Dear Bush Community,
My first thought after waking to the tragic news of another mass shooting—this time in Las Vegas, NV—was “how many times can my heart break?” I lay immobile, feeling despondent and helpless. My plans for the morning—a run, coffee with the parent of an alum, and preparing for a series of meetings with faculty, parents, and the new Academic Dean—were put on hold as I walked down the hall to my children’s room and watched as they slumbered—oblivious to the death toll, speculation about and profiles of the alleged shooter, and journalists, first responders, and police officers searching for an explanation that might account for at least fifty-eight lives lost prematurely and senselessly. Watching the covers rise and fall with each breath was a comfort.
I thought about what I would say to them when they woke. The sad fact is that I am quite practiced at helping them process and cope with their emotions after such tragic events. This shooting was accompanied by shocking video footage which many of our students will see. The ubiquity of media on mobile devices limits our ability to shield them from frightening ideas and images. This makes our presence, time, and counsel more necessary.
Below are some helpful ways to talk with your children about tragedy or violence in the news, excerpted from PBS.
- Start by finding out what your child knows. When a news topic comes up, ask an open-ended question to find out what your child knows, such as “What have you heard about it?” This sort of question encourages children to let you know what they are thinking.
- Tailor your answer to your child’s age. The amount of information children need changes age by age. A kindergarten student may feel reassured simply knowing that Las Vegas is far away. An older child may want to know what is being done to help those in need.
- Ask a follow up question. Depending on your child’s comments, ask another question to encourage further thought, such as “Why do you think that happened?” or “What do you think people should do to help?”
- Explain simply. Give children the information they need to know in a way that makes sense to them.
- Listen and acknowledge. If a child talks about a news event (like a local robbery or kidnapping) and is worried, recognize those feelings and give comfort. This acknowledges your child’s feelings, helps give a feeling of security, and encourages further conversation.
- Offer reassurance. When children are exposed to disturbing news, they may worry about their safety. To help children calm down, offer specific examples that relate to their environments.
My heart breaks for the scores killed in Las Vegas, the hundreds who were injured and those whose lives will be irrevocably impacted by the actions of the gunman. My heart breaks for the 657 students for whom I see daily, and for the two who live with me and will witness this pain, anguish, and sorrow as we discuss this at dinner tonight.
At school, our focus is on your children and their emotional safety. We will spend time during Middle and Upper School advisory periods and in Lower School homerooms as needed to help them make sense of this tragedy, and will make available our counselors Leah Brown (Lower School), Gayle Gingold (Middle School), and Maria Mathiesen (Upper School) and John Ganz (Upper School) to listen and to comfort.
Below are some resources for your family to use to help our children cope with yesterday’s events.
Talking to Children About Tragedies (American Academy of Pediatrics)
Helping Kids After a Shooting(American School Counselor Association)
Explaining the News to Our Kids (Common Sense Media)
Helping Children Cope with Terrorism – Tips for Families and Educators (National Association of School Psychologists)
In addition, remember to hug your children. At times like this, it may be the best reassurance for them and for us.
Percy L. Abram, Ph.D.
Head of School
Head of School