Los Gatos Union School District Superintendent Diana Abbati sent a special message of condolence and grief to all parents on the agency's electronic database this morning in the wake of the horrific mass shooting at a Connecticut school.
"We are all saddened by the terrible, senseless school shooting that occurred today in Connecticut. Our grief is made all the deeper when we think of the innocence of lives lost and the heroic efforts of teachers and administrators. Our hearts go out to the victims, their families, and the entire school community," she said.
Abbati assured parents that the district has in place safety and security procedures to protect its students and staff.
"Our leadership and local law enforcement work together to ensure the safety of our students and our staff is trained and well-prepared to deal with campus safety, security and student needs," she said. "I encourage parents to discuss with their children the importance of speaking to a trusted adult concerning matters that they hear about in the media and online."
Helpful links regarding talking to your children about tragedy include:
- Helping Children Cope with Tragedy and Related Anxiety (from Mental Health America)
- Talking to Children About Community Violence (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry)
- School Violence and the News (from Kids Health)
Saratoga Patch blogger Michelle McIntyre, who's a member of the California Sixth District PTA representing Santa Clara County, said children across the U.S. will be coming home from school with questions about this tragedy.
"Word about these things spreads fast, especially now that a lot of kids carry smartphones," she posted on our story about the tragedy on the site.
- Be alert to signs of upset in children. These signs may include withdrawal, lack of interest, acting out, fear of school or other activities, or anything that deviates from the child’s norm.
- Listen carefully in order to learn what children know and are thinking.
- Treat all questions with respect and seriousness. Do not “shush,” ignore or dismiss children.
- Clarify questions so that you can understand what is being asked, what has led to the question and how much information a child wants. A child who asks: “Why was the World Trade Center attacked?” could be curious about the political issues of the attacks, or may be asking, “Could I or someone I love be hurt in an attack?” A good way to clarify what a child wants to know is to repeat the question to the child; for example, “You’ve been thinking about the attacks on the World Trade Center and are wondering why they happened.” In this way a child can say, “Yes, that is what I’ve been thinking,” or can correct what you said in order to redirect the conversation to something he or she wants to discuss.
- Sometimes, without repeating the exact words, it is helpful to reflect what you think a child is feeling, as a way of giving a child the opportunity to confirm that you have understood, or to clarify. For example, you can say: “It sounds as if you’re afraid that something like this might happen again.”
- Review the facts of what actually happened.
- Reassure children in age-appropriate ways that they are safe. When talking to toddlers, responses can be simple and direct: “I love you and I will always do everything I can to make you safe.”
- Let children know that many people and organizations are working to make us safe, for example, police, rescue workers, and government and private agencies, such as ADL.
- Reassure children that while there are people who do things that are hard to understand, we live in a wonderful country and, for the vast majority of the time, we are safe.
- Answer questions as clearly and honestly as you can, using developmentally appropriate language and definitions. If you don’t know the answer to a child’s question, say so and make a plan to try to find out.
- Correct yourself if you give incomplete or inaccurate information. Don’t be afraid of making a mistake; when we admit our mistakes, adults model for children how to admit their own mistakes. Be direct about acknowledging mistakes and avoid defensiveness; say, “I made a mistake.”
- Acknowledge that there are people who hate other people, and that hateful actions can be threatening.
Share Your Perceptions
- Share your perceptions and feelings but try to avoid conveying hopelessness. Without diminishing the seriousness of a situation, it is important to keep perspective and convey it to children.
- Avoid giving young children more specific detail than necessary. Be careful not to frighten them. Limit children’s exposure to media coverage of violent events.
- Children need to know that people are not powerless in the face of hate and that there are many things children and adults can do.
- Have regular discussions about ways people can address hate. Brainstorm ways to address these concerns at home, in school and in the community. Examples include speaking out against name-calling, making friends with people who are different, learning about many cultural groups and exploring ways to increase intergroup understanding. Discuss specific steps to make these things happen.
- Help children understand that if hateful words go unchallenged, they can escalate to acts of physical violence. Discuss how hate behaviors usually begin with unkind words. Discuss and practice ways children can challenge name-calling and bullying. Even preschool children can learn to say, “Don’t call him that; that’s not his name!” or “Don’t call her that; she doesn’t like that!” or “Don’t call me that; it’s not fair!”
- Help children understand that sometimes it might not be safe for them to intervene. Teach them to seek adult assistance when someone is being harassed or bullied.
- Help your children feel good about themselves so that they learn to see themselves as people who can contribute to creating a better world.