In the wake of Wednesday’s shooting at Freeman High School, children will be looking to their parents for reassurance and help making sense of the tragedy.
The best way for parents to help? Listen and validate children’s feelings, experts say, and emphasize positive actions children and their families can take to keep schools safe.
“Some kids are going to be highly emotional. Some kids are going to shut down. There’s no way to determine how a child’s going to react, so parents just need to be ready for any reaction,” said Chris Moore, a student services coordinator at Spokane Public Schools.
The National Association of School Psychologists recommends reassuring children that their schools are safe places and talking about how students play a role in safety.
“This was a tragedy and sometimes life brings tragedies, but our schools are very, very safe,” Moore said.
Elementary school-age children need simple information that adults are there to protect them and can benefit from examples about locked exterior doors and emergency drills.
Older students will be more vocal with questions, and will likely have strong opinions about the underlying causes of school violence.
As much as possible, kids should stick to regular routines and continue socializing and doing activities with friends and family, which can help keep them from falling into constant worry.
Parents should keep an eye out for signs of distress, including changes in behavior, anxiety and sleep problems. Limiting television watching about the shooting also can help.
Open-ended questions are the best way to talk to children of any age, Moore said.
“I wouldn’t say ‘Are you OK?’ or ‘Are you sad?’ I would ask parents to ask, ‘Tell me how you’re doing. Tell me what you’re feeling. Tell me about your day,’ ” she said.
Parents also should make eye contact with children and not talk when they are distracted by devices or other tasks.
“Don’t talk to them while you’re cooking or distracted. Give them your full attention,” Moore said.
The Marysville School District said it would send its superintendent, Becky Berg, and a trauma-informed psychologist to assist students at Freeman following the shooting. A student shot five Marysville-Pilchuck High School students in 2014, killing four.
“As a school district that has been impacted by a similar senseless tragedy, we know Rockford has a long road to recovery ahead,” the district said on Twitter.
Spokane schools will have counselors and therapists on “high alert” at all schools. Moore said they anticipate many of their students will be impacted, especially those who know Freeman students. A crisis team is on call if a particular student or school needs extra support.
Parents also can reach out to counselors at their children’s schools if they need someone to talk to, she said.
“It takes a village to raise our kids and this is where it’s so applicable,” Moore said.