Sadly, this is not the first time I have run some of the information in this post. The mass shooting in a popular gay Orlando nightclub by a gunman who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State terrorist group has made it relevant again. Here is information about how teachers and parents can address the violence with students of different ages.
Here, from the National Association of School Psychologists:
High-profile acts of violence, particularly in schools, can confuse and frighten children who may feel in danger or worry that their friends or loved ones are at risk. They will look to adults for information and guidance on how to react. Parents and school personnel can help children feel safe by establishing a sense of normalcy and security and talking with them about their fears.
1. Reassure children that they are safe. Emphasize that schools are very safe. 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.
2. Make time to talk. Let their questions be your guide as to how much information to provide. Be patient; children and youths do not always talk about their feelings readily. Watch for clues that they may want to talk, such as hovering around 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.
*Early 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 being locked, child-monitoring efforts on the playground and emergency drills practiced during the school day.
*Upper elementary and early middle school children will be more vocal in asking questions about whether they truly are safe and what is being done at their school. They may need assistance separating reality from fantasy. Discuss efforts of school and community leaders to provide safe schools.
*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.
*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 on campus, 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.
4. Review 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.
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. However, some children may be at risk for more intense reactions. Children who have had a past traumatic experience 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.
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 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.
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 if they seem overwhelmed.
And here is more from GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, which started in 1990 as a small group of teachers in Massachusetts and is now a leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students.
Having a supportive educator to turn to can make all of the difference in the world to students who need a haven to discuss their feelings and responses to the events that occurred. This is particularly important for LGBT, Latino and Muslim students who may be feeling especially vulnerable because of the identities of the victims and the perpetrator in today’s horrific events.
Below is a short list of crisis response and emotional support resources that we hope complement your school-based support services and provide you with the guidance and reassurance you need as you navigate your way through the coming days.
Need Someone to Talk To (or know someone who does)?
For those needing additional support, there are several agencies and hotlines offering their services:
1) The Disaster Distress Helpline 1-800-985-5990. The Helpline can provide immediate counseling to anyone who needs help in dealing with the tragic event in Orlando Florida. The Helpline is a 24 hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week resource that responds to people who need crisis counseling after experiencing a natural or man-made disaster or tragedy. The helpline can also be accessed at http://disasterdistress.samhsa.gov and TTY for deaf and hearing impaired: 1-800-846-8517.
2) You can also contact the English/Spanish hotline of the New York City Anti-Violence Project at 212-714-1141.
3) The Trevor Project is also providing support at 866-488-7386 and thetrevorproject.org. They are particularly good at working with youth.
Wondering How to Address the Topic with Students?
Your school or district may have specific guidelines to follow after traumatic events. There are also organizations who have developed resources for schools to use in the wake of any crisis:
1) Download the NEA Healthy Futures School Crisis Guide (Parts 2 and 3 will be the most useful)
2) Visit the American School Counselor Association website for a comprehensive list of crisis response and mental health resources for educators. There you will find best practices and tools to help your school community respond immediately to the needs of students and continue the healing in the coming weeks and months.
3) Of course, information on LGBT-affirming practices as part of your everyday work is available from GLSEN in our Ready, Set, Respect!(Grades K-5) and Safe Space Kit (Grades 6-12) toolkits, which can be downloaded at glsen.org.