Traumatic events, such as recently seen in Pittsburgh, can be deeply upsetting for families and students. Media involvement can surround individuals with upsetting details and images of the event, potentially triggering distressing emotions. It is important to keep in mind that these events are rare. Schools are safe places for children and youth during the school day, and an important place for them to receive support, a calm environment and connection to caring adults/peers.
Communication and collaboration among schools, parents, and communities is important to ensure that students continue to view schools as safe, caring, and supportive environments. Further, how adults react to traumatic events can impact the way children and youth respond and their perceptions of safety and well-being.
Board staff can reinforce students' sense of safety and well-being by:
- creating a calm, predictable and welcoming classroom and school environment,
- following the student's lead in discussing the event (if students aren't discussing it, keep focused on your regular school activities)
- bolstering well-being and healthy coping strategy activities,
- listening for and responding to students who may be struggling with the information or events, and accessing appropriate mental health resources for them,
- connecting families with other available resources if needed.
Families are encouraged to:
- spend time together,
- limit media exposure to the event,
- create time for conversation and checking in,
- validate their child's feelings,
- ask for help as needed, and
- find calm and relaxing activities to do at home.
It is very important to limit exposure to media coverage, particularly for young children. If children or youth are watching the news or accessing information online, parents and caregivers should be available to check in and talk to their children about it.
Families and educators will support children and youth to understand and cope with the impact of death and feelings of loss. Most children and youth are resilient and will cope well with the support and caring of their families, teachers, friends, and other caring adults. However, young children may have particular difficulty understanding and describing their feelings and emotions.
Some tips to help children and youth cope and understand grief and tragedy include:
- If asked by the student(s), provide a developmentally appropriate, clear, and straightforward explanation of the event, without sharing graphic or unnecessary details, (if student wants to know more, they will ask),
- Consider students may have previous experiences of loss or
- death. While they may not know the people involved in this tragedy, it may remind them of their own experiences of loss,
- Maintain neutrality in the school environment as much as possible avoid adding triggers of this event into the school where possible,
- Address unhelpful rumors which may be circulating and to refocus students on facts,
- Support your class to return to normalcy and routine, while maintaining flexibility,
- Let students know it's okay to feel upset or angry about the event,
- Observe and listen to the questions and statements of students about the event, reach out for support if you are concerned,
- Provide various ways for students to express emotion, either through journaling, writing letters, talking, meditation, yoga or music,
- Focus on resiliency as well as the compassion of others.
This is an important time to reinforce the natural coping strategies of students, and emphasize the proactive steps that schools can take to maintain a safe and caring school environment.