Part 1- What to tell your children
There is nothing a parent can do to prepare psychologically or emotionally for such a catastrophic event. We hope and pray that nothing like this befalls you, your children or your children’s children. What makes this event so heinous is that little children were targeted. Generally speaking there is a genetic predisposition within us to protect young children. So the impulse to harm small children is especially troubling.
But here are the things you can do. Tell your children that you love them and hug them a little closer. Turn the TV off. Do not let your children watch this continually, over and over again. Young children might think that repeated showings of the event means it happened more than once.
If your child wants to talk about it, be calm and peaceful, and by all means please do talk about it. It’s also OK to bring it up….And parents should to let your child know you are open to having the discussion. Answer your child’s questions truthfully and honestly but not graphically. Assure them you, their teacher and their school, will do everything to keep them safe. Assure them, the world is still generally a safe place, they are more likely to get hurt riding their bike…and they still ride their bikes!
Let them know you will be talking to their school about safety. That this is an adult problem and adults will solve it. We will learn from this situation. Also let your child know that if they have any ideas about how to make school safer you would welcome their input too.
Pray with your children for the families affected. It is OK to cry or to feel sad for the kids and teachers who were shot and the people who loved them. Engage your children, if old enough, in some activity that helps the Connecticut community or makes schools safer within your community. This helps all of us feel helpful as opposed to helpless.
Part 2- Action plan for parents at school
This coming Monday, parents across the country will be asking about school safety plans. Most schools are set up so that you have to be buzzed in to enter, but have no defenses after that. Lanza was buzzed into the school building. How are the staff prepared to deal with an aggressive intruder once they have entered the building?
Review the safety plan/drill with your child’s teacher. Do they have one? Did they have a practice drill? Did they pass and what were the recommendations for remediation?
The minimal secondary line of defense is to be able to secure and lock the classroom door(s) and have the kids hide in places where they cannot be seen from the door window. The music teacher in Connecticut saved her students when Lanza came banging at her classroom door. He moved on when he saw no one and the door was locked.
Massacres are done with automatic assault weapons. Automatic assault weapons need to be outlawed. In the immediate aftermath the NRA loves to be able to say this is not the time to discuss limiting weapons. this is an effective tactic as less people will be galvanized to do something as weeks pass by. While the Connecticut incident is not solely about the need for gun control, gun control should not be taken off the table as a topic for action. finally, we have witnessed unspeakable horror in all kinds of communities across the nation. This is a teachable moment and a wake up call to action.
Patricia Blessman, holds a PhD in Developmental Psychology from the University of Illinois Chicago.