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High profile acts of violence, particularly in schools, can confuse and frighten children who may
feel in danger or worry that their friends or loved-ones are at risk. They will look to adults for
information and guidance on how to react. Parents and school personnel can help children feel
safe by establishing a sense of normalcy and security and talking with them about their fears.
1. Reassure children that they are safe. Emphasize that schools are very safe. Validate
their feelings. Explain that all feelings are okay when a tragedy occurs. Let children talk
about their feelings, help put them into perspective, and assist them in expressing these
2. Make time to talk. Let their questions be your guide as to how much information to
provide. Be patient. Children and youth do not always talk about their feelings readily.
Watch for clues that they may want to talk, such as hovering around while you do the
dishes or yard work. Some children prefer writing, playing music, or doing an art project as
an outlet. Young children may need concrete activities (such as drawing, looking at picture
books, or imaginative play) to help them identify and express their feelings.
3. Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate.
• Early elementary school children need brief, simple information that should be
balanced with reassurances that their school and homes are safe and that adults are
there to protect them. Give 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.
• Upper elementary and early middle school children will be more vocal in asking
questions about whether they truly are safe and what is being done at their school.
They may need assistance separating reality from fantasy. Discuss efforts of school and
community leaders to provide safe schools.
• Upper middle school and high school students will have strong and varying opinions
about the causes of violence in schools and society. They will share concrete
suggestions about how to make school safer and how to prevent tragedies in society.
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.
4. Review safety procedures. This should include procedures and safeguards at school and
at home. Help children identify at least one adult at school and in the community to whom
they go if they feel threatened or at risk.
5. Observe children’s emotional state. Some children may not express their concerns
verbally. Changes in behavior, appetite, and sleep patterns can indicate a child’s level of
anxiety or discomfort. In most children, these symptoms will ease with reassurance and