Ways Parents Can Help Children Cope With News of School Violence

In the wake of the tragic news of a shooting at North Park Elementary School in San Bernardino, California, Save the Children is offering tips for families, teachers, and communities to help children cope with news of school violence.

“We are saddened to hear the news of yet another act of violence at an elementary school – a place that should be filled with joy and learning,” said Bill Corwin, Vice President of U.S. Programs for Save the Children. “Through our many years of working in elementary schools across the United States, including in San Bernardino County, we know that student safety must remain a top priority.”

Here are ten tips Save the Children recommends for parents, teachers, grandparents and caregivers to provide comfort and understanding to children:

1. Limit television time. While it can be important for adults to stay informed about the situation, television images and reports may be confusing and frightening for children. Watching too many television reports can overwhelm children and even adults. So, limit the number of television reports about the situation you and your children watch.

2. Listen to your children carefully. Try to find out what your child knows and understands about the situation before responding to their questions. Children can experience stress when they do not understand dangerous experiences. Find out what your child knows about the crisis. Then, talk to your child to help him or her understand the situation and ease their concerns. Refrain from sharing graphic details, but use the opportunity to talk through any concerns that your child may have. Listen carefully to your children, reassure them and be honest. Never lie. Address any inaccurate concerns they may have, such as school shootings happen frequently or children are not safe at school. Focus on safety, and help children recognize the plans that are in place to protect them in all kinds of emergency situations.

3. Teach children response options. There may be a few ways to respond to an emergency situation based on where an intruder or danger is located. These include Get Out, Keep Out, or Hide Out.

    • Get Out: If it is possible to get away from danger, go to a safe place. Teachers, leaders and first responders will come to find you in your meeting place or another place.
    • Keep Out: If it is not possible to get out of the building or out of harm’s way, keep danger out of the room by locking and blocking the doors and staying away from the windows.
    • Hide Out: Stay out of sight from danger by hiding behind large pieces of furniture. Try to stay quiet so we know if we need to get out or when the danger has passed.

4. Follow the leader. Teach children that there are adults including teachers, leaders and first responders working to keep them safe. It’s important to stay calm and listen to teachers for directions.

5. It’s OK to break the rules. Sometimes children may be separated from their leader or teacher. In the absence of an adult, kids may have to make safety choices on their own. Let children know that no one will be angry at them for breaking rules, like entering staff-only areas, or running in the hall, to be safe. The most important thing is for them to be safe.

6. Give your children extra time and attention. Children need close, personal attention to know they are safe. Talk, play and, most importantly, listen to them. Find time to engage in special activities with children of all ages.

7. Be a model for your children. Your children will learn how to deal with tragic events by seeing how you respond. The amount you tell children about how you’re feeling should depend on the age and maturity of the child. You may be able to disclose more to older or more mature children but remember to do so calmly.

8. Monitor your own behavior. Make a point of being sensitive to those impacted by the crisis, including yourself. This is an opportunity to teach your children that we all need to help each other.

9. Help your children return to a normal routine. Children usually benefit from routine activities such as set eating times, bed time, and playing with others. Parents should make sure their children’s school is also returning to normal patterns and not spending a lot of time discussing the emergency.

10. Encourage your children to do volunteer work. Helping others can give children a sense of control and security and promote helping behavior. Following an emergency, children and adolescents can bring about positive change by supporting those in need.

To learn more, visit www.savethechildren.org/cope.

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