Resources for Educators, Families to Discuss School Shootings
Our students want and need to talk about what they see, remember, and are feeling following a school shooting. The adults in their lives can provide guidance and support to help youth navigate their own emotions and trauma in a healthy, safe, and productive way. Adults also need to be able to acknowledge and address their own emotional responses in order to best support young people.
Tips to Talk with Children
About School Shootings
The Washington Post article, How to talk to your kids about school shootings, includes details related to the summarized tips directly following for talking with your children about school shootings.
- Limit screen time to programming that doesn't have news coverage.
- Acknowledge your own emotions with your child in a brief, age-appropriate way, and reassure them.
- Let your child's questions guide the conversation, and keep your answers honest, simple, and developmentally appropriate.
- Gather with friends and family for support and community.
- Familiar routines help children who are feeling scared or unsure.
Common Sense Media has suggestions on how to talk to kids about school shootings in a way that’s age appropriate and helps them feel safe again.
Very Well Family provides open-ended questions to discuss school shootings with your child.
The National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement has a guide in English and Spanish with suggestions to help your child process school shootings. It includes a section on why it's important to speak with your child about these events.
Often what children and teenagers need most is to have someone they trust listen to their questions, accept their feelings, and be there for them. Don’t worry about knowing the perfect thing to say – there is no answer that will make everything okay. Listen to their concerns and thoughts, answer their questions with simple, direct and honest responses, and provide appropriate reassurance and support. While we would all want to keep children from ever having to hear about something like this, reality does not allow this. Being silent on the issue won’t protect them from what happened, but only prevent them from understanding and coping with it. Remember that answers and reassurance should be at the level of the child’s understanding.
The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) tips for parents and educators to talk with children about violence suggests adults:
- Reassure children they are safe and review safety procedures
- Create a sense of safety by returning to normal, predictable routines as soon as possible
- Make time to talk and listen to the concerns and feelings of children
- Limit the use of media consumption of these events to lower their stress and to maintain balance and perspective
- Acknowledge that sleep difficulties are common and can lead to fatigue and poor participation
The County of San Diego’s Deputy Director for Behavioral Health Services Dr. Piedad Garcia shares ways to respond to children following violent events. The article is also available in Spanish.
Colorín Colorado put together tips for talking with children about violence including age-appropriate suggestions for talking about news stories and other important steps you can take to help. The page is accessible in multiple languages and also has additional, related resources available.
Managing Your Own Feelings Following a Mass Shooting
The American Psychological Association (APA) has tips for managing your own distress following a mass shooting including:
- Reaching out for support from other adults (friend or professional)
- Honoring your feelings and taking time for yourself, especially if you’re experiencing personal loss or grief
- Limiting your amount of media coverage of these events
- Find ways to help in your community
Call the National Parent Helpline at 1-855-4A PARENT (1-855-427-2736) to get emotional support from a trained Advocate. They are available Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
NCTSN also provides strategies to assist parents, caregivers, and school staff members to cope with collective trauma.
- Have compassion for yourself
- Acknowledge how your identities are being impacted
- Self-reflect before reacting
- Limit media and social media exposure
Helping Children Cope with Trauma
Helping Children Cope With Terrorism from NASP offers tips for families and educators. Translations of this handout are available in multiple languages. There is also a companion infographic.
Child Mind Institute offers multiple strategies and suggestions for helping children deal with trauma. Just a few have been included here with the rest available on the website.
- Make your child feel safe.
- Act calm.
- Maintain routines as much as possible.
- Help children enjoy themselves.
- Share information about what happened.
- Prevent or limit exposure to news coverage.
- Understand that children cope in different ways.
- Listen well.
- Help children relax with breathing exercises.
- Acknowledge what your child is feeling.
- Know that it’s okay to answer, “I don’t know.”
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network offers a quick reference one-pager on what students want you to know and how you can help. The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) also provides tips for educators to help youth following community crises and trauma. It's available as a downloadable PDF in multiple languages on the NSAP webpage. It includes how students may show they are struggling and what educators can do in response.
About School Safety
While we know schools remain among the safest places for students, we also know that shootings that occur on school campuses may understandably cause heightened emotions and concern about safety issues.
You can't educate students without them being safe; it's a responsibility San Diego County school leaders and employees take very seriously. Every San Diego County school has a safety plan and procedures that contribute to maintaining a safe learning environment for our students. School personnel will be reviewing those plans and continuing to implement best practices in maintaining the safety and security of our schools.
San Diego County school districts work closely with law enforcement agencies to build systems that aim to prevent violent episodes in local schools. SDCOE staff members provide training, technical assistance, and direct services to assist school districts in developing and supporting their Comprehensive School Safety Plans.
More to explore
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SDCOE has a variety of professional learning opportunities available to San Diego County educators at low or no cost this summer. Review them by topic and date and register to attend.
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The San Diego County Office of Education has joined Contra Costa County and Glenn County offices of education in a statewide effort that focuses on supporting students with disabilities, students with dyslexia, and students who are dually identified by providing professional learning for K-12 educators.