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APS Crisis Counselors Provide Tips for Talking to Students about Connecticut Tragedy

Information comes from the APS Crisis Resource Booklet. Counselors will be available to talk to students and staff on Monday, Dec. 17.

December 14, 2012

Following the tragic shooting of students and staff at a Connecticut elementary school, APS crisis counselors shared tips for talking to students about death and dealing with stress. The information comes from the APS Crisis Resource Booklet.

Click here to read "Dealing with a National Crisis: Tips for Parents and Schools," an article by the National Association of School Psychologists provided by the Council of the Great City Schools.

Children's Common Reactions to Stress

Things To Do When Talking to Students About Death

Things Not To Do When Talking to Students About Death

Children's Common Reactions to Stress

Any traumatic event will create stress for those children who are directly affected by the event. Even children who are not directly affected may experience symptoms of distress. It is normal for children to alternate between periods of typical play activity and any of the following reactions. It is not uncommon for children toe experience any of the following feelings:

  • Shock/Disbelief
  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Grief
  • Confusion
  • Shame/Loss
  • Anger

Following a traumatic event, children are likely to show their distress in a variety of ways. Children may have difficulty understanding and talking about their feelings and may act out of their feelings through their behavior. It is not uncommon to exhibit any of the following behaviors:

  • Temporary regression to an earlier stage of development
  • Inability to focus and concentrate
  • Refusal to separate from parent/caregiver
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Sleep disturbances: increase or decrease in sleep or nightmares
  • Physical complaints such as stomachaches, headaches or dizziness
  • Restlessness and an increase in gross motor activity

Maintain regular routines to the greatest extent possible. Be calm, patient and supportive and modify expectations for a few days. Remember that you are in a better position to care for the children when you take the time to care for yourself. If responses are extreme or persist for more than two weeks, this may indicate a need for further intervention. Your counselor can help with referral information, if needed.

Things To Do When Talking to Students About Death

  • Share accurate, confirmed information regarding the situation.
  • Let your genuine concern and caring show.
  • Discuss, acknowledge and validate their feelings, ideas and values.
  • Explain individual differences in grieving.
  • Give permission for crying and other non-destructive expression of emotion.
  • Listen. What are they asking for?
  • Use vocabulary and concepts appropriate for the students age.
  • Expect questions to be repeated.
  • Encourage them to be patient with themselves and each other.
  • Explore that guilt is common but not rational.
  • Be honest and speak clearly.
  • Allow them to talk about their special memories.
  • Reassure students that the death does not mean that they or someone else will also die.

Things Not To Do When Talking to Students About Death

  • Don't force any student to take part in discussion or activities. Do not avoid students because of your own discomfort.
  • Don't avoid mentioning the names of the deceased.
  • Don't interrupt if at all possible. if the session is too long, set a time to return.
  • Don't tell them how to feel or how they should feel.
  • Don't say that you know how they feel.
  • Don't try to find something positive about the death.
  • Don't give abstract or fantasy answers. They create fear and confusion.
  • Don't moralize or be judgmental.
  • Don't use religion for explanations.
  • Don't romanticize, sensationalize or idealize.
  • Don't be graphic or detailed about the incident.
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