It’s been quite the half-week in news. US strikes in Syria, terrorist attacks in Stockholm and then Cairo, and now a shooting at a school in San Bernadino, California.
Chances are your students may be feeling a bit on edge.
Here are some resources that we’ve found to help process violence with students, whether that violence takes place in schools, in the community, or in the world at large.
Colorín colorado has a good 15-item list for talking with children about violence in schools, but we think the tips could work for discussing violence that takes place in many different settings. Bonus: at the bottom of the post are links to resources in eleven different languages: English, Spanish, Korean, French, Vietnamese, Amharic, Chinese, Portuguese, Somali, Arabic, and Kurdish-Bahdini. We also appreciate the citation of the National Association of School Psychologists’ age-specific tips:
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 to school administrators, and accessing support for emotional needs.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has a PDF with information about talking with children about war. They note in particular that certain groups of students may need more care and attention when dealing with these subjects:
- Some children might be particularly vulnerable to anxiety and distress during a time of war. This includes children of refugee or immigrant families; children with depression, anxiety, or other mental health needs; and children who have experienced prior trauma or loss. For children who have experienced prior losses, anxiety about war could result in increased worries about separation. Children with histories of trauma could experience a resurgence of symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Therefore, it is important for parents and school personnel to keep in mind children’s vulnerabilities in understanding their response to concern about war and to consider any extra needs they may have.
We highly recommend this resource from UNICEF, Talking with Children about War and Violence in the World. It’s got great information and suggestions, and it provides these through a Q/A format, highlighting questions that a teacher or other adult might have.
12. How can I talk with children if I feel that my own grasp of the facts and issues is inadequate?
Fortunately, we don’t need to be experts or know all the facts about something in order to listen to children. The questions of very young children seldom require complicated technical answers. When older children ask for information we don’t have, it is fine to say something like, “That’ s an interesting question, and I don’t know the answer. How can we find that out together?” The process of figuring out where to get the information, and going through the steps to obtain it, can be a powerfully reassuring experience for children, especially when a trusted adult participates with them…
(Fair to say that this particular question is frequently our response to a lot of what’s going on in the world today, and it’s always helpful to us to have concrete tips for what to do when you have no idea where to begin.)