How do you talk to your children about the Connecticut tragedy?

This is a picture of a typical classroom…a typical fun school activity (Dr. Seuss)…and a typical happy moment between classmates and teachers.

Just as everyone else has been since the horrifying events this past Friday, my heart is in pain and prayer for all of the children, teachers, families, and community that were directly affected and victimized.  The unfathomable acts that occurred devastate my soul.  As a teacher, I have been well aware of the realities of school safety since the Columbine tragedy.  Ever since my first year of teaching, implementing and practicing “lockdown” procedures with students has been a new world order.  I knew if an intruder were to enter the school with malicious intent, it was my responsibility to protect my students through any means possible.  As a mother, you intensely feel the same responsibility in protecting your own children at all times whether they are with you or not.  I’m sure you were like me on Friday…you either wanted to pick up your children from school as soon as you found out or you couldn’t wait to see them as soon as they came home.

I knew my children were probably shielded from the news on Friday while at school, so I possibly had time to figure out what I was going to say to my children and how I was going to do it.  As parents, we’re constantly trying to decipher the fine line between informing our children with what they need to know and shielding them from the realities of the world.  This changes as they grow older and is affected by our children’s past experiences, developmental level, and emotional esteem.

My children are 11 and 8, so I knew they were old enough to know and have a certain level of understanding of what happened.  I’d like to share my thoughts on how I am currently handling this, not intended as an attempt to provide a definitive instructional how-to guide, but as a discussion point for us parents to help navigate through this as a community.  You know your children best and how to handle this with them.  This is how I am handling it right now with my children.

I told my children what happened.  In simple terms, I explained to them that a tragic event happened at an elementary school where an armed intruder came into the school and killed many students and adults.  I didn’t go into details as to how he came into the school, why, his background, etc.  I focused more on relating this to the lockdown procedures they practice frequently in their own schools.  I emphasized that although many children and adults died, there were many more that survived because of the lock down procedures they had practiced.  In addition, I explained the many heroes of the event.  Although one intruder came in, there were even more teachers, policeman, and first responders who immediately were coming to the aid of the students and school.

A quote from Mister Rogers from the 170 Million Americans for Public Broadcasting Facebook Page is so fitting to describe this:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” — Mister Rogers

Most importantly, I assured them that this is not something that happens frequently, in many schools, etc.  However, preparing for any emergency is of the utmost importance.

I reviewed my children’s school lockdown procedures with them.  I started first by asking them if they knew what the lock down procedures were and what they were to do.  My oldest immediately responded with, “Which one?  Are you asking about external or internal lockdown?”.  I was proud that she knew a difference.  In my school district, the students practice procedures if there is danger both outside and inside the school.  I had them explain to me the steps for both.  To my surprise, even my youngest immediately knew what to do if an intruder entered the building.  School district procedures may vary, but in our district the lockdown procedures are as simple as this:  The teacher quickly ensures students are in the classroom (as well as any immediate students who may need to find safety from the hallway), locks the door and shuts the lights out.  Students in the mean time know to immediately go to a corner of the room away from the door and any windows where they can be seen from the interior or outside.  They crouch down tightly together and are to remain silent until safety is known.

I reminded my children that the “trigger” to start a real lockdown will most likely not be something that they are used to.  Typically during a lockdown drill, the principal either announces the drill will begin in plain terms or have a code phrase for students (typical at the elementary levels in order to not scare children for each drill).  I explained that the trigger may be something unexpected and asked if they had ideas (they offered answers like “someone yelling to lockdown, loud noises, fighting, screams, etc.”).  I further emphasized that whatever the trigger was, they needed to remain calm and work together in following the safety procedures they practice.

I asked my kids what they would do if a lockdown started if they weren’t in their classroom.  There are numerous situations during a school day, especially for older students, when they are not with their class.  They can be in the bathroom, library, in the hallway, etc.  We reviewed that the same classroom procedures apply when they are in another school room.  They offered if they ultimately somehow couldn’t dart into another classroom and found themselves alone (ex. bathroom or hallway), they needed to find someplace to run, hide, and conceal themselves immediately.

I have decided to shield them from the news at this point.  Even as adults, no matter what age, whether you have children or not, the media coverage of this event is heart-wrenching.  If we can barely handle the images and what we hear, then our children can’t either.  New developments unfold as each hour passes and many of these details do not need to be disclosed to our children.

We have included the children and community of Sandy Hook in our prayers.  During our meals and discussions, we have made sure to include our prayers for those affected by the tragedy.  We pray for peace in their hearts, support, love, and guidance, and a return to joy as soon as everyone is ready.

 

In addition to the above discussion points, I am implored to continue teaching my children about their individual safety.  Ever since our children were younger, we’ve integrated discussions on how they can protect themselves, how they can keep themselves safe in dangerous situations (this can even include fires, getting lost, etc.), and how to react in dangerous situations.  Some of the things we’ve included in our teachings include knowing:

  • our address and phone numbers
  • safe people and places to seek help (teachers, police, fireman, public places, etc.)
  • how to get home and/or describe where we live (On our drives home from various points, we often quiz our children by asking them to “navigate” us with directions on how to get back to our house )
  • how to react if a stranger approaches or attempts to take them
  • awareness of their surroundings (people):  Example:  When we go out to a restaurant, we sometimes quiz the kids on what the waiter/waitress looked like after they’ve left from taking our order.  We ask the kids to tell us what color hair they had, how tall they were, what they were wearing etc.
  • awareness of their surroundings (places):  Example:  In a public venue, we insist the kids initially take an inventory of where safety exits are located upon arrival.  Again, part of a “game” we play is seeing if they’ve identified them before we ask.

Here are additional tips from TechSavvyMama and Parents.com:

Sandy Hook School Tragedy: Helpful Tips for Talking to Your Kids

5 Helpful Resources for Talking to Kids About Tragedies

One thing I’ve always told my children is that they shouldn’t fear anything except the fear of God.  If they fear any individual, situation, etc., they are putting power to the fear and not in themselves.  I love them with all my heart.  Hopefully I am providing some skills and knowledge for them to handle and persevere in a dangerous situation the best way they can.

 

 

 

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