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In the Aftermath of Violence

Advice for Teachers From Adele M. Brodkin, Ph.D.

October 5 , 2006

The terrible tragedy in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania—which comes, even more sadly, on the heels of three other recent school shootings—is weighing heavily on children, parents, and teachers across the nation. Dr. Adele Brodkin offers advice to teachers of lower-, middle-, and upper-grade students for responding effectively and appropriately in the classroom and in their larger school communities

Grade 1-3 Version

Grade 4-6 Version

Grade 7-12 Version

  

Grade 1-3 Version

Following the tragic killings of five children in a school in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, as well as three other school shootings in recent weeks, teachers, children, and parents alike are struggling with the fears and anxieties triggered by such senseless violence. Scholastic’s senior child development consultant, Dr. Adele Brodkin, author of Raising Happy and Successful Kids (Scholastic, 2006), offers the following guidance to teachers of young children to help them respond to the tragedy in their classrooms and school communities.

Anticipate Questions

Ideally, very young children will never hear news this disturbing. Unfortunately we cannot always protect them from overhearing the conversations of adults or older children. If your students in grades 1–3 do become aware of this horrifying incident, questions like the following may arise as they sort through the feelings it prompts. Respond as reassuringly as possible, but don’t force discussion. Children have natural, well-functioning defenses; adults should not interfere with these.

Q. Can this happen to me? Could it happen at our school?

Younger children think concretely, so if an atrocity happens somewhere, in their minds it can happen anywhere, including where they are, and to them. So they may need special reassurance about their own safety. All children will need reassurance that incidents like this are extremely rare, that they themselves are safe, and that adults are doing everything possible to keep them safe.

Emphasize that an act of violence like this is more rare than being struck by lightning. Point out that now that this has happened, everyone will be even more cautious and alert about strangers in school buildings, so the likelihood of a similar incident occurring may be even less.

Q. Why did this man do this?

Let children know that you have been asking yourself that same question. While no one knows for sure why he did this, we do know that he had a sickness in his mind, in the way that he thought. He was all twisted up inside. He needed help very badly, but he didn’t get it. Very, very few people in the world would do something like this.

Q. Now I feel scared to come to school. What should I do?

Let children know that they should not hesitate to share their fears with you or with your school’s principal, who can explain all the steps that have been taken to protect them and all children in your school.

Q. How do we know it can’t happen at our school?

Be prepared to talk to children about the school safety procedures you have in place, as well as any new procedures you may be adding. (For example, no one can come into our building without signing in; everyone signing in must show identification; any adult who sees someone unfamiliar or who is not wearing a prominent visitor’s badge must alert the office.) If your school has a crisis or emergency plan in place, be prepared to go over that with children as well.

Q. Is there anything I can do to help keep us safe?

Tell children that if they see an adult they don’t recognize in school, or who is not wearing an official visitor’s ID, they should let a teacher or another adult know immediately. Also, if the behavior of any adult or another student makes children feel uncomfortable, they should tell a teacher or another adult.

Work With Parents

You may get more questions from parents than from students. Recommend to parents that they answer all questions at home calmly and with reassurance, but that they not volunteer information about the news. Parents will also justifiably need reassurance about children’s safety. Communicate your school’s policy concerning admitting people to the building, as well as any new safety procedures you are implementing.

Be Alert to Erratic Behavior

We are trained to respect individualism and not to invade privacy, but we have a clear responsibility to notice and follow up on potentially dangerous behavior. If an adult or child in your school or community makes you uneasy, listen to your instincts. Start by sharing your concerns with a colleague or administrator. Signs to watch for include agitation, rage out of proportion with a particular situation, extreme pessimism, and explicit fantasies about committing a terrible crime. Most individuals who are disturbed enough to kill do express hints of what they are planning. We all need to become aware of possible threats and not rush to dismiss them because they are unthinkable to us.

 

 

Grade 4-6 Version

Following the tragic killings of five children in a school in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, as well as three other school shootings in recent weeks, teachers, children, and parents alike are struggling with the fears and anxieties triggered by such senseless violence. Scholastic’s senior child development consultant, Dr. Adele Brodkin, author of Raising Happy and Successful Kids (Scholastic, 2006), offers the following guidance to teachers of middle-grade students to help them respond to the tragedy in their classrooms and school communities.

Anticipate Questions

Questions like the following may arise as children sort through the feelings prompted by this awful incident. Respond as reassuringly as possible, but don’t force discussion if children don’t want to talk about the shootings or their feelings about them. Children have natural, well-functioning defenses; adults should not interfere with these.

Q: Can this happen to me? Could it happen at our school?

All children will need reassurance that incidents like this are extremely rare, that they themselves are safe, and that adults are doing everything possible to keep them safe Children from about 4th grade are also likely to focus on how they would feel if someone they loved were a victim.

Emphasize that an act of violence like this is more rare than being struck by lightning. Point out that now that this has happened, everyone will be even more cautious and alert about strangers in school buildings, so the likelihood of a similar incident occurring may be even less.

Q. Why did this man do this? Why would anyone do something like this?

Let students know that you have been asking yourself that same question. While no one knows for sure why he did this, we do know that he was severely mentally ill. This means that he had a sickness in his mind, in the way that he thought, and was all twisted up inside. He needed help very badly, but he didn’t get it. Very, very few people in the world would do something like this.

Q. Why did he kill only girls?

If children notice and focus on this, stress again that we can’t know why a mentally ill person did what he did, only that he was sick in his mind.

Q. What are we doing to make sure it can’t happen at our school?

Be prepared to talk to children about the school safety procedures you have in place, as well as any new procedures you may be adding. (For example, no one can come into our building without signing in; everyone signing in must show identification; any adult who sees someone unfamiliar or who is not wearing a prominent visitor’s badge must alert the office.) If your school has a crisis or emergency plan in place, be prepared to go over that with children as well.

Q. Is there anything I can do to help keep something like this from happening?

Tell children that if they see an adult they don’t recognize in school, or someone who is not wearing an official visitor’s ID, they should let a teacher or another adult know immediately. Also, if the behavior of any adult or another student makes children feel uncomfortable, they should tell a teacher or another adult.

Work With Parents

You may get more questions from parents than from students. Recommend to parents that they answer all questions at home calmly and with reassurance, but that they not volunteer information about the news. Parents will also justifiably need reassurance about children’s safety. Communicate your school’s policy concerning admitting people to the building, as well as any new safety procedures you are implementing.

Be Alert to Erratic Behavior

We are trained to respect individualism and not to invade privacy, but we have a clear responsibility to notice and follow up on potentially dangerous behavior. If an adult or child in your school or community makes you uneasy, listen to your instincts. Start by sharing your concerns with a colleague or administrator. Signs to watch for include agitation, rage out of proportion with a particular situation, extreme pessimism, and explicit fantasies about committing a terrible crime. Most individuals who are disturbed enough to kill do express hints of what they are planning. We all need to become aware of possible threats and not rush to dismiss them because they are unthinkable to us.

 

 

Grade 7-12 Version

Following the tragic killings of five children in a school in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, as well as three other school shootings in recent weeks, teachers, students, and parents alike are struggling with the fears and anxieties triggered by such senseless violence. Scholastic’s senior child development consultant, Dr. Adele Brodkin, author of Raising Happy and Successful Kids (Scholastic, 2006), offers the following guidance to teachers of middle- and high-school students to help them respond to the tragedy in their classrooms and school communities.

Anticipate Questions

Questions like the following may arise as students sort through the feelings prompted by this awful incident. Respond as reassuringly as possible, but don’t force discussion.

Q. Could this happen at our school?

Virtually all students will need reassurance that incidents like this are extremely rare, that they themselves are safe, and that adults are doing everything possible to keep them safe. Teens are likely to focus also on how they would feel if someone they loved were a victim.

Emphasize that an act of violence like this is more rare than being struck by lightning. Point out that now that this has happened, everyone will be even more cautious and alert about strangers in school buildings, so the likelihood of a similar incident occurring may be even less.

Q. Why did this man do this? Why would anyone do something like this?

Let students know that you have been asking yourself that same question. While no one knows for sure why he did this, we do know that he was severely mentally ill. He needed help very badly, but he didn’t get it. Very, very few people in the world would do something like this.

Q. Why did this killer single out girls?

If students focus on this, stress again that we can’t know why a mentally ill person did what he did.

Q. What are we doing to make sure it can’t happen at our school?

Be prepared to talk to students about the school safety procedures you have in place, as well as any new procedures you may be adding. (For example, no one can come into our building without signing in; everyone signing in must show identification; any adult who sees someone unfamiliar or who is not wearing a prominent visitor’s badge must alert the office.) If your school has a crisis or emergency plan in place, be prepared to go over that as well.

Q. Is there anything I can do to help keep something like this from happening?

Tell students that if they see an adult they don’t recognize in school, or who is not wearing an official visitor’s ID, they should let a teacher or another adult know immediately. Also, if the behavior of any adult or another student makes them feel uncomfortable, they should tell a teacher or another adult.

Work With Parents

You may get more questions from parents than from students. Recommend to parents that they answer all questions at home calmly and with reassurance, but that they not force discussion. Parents will also justifiably need reassurance about student safety. Communicate your school’s policy around admitting people to the building, as well as any new safety procedures you are implementing.

Be Alert to Erratic Behavior

We are trained to respect individualism and not to invade privacy, but we have a clear responsibility to notice and follow up on potentially dangerous behavior. If an adult or student in your school or community makes you uneasy, listen to your instincts. Start by sharing your concerns with a colleague or administrator. Signs to watch for include agitation, rage out of proportion with a particular situation, extreme pessimism, and explicit fantasies about committing a terrible crime. Most individuals who are disturbed enough to kill do express hints of what they are planning. We all need to become aware of possible threats and not rush to dismiss them because they are unthinkable to us.

 

 

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