These words, written by american poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, commemorated the battle of concord, which took place on April 19, 1775, at the start of America’s Revolution for Independence from England.
Today, the shots heard ‘round the world are those echoing in high school hallways, college campuses, shopping malls, fast food restaurants, and most recently and most tragically, an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. on Dec.14, 2012. The entire world has heard these shots. The entire world has mourned this horrible loss of young innocent lives. While school administrators and law enforcement officials ponder how to prevent future school violence, parents have a more immediate concern: “How has this affected my children, and how can I address it with them?” The answer is both simple and complex.
Critical incident debriefing
As trite as it may sound, the answer is “communicate with your child.” One of the best ways to minimize the negative impact of the incident is to allow your child to express his concerns. Police and military units perform debriefings after critical incidents. Parents can do the same with their children. One of the keys to a successful critical incident debriefing is immediacy. The sooner those affected have an opportunity to debrief, the faster they can recover from the traumatic event. Indeed, research supports the idea that during the first 48 hours after an event, the debriefing will have its best and most lasting impact. For parents, this means talking to children as soon as possible after the critical incident. Postponing the discussion will not help; it will only hinder recovery. The second key to a successful debriefing is creating a safe environment. In a debriefing, “safe” means that the children will be encouraged to speak freely. The parents need to listen without judgment. Don’t interrupt. Don’t be critical or dismissive of what they say. Let them see that you are truly interested in what they are telling you.
Correct false information that children may have been told, but don’t put them down for having believed or expressed it. Your unconditional acceptance will help to foster an emotionally safe environment for your children. A safe environment also means physical safety. Children need to feel safe, secure and protected at home. They need the reassurance that they are protected from harm and their home is a safe place for them.
In addition to allowing children to speak and be validated, parents may also need to draw the children out about their emotions. Many children are reluctant to reveal their fears to their parents, so parents should be proactive in helping them express their feelings. Ask your child what they know about the shooting, and what, if anything, has been discussed in school. Ask for your child’s opinion and reaction. Ask about his or her friends’ reactions.
Keep in mind that communication is not just verbal. Now more than ever, after a critical incident, parents need to observe their kids’ behaviors and be attentive to their moods. Children may lack the correct vocabulary to express themselves when it comes to their emotions. They may have conflicting emotions, or their moods may fluctuate. They themselves may not even understand what they are feeling. Their only way of expressing their emotions and confusion may be through their actions and behaviors.Do they seem quieter or noisier than usual? Are they tense or agitated? Are they reluctant to go to school? Have their appetites changed? Are they having trouble sleeping? Are they experiencing nightmares? Have their play activities become more violent? Have they lost interest in play? Changes in behavior or mood often signal some distress in a child’s life.
Adults lead the way
Parents need to remember that they are role models for their children. It is important, therefore, for the parent to take care of him or herself. The calmer the parent stays, the calmer the child will be. One teacher in Newtown, kept her class of children calm by distracting and occupying the children until help could arrive. The current tragedy in Connecticut provides parents with an opportunity to engage their children in discussion about school violence. Communicating with your child may not stop school violence but it can help your child to better cope with it.