The terrible tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, serves as a reminder to our entire community about the importance of school safety. Emergency response plans, which are reviewed annually by the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) or Homeland Security, are in place at each of our Oconee County schools. Each school regularly practices emergency response drills, and we continually evaluate our safety and security procedures. In addition, we have an outstanding relationship with our local law enforcement agencies and work closely with them to ensure coordination of appropriate security measures.
As our nation and our schools move forward, it is important to understand how to best communicate the events of last week with our students. The National Association of School Psychologists offers the following recommendations for parents following a national tragedy.
What Parents Can Do
Focus on your children over the week following the tragedy. Tell them you love them and everything will be okay. Try to help them understand what has happened, keeping in mind their developmental level.
Make time to talk with your children. Remember if you do not talk to your children about this incident someone else will. Take some time and determine what you wish to say.
Stay close to your children. Your physical presence will reassure them and give you the opportunity to monitor their reaction. Many children will want actual physical contact. Give plenty of hugs.
Limit your child’s television viewing of these events. If they must watch, watch with them for a brief time; then turn the set off. Don’t sit mesmerized re-watching the same events over and over again.
Maintain a “normal” routine. To the extent possible, stick to your family’s normal routine for dinner, homework, chores, bedtime, etc., but don’t be inflexible.
Spend extra time reading or playing quiet games with your children before bed. These activities are calming, foster a sense of closeness and security, and reinforce a sense of normalcy.
Safeguard your children’s physical health. Stress can take a physical toll on children as well as adults. Make sure your children get appropriate sleep, exercise, and nutrition.
Consider praying or thinking hopeful thoughts for the victims and their families. It may be a good time to take your children to your place of worship, write a poem, or draw a picture to help your child express their feelings and feel that they are somehow supporting the victims and their families.
Find out what resources your school has in place to help children cope. Most schools are likely to be open and often are a good place for children to regain a sense of normalcy. Being with their friends and teachers can help.
No words can appropriately express the anguish that we all feel at the thought of losing a child. The parents, students, teachers, and community members of Newtown, Connecticut, are grieving an unimaginable loss. We grieve with them.