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December 16th, 2012

Park Slope Principal: Talking about Sandy Hook Tragedy

December 16, 2012

Here is a letter that went out today to parents and guardians at PS 321 from Principal Liz Phillips:

"Dear P.S. 321 Parents and Guardians:

"I know that we are all so deeply saddened and disturbed by the recent events in Connecticut. Our hearts go out to the families and the school staff in Sandy Hook, as we also think about how our own children/students will be affected by this. I wanted to let you know our plans for how will we handle the news of the school shooting and to share with you some thoughts on how to talk to children about this tragedy.

"Families will, of course, handle this in the way that makes the most sense for them, and we certainly respect that. For all of us though, it is very important to take our cues from the children. If children are asking about what happened, we need to be somewhat honest without going into gruesome detail. It’s good to give a little information at a time and see if that is all children want. If they ask more questions, you can then give more information. Maintaining a calm demeanor yourself is very helpful. It is almost never useful to share extreme anguish over an event like this with children. Some children will be deeply affected by this event; others will not. We need to make sure that we validate whatever children are feeling and that children who don’t seem affected by it are not made to feel guilty. Whenever tragedy occurs, we say to children, “however you are feeling is okay…it’s normal if you are upset; it’s also normal if you are not.”

"Although I do believe we need to take cues from children, I also think it is inevitable that most children, particularly those in grades 2 and up, will hear about this horrible event. If even one child in a class knows, it is likely that at recess or lunch children will be talking about it. It is better that your child hear about this from you than from other children or even from the teacher. I would therefore urge you to find a calm and safe way to bring this up with your child in these grades. I am attaching a sheet of advice from the Center for School Mental Health. Even though as adults we know that we cannot ever give a 100% guarantee of safety, we do need to tell our children that they are safe and that many people are looking out for them.

"If children in grades 2-5 do bring up the shooting on Monday in public ways, the teachers will be prepared to talk about it. I will be meeting with them on Monday morning to share ideas about this. In our Prekindergarten, Kindergarten, and first grade classes, the teachers will make decisions based on what they are hearing from children. Most likely there will not be whole class discussions in these grades unless groups of children bring up the event in a very public manner. All of our teachers will be on the lookout for children who are acting unusual, who appear to be deeply affected, and we will provide individualized support through our guidance counselors, school social workers, and school psychologist. If you feel your child needs this support please let me or the classroom teacher know.

 "There is widespread agreement that it is important to limit children’s exposure to television coverage of the shooting. Young children in particular have difficulty seeing violent events on television and understanding that they are simply a repeat of a prior event, not an event happening again.

"Even though I don’t think that anyone believes that a lack of safety procedures had anything to do with the tragedy in Connecticut, when events like this occur, it is a reminder to all of us about the importance of paying attention to safety measures, from fire drills, to procedures for lockdowns, to locking doors and having visitors sign in. I assure you that we have many procedures in place to keep children safe, and I will be reviewing them with our staff this week. We have a school safety committee that meets monthly, and we will be scheduling a public meeting of this committee for sometime in January that you are welcome to attend.

"There are many resources on the internet about talking to children about crises. Please see the information on the next two pages from the Center for School Mental Health. Three other websites with good information include: (click on free resources and then the red banner at the top)

In any tragedy, what children want more than anything is that things remain normal. We are so fortunate that for us “normal” is a wonderful, kind, caring community. Thank you all for being a part of that.


Liz Phillips


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