Helping Children Cope Following School Violence

One of the most important aspects of children’s development and growth is the time spent at school. Children look forward to entering the classrooms every year to meet friends, while exploring and learning about all aspects of life.

School is exciting and teachers make learning fun. By definition, schools are institutions to educate children.

Schools shape children’s future and have a significant positive impact on society. Unfortunately, recent events make these statements appear less solid.

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On a seemingly normal Friday morning, a young man of 20 years entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and killed children and staff, before killing himself. Later it was found that this young man had killed his mother prior to committing this horrific act.

Schools are supposed to be a safe place where trusting parents can feel comfortable leaving their children, knowing that they are in good hands.

After a school shooting, how can parents and children feel safe? Part of the mission statement of Sandy Hook Elementary School, is “Cultivating academics and aesthetics in mutually supportive ways, our students develop the skills, attitudes, and abilities needed to live healthy, productive, and successful lives.”

Yet on that Friday morning, the mission changed dramatically as the entire school community has to help children and families cope with their tragic losses,

support the staff as they cope with the events, and further plan for potential mental health sequelae commonly associated with such acts. But the negative impact is not limited to this elementary school.

Dramatic events like these will have a major impact in the Newtown community, as well as in all communities around the world.

Dealing with traumatic events is difficult because mental health issues can arise in children due to media exposure and by the way adults react to such events.

While the Sandy Hook community needs to deal with primary trauma due to their immediate exposure to the event, communities around the world are at risk of being victims of secondary trauma that is experienced vicariously, as we witness the desperation and tears of normal people like you and I.

Therefore, it is important that we take the necessary steps to protect ourselves and, most importantly, we must protect our children, as they are the ones who are most vulnerable to trauma.

The National Emergency Assistance Team (NEAT) of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) has responded to school shootings in the U.S. and around the world in the last two decades.

In response to the recent shooting in Connecticut, they have published the following recommendations to help children cope:

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