BLS student highlighted on CNN

One of our students, Kaelyn, was highlighted on CNN for the letter she wrote to the families of Sandy Hook ES in Newtown, CT.   Here a link to the report:  Children reach out to Newtown

In addition I have enclosed a letter written by Sarah Montgomery with the Chesapeake Life Center in regard to helping our children and ourselves with these difficult conversations.    I hope this information is helpful to you and all in our community.  If more help is needed please feel free to call on us here at Balanced Life Skills or our friends at the Chesapeake Life Center.

Dear Chesapeake Life Center Family and Friends,

It is with sadness that we, along with the rest of the country, process the tragic loss of life at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.  As my nine year old daughter prepared for bedtime Friday evening, we talked about what had happened and she said, “Mom, the parents must be especially sad because school is supposed to be a safe place.”  Yes, school is supposed to be a safe place.

Most of us are cautious about having conversations concerning violence with children–be it our own children, students in our classrooms, or other children in our lives.  This caution makes sense as we want to shield children from that which can hurt them.  However, most children will be exposed to news about violence, and it behooves us as child advocates to prepare ourselves for this difficult conversation.  Think of it as a scaffold of sorts, a structure to help understand new information to which they may be exposed.  This scaffold provides a sense of security and reassurance, and the knowledge that parents and other adults in their lives will let them know if there is something that warrants fear.  Key points to remember include assuring children that they are safe and that the worst is over, and that this kind of violence is extremely rare. In addition to keeping language developmentally appropriate and keeping a routine, we must also limit exposure to news coverage and images. Be aware, too, that children are listening when you think they are not, and monitor what you are saying in conversation with other adults.

Sensing that my daughter was assessing her own safety, I let her know that the shooter was in Connecticut, that he had died, and that he was no longer able to hurt anyone.  It is good to put time and distance between the violence and your child.  In addition, tailor your conversation to fit the needs of your child, limiting details to what is needed to explain the basics and to reassure.

We should remind children that it feels very unsure and scary now, but that this will pass and we will feel a sense of sureness and safety again soon. Later, that same day my daughter asked if most people are “good”.  I said that 99% of people are good and caring and look out for each other.  In her analytical way, my daughter asked, “Well, of the one percent left, how many people does that mean, is that still a lot?”  I reassured her that of these, only a few are prone to violence and that there are good people like teachers and police officers to help keep us safe.  It is essential to provide kids with this reassurance.  Without it, they would hold a hyper-vigilance which is both unhealthy and exhausting.

For the children most deeply affected by the experience, we can encourage them to do something with their grief–write a note, decorate a card, or collect donations for a shelter or grief organization.  We can also provide outlets for their feelings through movement, hugs, hand holding, and exercise.  Children need permission to have fun and place the worry to the side.  They may also need help replacing haunting images with more gentle and hopeful ones.  Looking through photos of fun times and recalling favorite memories may help, thus bringing these images to the forefront.

Please let us know if we at Chesapeake Life Center can be of any help now or in the future.  We also want to share that we will be holding several workshops about children and grief for professionals as well as parent. As we reflect, let us remember those who died last Friday are more than the end of their lives.  They were avid soccer players, brussel sprout avoiders, terrific tumblers, teddy bear snugglers, LEGO lovers and supportive siblings.   The school, too, is more than the scene of a crime, it holds memories of laughter and joy and learning and will again.  And remember too, that by loving and supporting our children and families in our lives, we are loving and supporting the children and families in Sandy Hook.

Thank You,

Sarah Montgomery, LCSW-C and Chesapeake Life Center Team

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