Resources for Responding to Violence and Tragedy
Tips and expert advice for teachers and parents on reassuring children after disturbing events, such as the explosions at the Boston Marathon.
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12
The tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon on April 15 shocked Americans and raised again our shared concern for how to help children come to grips with events that threaten their sense of safety and order.
High profile acts of violence can be traumatic for students as they struggle to understand their feelings of fear, worry, anger, and sadness. They may be wondering: Why did this happen? Could it happen here? Am I safe? And they look to adults for information and guidance on how to react.
The tips, articles, and resources gathered here provide expert advice about anticipating and answering questions about scary news events; ideas on working with parents who may also be struggling to answer their children’s questions; and information on the warning signs that indicate a child is struggling emotionally.
Quick Tips for Teachers
- Remind students that they are safe. Highlight the special things that make school safe.
- Take the time to talk. Let students talk about their feelings and assure them what they are feeling is normal. Remember that some children may not want to talk about their feelings. Encourage these students to express themselves through writing, art, and other projects.
- Use language children will understand. Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate. Young children need simple information they can understand and need to be reminded that they are safe. Older students will have questions and will need an opportunity to express their range of emotions.
- Watch for shifts in behavior. It’s important to remember that everyone shows emotion in different ways. Be aware of the changes in behavior and mood that can indicate a child’s level of anxiety or discomfort.
- Maintain a sense of normalcy. An important part of helping children feel safe is providing a normal and positive environment. School and class routines provide children with the positive structure they need.
- Monitor and limit television and news. Developmentally inappropriate information and overexposure to news of the event can cause more anxiety or fear, particularly in young children. Adults also need to be careful of the content of conversations that they have with each other in front of children.
- Make sure you take care of yourself. Take time to do the things that make you happy. And don’t be afraid to seek additional help for yourself or for your students.
Expert Advice on Talking With Kids
Recognizing the signs of trauma and providing reassurance can help kids rebound from traumatic events.
Kids hear about tragic and disturbing events at school, at home, and through the media, and their concerns often come up in the classroom. What's the best way to deal with them?
Keep misinformation to a minimum: Ask your child what he knows and answer his questions sensitively. From the Scholastic Parents site.
The way you broach the subject of violence with children is critical to helping them cope with it. Child-development expert Dr. James Garbarino shares his advice for teachers.
Guidelines for coping with young children’s concerns and confusion about violence, death, divorce, drugs, and other difficult issues
Resources for Coping With Violence, Trauma, and Grief
These fiction and nonfiction titles will help facilitate conversations about feelings of fear, grief, and loss in the face of violence and tragedy.
There are no "right" or "wrong" ways to talk with children about traumatic events, but these 12 suggestions on the website of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry may be helpful.
These age-specific guides about talking to preschoolers, school-aged children, and adolescents after traumatic events are available as PDFs in English, Chinese, Japanese, and Spanish. From the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA).
Tips and strategies for parents on helping their children feel safe after a shooting rampage. From the American Psychological Association.
The National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder lists common reactions and problems that trauma survivors experience, as well as information about the recovery process.
Dealing with death at school, tending to crisis caregivers, and managing strong emotional reactions are some of the challenges covered on the National Association of School Psychologists website.
This bereavement resource area brought to you by the New York Life Foundation offers educators guidance and support resources, including a downloadable grief guide, guidelines for responding to the death of a student or school staff member, a sample letter to parents, videos, and more.