we would keep them safe.

My colleagues are stunned and shattered. How will they talk about this in their class? What will they say if their students ask, “Could that happen here?” Yet all are determined to be strong for their students. They’ll put their own fears and insecurities aside to reassure, nurture, and recreate trust that schools are, and will continue to be, a safe place.

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How To Talk to Your Children About the Tragedy

The entire nation mourns when tragedy strikes a school like Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. The pain must be unbearable for the families and friends of the children and educators who were so mercilessly killed. When a crisis like this happens, each individual must learn to move forward in their own way. We are forever changed, however, and we must establish a “new normal” life as soon as we can. This is true for us and also for our children. As parents, we worry. We want our children to feel safe and happy, yet we feel inadequate because we do not know how to help them when we ourselves are also hurting.

Children take their cues from the trusted adults around them. If they see that you are upset, they will be upset as well. Try to stay calm as you answer their questions. There is no need to tell them everything, especially if they are very young. Focus only on what your child has already heard, and make sure you do not keep the television on where your child hears and sees the story over and over again.

Your children need your assurance that you are there with them and will take care of them. Talk about the policemen, firemen, doctors, and nurses who took care of everyone at the school and how lucky we are to have people like that to help us when we need it. They also need to know that this is an extremely rare occurrence. It is very unlikely that it will happen in your child’s school.

Keep in mind what LeAnna Webber, a school psychologist in Cincinnati says: “This shooting was the work of a very sick individual. It is certainly very scary, and schools are doing everything they can to prevent it from ever happening again.” Webber says to emphasize to children that there are thousands of schools, and the chance of such an event occurring at any one is very low. As well, she adds, “It may make kids feel more secure to ask their teachers about their lockdown procedures and ask if they can practice those again. All schools have crisis plans and teachers are trained and practice what to do in any number of emergency situations. If you think about it, those procedures saved lives in Sandy Hook.”

Children respond differently to events like this. Some seem pretty much normal, and others are frightened, angry, or worried. Children need to know that no matter how they are feeling, it is OK. Even children who do not seem to be affected may actually be feeling emotional. If possible, get your children to tell you how they are feeling inside. Tell them you feel the same way, and assure them that you love them and will be there for them. What children need to know is that their own life isn’t going to change.

It is important to stay physically close to your children until you are sure they are feeling safe. Try to stick to your normal family routine as much as possible. But if your child needs extra support such as sleeping with a light on, reading an extra bedtime story, sitting in your lap, or extra hugs, you should allow it. It is sometimes helpful to involve them in locking the doors before bed and talking about your family’s safety rules.

We all find comfort in different ways. Some children are comforted by writing or drawing. Older kids might want to write a poem in honor of the children who lost their lives or send cards to their families. Younger children could draw a picture to send to the school or the policemen who responded to the tragedy. Some might want to attend a memorial service for these children or a prayer vigil to pray for all of our schools and teachers. Children may want to contribute their allowance to charities that help victims of tragedy. All of these give us a sense that we are helping in the only ways we know how and can provide the emotional comfort we need.

If you find that your child continues to feel angry, afraid, or otherwise emotional longer than you expect they should, seek help from a counselor or psychologist. Events like what occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary are traumatic, and some children need more support than what a parent is able to give. A trained professional may be better able to help your child feel safe and secure.

Finally, you also need to take care of yourself. When you have to be strong for your children, it takes a toll on you. You feel pain as you imagine what it would be like to lose your own child. You may also need professional help to deal with this pain. Do not be too proud to seek that help.

For additional reading, see the National Association of School Psychologists handout, Helping Children Cope With Terrorism: Tips for Families and Educators.

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How To Discuss the Tragedy in Colorado With Your Children

Dear SchoolFamily.com readers,

With news of the shooting tragedy in Colorado, our hearts are heavy and our condolences and thoughts go out to all affected by this dreadful event.

One of the toughest things parents can face is how to talk with their children about events as horrific as this. Even before we’ve had a chance to right ourselves and react, sometimes our children—even very young kids—have learned the news from television, newspapers, and sites on the Internet.

To help you discuss this tragedy with your children, we're sharing this informative article from the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Talking to Children About Disasters.”

For children who’ve endured and/or are recovering from a trauma or recent tragedy, our article on “How to Help Your Children Deal With Grief,”offers suggestions from experts on children and grieving, which can help you process difficult feelings with your child. 

How have your children reacted to the news in Colorado? Have you found ways to help them cope and process this tragic event? Please share your thoughts with us, and other SchoolFamily.com readers, by commenting below.

Carol Brooks Ball, Editor, SchoolFamily.com


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School Shootings: Help Your Child Process Tragedy in the News

Our hearts and thoughts go out to the residents of Chardon, Ohio after the tragic shootings at Chardon High School on Monday, Feb. 27. As of this writing, three of the five teenage victims have succumbed to their injuries. TJ Lane, identified as the shooter, reportedly told police he’d been bullied at the school.


Tragedies like this raise myriad questions and can trigger grief reactions from children—and from parents as well. How should your handle your child’s confused feelings? How do you reassure your child that her school is safe (assuming you think it is safe)? Does her school have a strong anti-bullying program, and does it go far enough?


Perhaps the most pressing question for parents is how to help their child comprehend and interpret such tragic, frightening news. Our SchoolFamily.com experts say that parents should begin by managing, as much as possible, what their children see and read about the event in the media—on television, in newspapers, via the Internet, and on social media sites. While children may be reading at an advanced level, few are emotionally prepared to handle details of tragic and catastrophic events. Read more about this in Help Manage Anxiety About Current Events, on SchoolFamily.com. And regardless of the cause, parents can help their children handle overall anxiety by reading Help Kids Learn to Manage Stress.


What if your child is being bullied? Or—what if your child is the bully? Start by reading our articles on bullying prevention, which include information about preventing your child from being a bully’s victim, to teaching your child empathy.  To protect your child from online bullying known as cyberbullying, learn the red flags to watch for in this SchoolFamily.com guest blog post by bullying prevention expert Dr. Michele Borba.


If your suspect (or know) that your child is a bully, read the no-nonsense tips about what to do in this two-part guest blog post by Annie Fox, author, online educator, and host of Cruel’s Not Cool, an anti-bullying online forum.


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Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?

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Sometimes - 25.4%
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Total votes: 4919
The voting for this poll has ended on: June 25, 2016