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Going Back to School After a Tragedy

Support and routine are essential 

With our hearts and minds are still with those in Newtown, Connecticut, and the tragic loss of children and teachers, most schools will be resuming on Monday across the country. This is a good thing, because it is essential that children fall back into ordinary routines after hearing disturbing and frightening news. Children find comfort in the familiar, and going back to school and any after-school activities helps build healthy, resilient children.

But after this school shooting, some kids might be hesitant about going back to school. Here are some tips for helping kids worried about going back:

Take your cues from your child

Invite your child to tell you how he feels about going back to school. Don't ask leading questions—"Are you worried about going back to school?"—but do give him an opportunity to express what's on his mind. Assuming you've discussed the shooting, you might ask if he expects to discuss it at school, or whether he expects any school activities relating to it.

Give him ample opportunity to ask questions.

It's reassuring to children, and helps diminish frightening fantasies, to express what' they're worried about. If your child is thinking that his classroom may no longer be—or feel—safe, it's good to listen to those fears.

Acknowledge his feelings, but remain calm. 

You can let your child know that you can understand why he might be uneasy. And then you can have a factual conversation about how rare school shootings are. You can also assure him that this tragedy is being investigated carefully, to identify causes and help prevent it from happening again. It's confidence-building for kids to know that we learn from negative experiences.

Emphasize school safety

Remind your child that her school is a very safe place, filled with teachers and other adults who love children and have dedicated their lives to helping them. Remind her of the drills and policies already in place to keep students safe.

Give extra reassurance.

Don't be surprised if your child is unusually clingy or needy this week, and do be prepared to slow your morning routines and be physically affectionate and comforting.

Listen when they're not talking

Be on the lookout for nonverbal cues indicating anxiety. The 8-year-old who hasn't asked you about the shooting but who has seen the images, and whose sleep and eating habits have changed after the tragedy, may need to have a conversation-even if she isn't asking in words.

Know who else can help 

Teachers and school counselors will be ready to help children with any concerns they might have while they are in school. Encourage your child to talk to them if he is feeling overwhelmed on the first day back or later in the week. Let him know that it's fine to bring the subject up again to you or anyone else if he has questions or feelings he wants to share later.

Finally, if you think that one of your children has been seriously impacted, please don't hesitate to reach out to the Child Mind Institute (212.308.3118). A collection of our trauma resources for parents and teachers can be found on childmind.org here.

Published: December 16, 2012

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