How Parents, Children Can Cope With School Shooting Tragedy

7:10 PM, Dec 14, 2012   |    comments
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Written by MIKE CHALMERS, The News Journal

Watch, ask, listen.

That's how Delaware school officials are planning to react to the Connecticut massacre when classes resume Monday, and it's what child psychology experts recommend parents do this weekend.

Schools took few steps as the tragedy unfolded today because most students and teachers knew little or nothing about it until late in the day, officials said.

Red Clay Consolidated School District posted a note of condolence on its website today, along with links to websites to help parents talk to their children. Other districts said they might send parents emails with similar information.

Carlton Lampkins, assistant superintendent for Colonial School District, said administrators will talk through the weekend about what, if anything, they should do next week to care for students who are still upset over the shootings. The district already practices safety drills regularly, he said.

"We talk about safety all the time because it's important all the time," Lampkins said. "The school has got your safety in mind always, and you have to make sure you follow the teacher's directions."

Red Clay spokeswoman Pati Nash said teachers, principals and guidance counselors will gauge students' attitudes and behaviors to see what steps to take next.

"When it's something of this magnitude, we'll be aware that we need to watch our kids for possible reaction next week," Nash said.

That's a good first step for parents, too, said Bob Dunleavy, director of acute care services with the state Division of Prevention and Behavioral Health.

Some children may be deeply affected by the shootings and exhibit "clinging" behavior, such as being unwilling to leave their parents' side or constantly calling or texting them, he said. If that behavior persists for more than a week or two, parents should consider calling a professional counselor.

Most children, though, won't react so strongly, Dunleavy said.

Generally, children will take their cues from their parents, teachers and other adults, he said. If adults stay on an even keel, their children probably will, too.

"If parents are constantly watching this on television and constantly get upset and concerned, then kids are going to get upset and concerned," he said.

David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, said parents should turn off television coverage of the shootings when children are around.

"It's just not good for kids to be exposed to the images and discussions," he said. "That creates a sense that it's much more common than it really is."

Adults also need to understand that children might not perceive the shooting the same way they do, Dunleavy said.

"Don't assume that what you're afraid of is the same thing they're afraid of," he said. "Their biggest fear might be, 'Is my field trip going to be canceled?'"

Parents should ask their children what they think about the tragedy, then listen to their answers, Dunleavy said.

"Kids of any age, you want to reassure them that they're safe," Dunleavy said.

Parents can talk about the ways schools work to protect them, and they can discuss ways to be safe at school and home. Dunleavy said families should stick to their normal routine to help children maintain a sense of stability.

"We all know the world can be a dangerous place," Dunleavy said. "But we should remember that although these incidents are tragic, they are rare."

The same goes for parents, he said.

"We can't live our lives worrying something horrible will happen to our children at school," Dunleavy said.

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