Letter to Families – School tragedies

Friday evening, 12-14-12
Dear TCS Families,
I took some time off this afternoon to welcome my youngest son home from college for the holidays—a pleasurable time to think about the upcoming holidays and having family close. Tonight I watched the evening news and learned details about today’s school shooting in Connecticut that put families of young children central in my mind again. In the midst of whatever family events and celebrations you are planning or experiencing, it is almost certain that many of us—parents and teachers alike—will be considering the perceptions and understandings of young children about this horrible and tragic event. Although there are many miles between Idaho and Connecticut, during these days of instant information, graphic photos, and continuous media coverage it is especially important for us all to consider how to be with young children in home or classrooms, whether it is by shaping their experience or responding to their questions.
The school has some resources to support you in shaping experiences protectively and appropriately for young children and in talking with your child about scary events. I have placed these resources in the coffee room for you to look at or check out. This afternoon I received this link that may be helpful to adults in their support of young children:
Additionally, I want to share some thoughts:
First, it is fine to feel protective and to not want children to experience adult stories about this national tragedy. If very young children (under 5) see pictures of families crying, police cars circling the school, or children being led out of the school by police they will almost certainly interpret these events as happening here and now. If older young children (over 5) experience limited media stories about the school shooting, your presence will ensure that children are emotionally supported and have their questions answered.
Second, when adult emotions run high, children will likely know that. Children can learn from your example about caring for people that you don’t know, that it is o.k. to express feelings, and how to express sadness, fear or anger. These can be positive early experiences for young children. They will also need simple explanations and reassurances from you about these strong feelings. Your willingness to explain you emotions in very simple ways can be positive learning experiences for young children.
Jim Greenman, author of What Happened to the World? Helping children cope in turbulent times, provides guidance to parents based on child development and the individual uniqueness of each child. I find it helpful to read his words as I consider my own interactions with children. He writes about young children this way: “Children think very differently from adults, and at each stage of development they view the world through their own unique lenses. From birth, children have their own sensitivity to change, to unexpected events, and to distress. They respond to dramatic events and stress in their own way and with differing intensity.” When dramatic events and stresses do occur, he sums up children at different ages of early childhood in this way.
  • Children under 3:            They know something is up.
  • Children under 5:            They know more than you think, and much of it is incomplete or misconceived.
  • Children from 5-8:           They know much more than you think and want to know more.
Although we will not focus curriculum on this or any media story, teachers will be responsive and supportive of    children in every classroom in case children share comments, concerns, or observations. We remain committed to providing opportunities for children to play out experiences and ideas.
At home, if your child is talking about violent events, listen carefully to their concerns and questions. Don’t get into  more detailed information than they are really wanting or are ready to understand. Assure them that you and their teachers work hard to keep them safe. Tell them to talk with adults about what worries them. As always we like to hear from parents about what children express as concerns at home.
In the midst of the beauty and fun of this busy season (including our delicious bake sale coming up this week!), take time to care for yourselves and your children—with sensitivity and love—throughout each day, especially when the news is tough to hear and hard to grasp.