Teacher Information Related To The Recent Tragedy

Tuesday's tragic acts of terrorism are unprecedented in the American experience. Children, like many people, may be confused or frightened by the news and will look to adults for information and guidance on how to react. Parents and school personnel can help children cope first and foremost by establishing a sense of safety and security. As the nation learns more about what happened and why, adults can continue to help children work through their emotions and perhaps even use the process as a learning experience. The following information was designed to be helpful to you in reminding you of best practices in working with children during tragic times.

All Adults Should:

1. Model calm and control. Children take their emotional cues from the significant adults in their lives. Avoid appearing anxious or frightened.

2. Reassure children that they are safe and so are the other important adults in their lives. Explain that these buildings were targeted for their symbolism and that schools, neighborhoods, and regular office buildings are not at risk.

3. Remind them that trustworthy people are in charge. Explain that the government emergency workers, police, fireman, doctors, and the military are helping people who are hurt and are working to ensure that no further tragedies occur.

4. Let children know that it is okay to feel upset. Explain that all feelings are okay when a tragedy like this occurs. Let children talk about their feelings and help put them into perspective. Even anger is okay, but children may need help and patience from adults to assist them in expressing these feelings appropriately.

5. Observe children's emotional state. Depending on their age, children may not express their concerns verbally. Changes in behavior, appetite, and sleep patterns can also indicate a child's level of grief, anxiety or discomfort. Children will express their emotions differently. There is no right or wrong way to feel or express grief.

6. Tell children the truth. Don't try to pretend the event has not occurred or that it is not serious. Children are smart. They will be more worried if they think you are too afraid to tell them what is happening.

7. Stick to the facts. Don't embellish or speculate about what has happened and what might happen. Don't dwell on the scale or scope of the tragedy, particularly with young children.

8. Be careful not to stereotype people or countries that might be home to the terrorists. Children can easily generalize negative statements and develop prejudice. If prejudice comments or acts occur, point out that their classmates and neighbors are Americans like them and they also have families to protect. This can be an excellent opportunity to talk about how prejudice occurs and how they can stop it from spreading. For older children, discussions related to the development of prejudice during WWII may initiate conversation. Additionally, discussions related to how terrorists develop their belief systems may be appropriate. 

9. Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate. Early elementary school children need brief, simple information that should be balanced with reassurances that the daily structures of their lives will not change. Upper elementary and early middle school children will be more vocal in asking questions about whether they truly are safe and what is being done at their school. They may need assistance separating reality from fantasy. Upper middle school and high school students will have strong and varying opinions about the causes of violence in schools and society. They will share concrete suggestions about how to make school safer and how to prevent tragedies in society. They will be more committed to doing something to help the victims and affected community. For all children, encourage them to verbalize their thoughts and feelings. Be a good listener!

What Schools Can Do

1. Assure children that they are safe and that schools are well prepared to take care of all children at all times.

2. Maintain structure and stability within the schools. Teachers may consider not having major tests or projects within the next few days. Teachers may provide information directly to their students, not during entire public address announcements.

3. Be aware of students who may have recently experienced a personal tragedy or a have personal connection to victims or their families. Even a child who has been to visit the Pentagon or the World Trade Center may feel a personal loss. Provide these students extra support and leniency if necessary.

4. Allow time for age appropriate classroom discussion and activities. Teachers cannot provide all of the answers. They should ask questions and guide the discussion, but not dominate it. Other activities may include art and writing projects, play acting, and physical games.

5. Refer children who exhibit extreme anxiety, fear or anger to school social workers, school psychologists, and counselors in the school. Inform their parents.

6. Provide an outlet for students' desire to help. Consider making get well cards or sending letters to the families and survivors of the tragedy, or writing thank you letters to doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals as well as emergency rescue workers, firefighters and police.

7. Monitor or restrict viewing of this horrendous event as well as the aftermath.

For additional information, please go to http://www.nasponline.org/NEAT/crisis_0911.home
Wyandotte Crisis Committee

Sample Crisis LetterWritten After September 11th
See NASP's website for additional articles
Guide To Help Parents Talk to Their Children About Violence Link-Mayo Clinic Article