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Our community remains aware of tragedy because of the events on December 1st, 1997. We experienced a shooting at Heath High School. Lives were changed forever on that day. Since the Heath shooting there has been much healing, though it was not thought possible at that time. In light of the recent events that took place in Connecticut at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, I want to offer a few suggestions to assist our community. We want to promote healing while avoiding further traumatization of our children.

Life can be compared to a huge heavy suitcase. It can be so heavy that a little child cannot carry it.  Children cope much better when we put what they can carry in a smaller suit case that they can master. We might otherwise overwhelm the child or children leading to stressful reaction. The following are suggestions that will hopefully lead to helpful actions in what a child may be able to bear.

Start the school day as you would normally do with regard to schedule and routine. You might engage your students by asking if there had been any events that have taken place that they had noticed on television. The open ended question allows them to tell whatever is on their minds rather than being led to specific events. You may learn more than just trauma of the school shooting.

Keep the students under control by asking them to speak one at a time. It may prove beneficial for children to share their questions about the event.  Allow them to share their thoughts and feelings. Be ready for emotional responses with a box of Kleenex nearby. You might allow a little more time for play and self-expression with younger children.

It may be beneficial to talk about death and what happens when people die. There is a great book for preschoolers, “Dinosaurs Die” by Marc Brown. It is based on the public television character, Arthur. It is wonderful book to allow for expression as well as questions about death.

Children may want to tell stories of death or violence that they have witnessed. Keep close watch on the level of gruesome details; also watch reactions of children who avoid discussion. This may be a time where you observe children who may have need for additional counseling due to traumas of their own.

Children benefit from being reassured that adults are watching out for them both at home and while as school for their safety.  Repetition of this statement by both teaching staff and parents may be very beneficial. Statements should be made with confidence and concern. Encourage children to let you know anytime that they feel upset, unsafe or overwhelmed. Share with the children about counselors being available for them to talk with if needed.

It is important during a response to a trauma that we do not say too much or over react creating a new trauma which will only worsen existing events. A calm reassuring voice is a must while keeping your point’s simple and age appropriate. The most important thing we can do in response to the recent events is to listen. LISTEN!!!

Here are some tips in dealing with these types of situations:

  • Be cautious about the amount of exposure to TV or other media forms with photos that could be upsetting.
  • Parents and teachers are both encouraged to pay attention to their children’s behaviors and emotions. Please seek help if new sudden changes should occur.
  • This is an important time for parents and teachers to keep one another informed of the changes that they may be witnessing.
  • Seeking the assistance of a school counselor or mental health consultant may be required based on the events and the needs of the child or children.

 

Roger D. Thompson, MS, LMFT

 Adapted from “Caring about Kids after Trauma or Death” by the Institute of Trauma and Stress at NYU.

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