I remember vividly when I was teaching sixth grade and the principal came into my class and asked to see me in the hallway. He was there to inform me of a school shooting that was occurring just 10 miles down the road. That was Columbine. In the days that followed, all educators and families across the nation tried to figure out the best way to support students as we all tried to process such an unimaginable event. Since that time there has been event after event occur in our world that has required educators to become more familiar with Trauma Informed Practices and the Social Emotional Health of our students. Educators have been fortunate that training is available to them in these areas but parents are reaching out more and more to the school for guidance on how to talk to their children about these difficult topics.
As if the Coronavirus stress isn’t enough, there is so much unrest in our country that is resulting in arguments, debates, protests, riots, and increased violent events! Frankly, the adults in this country could learn a lot from our students on how to resolve conflict in peaceful and respectful ways! But here we are and the violence is all around us. During the Columbine incident it was much easier to limit children’s access to the information because each child was not carrying a smart phone in their pocket. There was no social media and devices in every bedroom were not yet a thing. Because we have a more difficult time limiting a child’s access to the news of the event, it is even more critical that we engage them in conversation so that they are able to process their feelings. Even though they don’t always say it to their parents, it’s important to them to know what YOU think about a situation. They will always know more about the situation than you think they do, they may just not know how to start the conversation with you. Below are some suggestions from my experience as a 30 year educator. I am not a psychologist and would always recommend that if you or your child is struggling you reach out to a professional.
- Listen First. It’s always best to ask your child what they already know about the situation. Let them talk to you uninterrupted until they have had time to get out all of their thoughts. Ask them what questions they have and how they feel about the situation.
- Be honest. Even young children need accurate information so that they can effectively process. Take into consideration the developmental level of your child and leave out the graphic details until you feel they are old enough to understand. But it’s important to not be too vague either. In the absence of information, even kids will make up their own stories in their minds and often those stories are worse than reality.
- Make a Difference. Violent events often result in students feeling helpless or hopeless. It can be helpful to talk to your child about how he or she can make a positive difference in the world. It can be something small like helping a friend or writing a letter or donating their time. Giving your child something else that is positive to focus on can help to keep the difficult events in perspective and gives them something that they can control.
- Be a Good Role Model. Your children are always watching you to see how you will respond to a situation. If you are glued to the news, upset or angry they will often exhibit those same behaviors. Show them the healthy way to process difficult situations. This is not the time for the old adage, “Do what I say, not what I do!”
- Watch for Signs. It’s important to watch for signs that your child may be having a difficult time. If they are having difficulty sleeping, are unusually moody or combative, if they are withdrawn or sad, if their eating habits change significantly, it is always recommended that you seek the help of a professional counselor or psychologist.
And don’t forget, Montrose County School District is available to help. If your child is struggling, please let his/her teacher know. We have resources available that may be of help. Montrose is an extraordinary community! Let’s continue to lean on each other and be the models that our children need. Take care.