Counselors advise how to talk to kids about tragedy
BENNINGTON -- Coping with a national tragedy is demanding enough for adults; but the response can be doubly difficult for children and their parents.
While local Bennington schools were not in session this week, Tuesday’s coverage from Boston had school crisis teams in nearby New York districts on standby. The Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union posted a guidance document on its website at www.svsu.org.
According to the National Association of School Psychologists, establishing a sense of normalcy and security and talking openly with children about their fears can help them feel safe.
Handouts on the association’s website -- www.nasponline.org -- tell parents to keep explanations of high profile acts of violence developmentally appropriate.
"It’s important the adults speak directly to their children," said Kenneth Facin, superintendent at Hoosick Falls Central School.
In New York in Cambridge and Hoosick Falls, teachers, social workers, counselors, and psychologists work collaboratively during crises to meet the emotional needs of students and families.
"We’re always aware of our students," Facin said. Whether a national or local event, he said crisis counseling was available to support students, staff, and family.
With many local connections to the Boston area, "there’s a lot of concern because Boston is not that far," Facin said. "It really has a personal impact on us."
In addition to available staff during the school day, parents can contact their respective district’s offices for additional resources.
When having a discussion, children in early elementary school need brief, simple information balanced with reassurances that their schools and communities are safe and that adults are there to protect them.
From upper elementary to early middle school, children may be more vocal and need assistance separating reality from fantasy. Older children will have stronger and more varied views, but in all cases, parents should be good listeners and encourage their children to verbalize their thoughts and feelings.
According to the NASP, parents should also:
* Make time to talk, being patient and letting their children’s questions guide how much information to provide. Young children may need activities such as drawing, imaginative play, or looking at picture books to help them identify and express their feelings.
* Observe children’s emotional states.
* Maintain a normal routine, which can be reassuring -- but don’t be inflexible.
* Limit television viewing and online coverage of the event. Extended "screen time" and exposure to developmentally inappropriate information can cause anxiety or confusion.
With today’s continuous news coverage, "parents really need to monitor the TV so young children aren’t left unattended," Facin said.
Adults also need to be mindful of their own reactions, which could be misunderstood.
While senseless violence is hard for anyone to understand, the NASP recommends doing things that are enjoyable, sticking to a normal routine, and being with friends and family to feel better.
The American School Counselor Association has additional resources for helping children through difficult situations on its website, www.schoolcounselor.org.
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