Risk Reporter for Educational Facilities
Spring 2013 Vol. 1, Issue 1
Talking to students about violent events
The probability of a child dying in school — by homicide or suicide — is less than one in a million, according to a report published by the U.S. Department of Education and the Secret Service. But that statistic may not be enough to reassure students in the aftermath of a school tragedy. Here are some tips for knowing how and when to address the issue.
Let students drive the discussion. “Some kids won’t even know that something happened, and there’s no reason to make sure they do,” said Adele Brodkin, certified school psychologist, author and senior child development consultant for Scholastic for 21 years. “If a number of children come to you individually, that might indicate the whole class wants to talk. Address the topic but use discretion.”
If your school is close to the site of a tragedy or students know someone affected by it, they’re more likely to be aware and concerned.
Keep student age in mind. “Handle questions in an honest and reassuring way and don’t overload young children with too much information,” Brodkin said. “Stress how very unusual something like this is and, in many cases, that the person who did it was very ill.”
Be prepared to answer questions about what your school is doing to prevent a similar event in an age-appropriate way.
Connect with parents. In the event of a publicized incident, Brodkin recommended schools send home a letter with a brief survey asking how they can best help parents. Is a meeting necessary? Would they like information to share with their children? “Talk one-on-one with parents at pickup time to get a sense of their needs,” Brodkin said.
Make counseling resources available if needed. Again, proximity or personal connections are likely to drive a higher demand for counseling. “The average school counselor probably doesn’t have the expertise to address this issue,” Brodkin suggested. “Find a resource with special training and experience before a tragedy occurs to ensure they will be on hand when needed.”
Encourage students to ask adults for help. “Build relationships and urge kids to come to you if someone makes them feel uneasy or they see someone in the building who doesn’t seem to belong,” Brodkin said. “Let them hand their worries over to you.”
Older students might be more comfortable having an anonymous way to share information. “If you have six kids saying they’re all concerned about a certain person’s behavior, don’t assume that there’s a problem but do investigate,” Brodkin recommended.