We were all deeply saddened and devastated to learn of the horrific shootings in Newton, CT on Friday. As we try to process the unthinkable, we keep those who lost their lives, and their families, in our thoughts and prayers.
Coming to grips with a tragedy of this magnitude is difficult for adults, and even more so for children. As a community, we want to make sure to protect, support and reassure our own children who will undoubtedly be hearing about these horrific events. Our school psychologist and guidance counselor – Shareen Rosenthal and Erin Langstaff – will be working closely with our staff to provide guidance and support for talking to your children in developmentally appropriate ways throughout this coming week.
We will be meeting together as a staff on Monday morning to share ideas about how best to handle the conversations that will inevitably come up during the school day. In grades 2-5, the teachers will be ready to talk to their classes in whole class meeting, as most children will undoubtedly have heard something about the tragedy. Our aim is to provide a safe forum for questions and concerns, to diffuse misconceptions and fears, and to provide reassurance. In PreK , Kindergarten and 1st Grade, teachers will be advised to make decisions about how best to address student concerns based on what they are hearing from the children themselves. In early childhood classes, this is often done best on an individualized basis, so as not to frighten any children who may not have heard about these events at home.
Be assured that all of our staff will be watching for children who seem especially affected by the tragedy. We will be ready to provide individualized, as well as small group support, with our guidance counselor and school psychologist.
To support you in speaking with your children, we urge you to visit the National Association for School Psychologists’ website at www.nasponline.org . They have suggested the following guidelines for supporting your children (*Adapted from crisis information posted on the NASP website):
1. REASSURE CHILDREN THAT THEY ARE SAFE. Emphasize that schools are very safe. 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 youth 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.
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.
• 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 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.
Some other websites that may be helpful include:
Please be assured the safety of everyone in our building is our highest priority, and that we continue to monitor our existing safety plans as well as our emergency protocols.
Please feel free to contact myself, Caroline Thaler or Erin Langstaff with any concerns or questions.