Following the fatal shooting of dozens of students at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, the national children’s crisis charity KidsPeace is issuing expert tips to help schools, parents, and children cope with the aftereffects of the situation. The 125-year-old nonprofit is also alerting schools and the public about the existence of a free resource that helps young people resolve problems before they become dangerous, and which has prevented school shootings in the past…
Find out at KidsPeace how to help your child cope with war, with bullies, with grief; how to spot an eating disorder, or deal with any other crises.
Tips for Schools, Parents & America’s Kids:
FOR PARENTS: For young people who have fears that their school or college is not safe or may become the target of a school shooting, KidsPeace offers 10 ways for parents and teachers to reassure and help their kids through such a crisis (see below).
FOR SCHOOLS: To help school systems see the early warning signs of danger and deal with the psychological fallout of the scare, KidsPeace has online articles at www.kidspeace.org from its national "Healing" magazine.
FOR KIDS: Perhaps most importantly, KidsPeace and top children’s experts Dr. Alvin Poussaint from Harvard and Dr. Lewis Lipsitt of Brown University have created a unique free website, www.TeenCentral.net that allows older kids and teens to work through the emotional stresses of growing up today – before those stresses become dangerous or overwhelming. TeenCentral.net, which gets 20 million hits a year, gives clinically screened help and hope to kids in all 50 states, at U.S. military bases worldwide, and in dozens of countries around the globe. The site helps kids identify the problems they face, from depression to school pressures, peer problems, family disputes, drugs, alcohol, smoking, even suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming others.
10 Tips for Talking to Children About Shootings
C.T. O’Donnell II and the clinical experts at KidsPeace have compiled a list of tips to help parents talk to their children about what happened and look out for future signs of distress:
1. Listen to children. Allow them to express their concerns and fears.
2. Regardless of age, the most important issue is to reassure children of safety and security. Tell children that you, their school, their friends and their communities are all focused on their safety and that those around them are working for their safety. Have discussions about those dedicated to protecting them like police, teachers and other school officials, neighbors and all concerned adults throughout the community.
3. When discussing the events with younger children, limit the amount of information shared to some basic facts. Use words meaningful to them (not words like sniper, etc.). Do not go into specific details.
4. School-aged children will ask, "Can this happen here, or to me?" Do not lie to children. Reiterate how the community is focused on working to keep everyone safe in the community.
5. Parents, caregivers and teachers should be cautious of permitting young children to watch news or listen to radio that is discussing or showing the situation. It is too difficult for most of them to process. Personal discussions are the best way to share information with this group. Also, plan to discuss this many times over the coming weeks.
6. When discussing the events with preteens and teens, more detail is appropriate, and many will already have seen news broadcasts. Do not let them focus too much on graphic details. Rather, elicit their feelings and concerns and focus your discussions on what they share with you. Be careful of how much media they are exposed to. Talk directly with them about the tragedy and answer their questions truthfully.
7. Although this group is more mature, do not forget to reassure them of their safety and your efforts to protect them. Regardless of age, kids must hear this message.
8. Be on the lookout for physical symptoms of anxiety that children may demonstrate. They may be a sign that a child, although not directly discussing the situation, is very troubled by the recent events. Talk more directly to children who exhibit these signs:
Trouble sleeping or eating
Loss of concentration
Refusal to go to school Clinging behavior
9. Parents and caregivers should often reassure children that they will be protected and kept safe. During tragedies like these, words expressing safety and reassurance with concrete plans should be discussed and agreed upon within the family to provide the most comfort to children and teens.
10. If you are concerned about your children and their reaction to this or any tragedy, talk directly with their school counselor, family doctor, local mental health professional or have your older children visit KidsPeace’s teen-help web site, which provides anonymous and clinically-screened help and resources for teen problems before they become overwhelming.