Addressing Violence in the School

After last Friday’s tragedy in CT, we were grateful to receive the following guidelines on addressing violence with students from a wonderful lower school principal. We hope these are helpful to teachers (both yoga and classroom teachers) and that we continue to spread the word of peace through our daily actions. -Namaste, Asana Alphabet

Helpful Guidelines to Keep in Mind
1. Any conversation with a student must be developmentally appropriate.
Young children are not able to process the complexities of violence in the same way that adolescents and young adults are prepared to discuss the issue. Young children often gauge how threatening an event is by adult reactions (i.e., if caregivers act scared and frightened, young children will view the event as scary and frightening). They may be confused by what they hear and may have basic fear responses such as bad dreams, resistance to separate from their parent, and/or crying and clinginess. They respond well to basic assurances by adults and simple examples of school safety like reminding children about exterior doors being locked, child monitoring efforts on the playground, and emergency drills practiced during the school day.
Older children and teenagers may have more information about an event as they are commonly able to access information independent of adults via the internet and television. For these youth, it is important to discuss issues openly emphasizing the efforts of school and community leaders to provide safe schools. It is also important to emphasize the role that students have in maintaining safe schools by following school safety guidelines (e.g. not providing building access to strangers, reporting strangers on campus, reporting threats to the school safety made by students or community members, etc.), communicating any personal safety concerns to school administrators, and accessing support for emotional needs.
2. Communicate to parents about the conversations that you have had with students.
It is important to keep parents informed about how you are responding to student questions and any type of support that has been made available for students struggling with the crisis. Additionally, if teachers working with older students choose to have classroom discussions about the event linked to their instructional activities, parents should be made aware of these activities and any suggestions for following up at home should be offered.
3. Guidelines for talking with children about violence.
Encourage parents to talk with their children and validate their feelings. They should let children’s questions guide what and how much information to provide, be open to opportunities to talk when children are ready, be honest about their own feelings related to violence, and emphasize the positive things that child/family/school can do to stay safe. They should be aware of signs that their child might be in distress, e.g., changes in behavior, anxiety, sleep problems, acting out, problems at school or with academic work. Remind parents and teachers to be conscious of media exposure and what they say about the event. Developmentally inappropriate information can cause anxiety or confusion, particularly in young children. Adults also need to be mindful of the content of conversations that they have with each other in front of children, even teenagers, and limit their exposure to vengeful, hateful, and angry comments that might be misunderstood.
4. Reinforce student strengths and focus on normal routines and activities.
It is important to know that one of the best ways for students to recover from the effects of a tragedy is to maintain or return to their normal school routines. Normal routines help establish a sense of calm and predictability important to maintaining effective learning environments. Schools should recognize that depending on the impact of the event on individuals, not all students will quickly be able to make these transitions back to the normal routine and that counseling services should be available for those continuing to require some support and guidance
5. Consider the cultures, traditions, religions and family/community values of students in any school response.
It is important that schools respect the values, traditions, beliefs and customs of the students and their families impacted by the crisis.~ Remember not everyone processes strong emotions through conversation. Some children and adults may need to respond through art, poetry, prayer, meditation or activity.

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