Resources for students and parents

January 4, 2007 

SCHOOL HOTLINE

Tacoma Schools Violence Prevention Hotline: 253-571-1155. Call if you have information that might prevent a violent incident at your school.

MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES

Some students may experience emotional difficulties in the wake of the shooting, say mental health professionals.

Especially vulnerable, according to the Cincinnati-based National Center for School Crisis & Bereavement, are students who were close friends of the victim, shared a class or activity with him or who may feel guilty over past disagreements with him.

The Child and Family Guidance Center in Tacoma offers tips for parenting children through trauma:

DO

1.Create opportunities to have your teen talk, but do not force him or her to. When your child talks, make sure to listen; do not brush him or her off. Keep in mind that a teen’s point of view may differ from your own, but it is important to validate that perspective. 2. Make the discussions an on-going process. Ask again how he feels about it in a week, then in a month and so on. Teens are very good at pretending things do not bother them. It is important to accept it at that moment, but maybe approach the subject at a later date. 3. Keep family routines. Plan your days and if you can, increase activities you can do together. 4. Be alert for any change in behavior. Are kids sleeping more, less or behaving in any way out of the ordinary? This may show that they are having trouble coming to terms with this event.

DON’T

1. Minimize your child's feelings.

2. Tell him to “get over it”.

3. Tell her not to worry.

Each child has his or her own way of coping under stressful situations and it is your job as a parent to help your child make the transition a smooth one.

If your child needs more help coping than you can provide at home, try these South Sound mental health organizations that offer counseling for teens:

Child and Family Guidance Center, 253-565-4484
Comprehensive Mental Health, 253-396-5800
Catholic Community Services Counseling, 253-502-2696
Good Samaritan Child and Adolescent Services Unit, 253-445-8120 or 888-445-8120

WEB SITES www.kidspeace.org: a Pennsylvania organization devoted to helping kids in crisis. Clinical experts at KidsPeace have compiled a list of tips to help parents talk to their children about what happened and look for future signs of distress: 1. Listen to children. Allow them to express their concerns and fears.

2. Regardless of age, the most important issue is to reassure children of safety and security. Tell children that you, their school, their friends and their communities are all focused on their safety and that those around them are working for their safety. Have discussions about those dedicated to protecting them like police, teachers and other school officials, neighbors and all concerned adults throughout the community.

3. When discussing the events with younger children, the amount of information shared should be limited to some basic facts. Use words meaningful to them (not words like sniper, etc.). Share with them that some bad people have used violence to hurt innocent people in the area. Do not go into specific details.

4. When discussing events with preteens and teens, more detail is appropriate, and many will already have seen news broadcasts. Do not let them focus too much on graphic details. Rather, elicit their feelings and concerns and focus your discussions on what they share with you. Be careful of how much media they are exposed to. Talk directly with them about the tragedy and answer their questions truthfully.

5. Although this group is more mature, do not forget to reassure them of their safety and your efforts to protect them. Regardless of age, kids must hear this message.

6. Be on the lookout for physical symptoms of anxiety that children may demonstrate. They may be a sign that a child, is very troubled by the recent events. Talk more directly to children who exhibit these signs: • Headaches • Excessive worry • Stomach aches • Increased arguing • Back aches • Irritability • Trouble sleeping or eating • Loss of concentration • Nightmares • Withdrawal • Refusal to go to school • Clinging behavior

www.TeenCentral.net: Developed by KidsPeace and experts from Harvard and Brown universities, it offers clinically screened help online for older kids and teens coping with the emotional stress of growing up in today's world. It's anonymous and confidential, but it's not a typical teen chat room. Rather, it's designed to have kids post questions about depression, family issues, substance abuse, peer problems and more. They receive confidential, online answers. But the sponsors of TeenCentral say they have intervened in the past and traced messages left by students to prevent violent actions.

www.pta.org: Click on the “Preventing Violence in Schools” button to find tips like these:

1. Talk to Your Children

Keeping the lines of communication open with your children and teens is an important step to keeping involved in their schoolwork, friends, and activities. Ask open-ended questions and use phrases such as "tell me more" and "what do you think?" Phrases like these show your children that you are listening and that you want to hear more about their opinions, ideas, and how they view the world. Start important discussions with your children—about violence, smoking, drugs, sex, drinking, death—even if the topics are difficult or embarrassing. Don't wait for your children or teens to come to you.

2. Set Clear Rules and Limits for Your Children

Children need clearly defined rules and limits set for them so that they know what is expected of them and the consequences for not complying. When setting family rules and limits, be sure children understand the purpose behind the rules and be consistent in enforcing them.

Discipline is more effective if children have been involved in establishing the rules and, oftentimes, in deciding the consequences. Remember to be fair and flexible—as your children grow older, they become ready for expanded rights and changes in rules and limits. Show your children through your actions how to adhere to rules and regulations, be responsible, have empathy toward others, control anger, and manage stress.

3. Know the Warning Signs

Knowing what's normal behavior for your son or daughter can help you recognize even small changes in behavior and give you an early warning that something is troubling your child. Sudden changes—from subtle to dramatic—should alert parents to potential problems. These could include withdrawal from friends, decline in grades, abruptly quitting sports or clubs the child had previously enjoyed, sleep disruptions, eating problems, evasiveness, lying, and chronic physical complaints (stomachache or headaches).

4. Don't Be Afraid to Parent; Know When to Intervene Parents need to step in and intervene when children exhibit behavior or attitudes that could potentially harm them or others. And you don't have to deal with problems alone—the most effective interventions have parent, school, and health professionals working together to provide on-going monitoring and support.

5. Stay Involved in Your Child's School

Show your children you believe education is important and that you want your children to do their best in school by being involved in their education. Get to know your child's teachers and help them get to know you and your child. Communicate with your child's teachers throughout the school year, not just when problems arise. Stay informed of school events, class projects, and homework assignments. Attend all parent orientation activities and parent-teacher conferences. Volunteer to assist with school functions and join your local PTA. Help your children seek a balance between schoolwork and outside activities. Parents also need to support school rules and goals.

6. Join Your PTA or a Violence Prevention Coalition

According to the National Crime Prevention Council, the crime rate can decrease by as much as 30 percent when a violence prevention initiative is a community-wide effort. All parents, students, school staff, and members of the community need to be a part of creating safe school environments for our children. Many PTAs and other school-based groups are working to identify the problems and causes of school violence and possible solutions for violence prevention.

7. Help to Organize a Community Violence Prevention Forum

Parents, school officials, and community members working together can be the most effective way to prevent violence in our schools.

8. Help Develop A School Violence Prevention and Response Plan

School communities that have violence prevention plans and crisis management teams in place are more prepared to identify and avert potential problems and to know what to do when a crisis happens. The most effective violence prevention and response plans are developed in cooperation with school and health officials, parents, and community members. These plans include descriptions of school safety policies, early warning signs, intervention strategies, emergency response plans, and post-crisis procedures.

9. Know How to Deal With the Media in a Crisis

Good public relations and media relations start with understanding how the media works and what they expect from organization's that issue press releases, hold press conferences, and distribute media kits.

10. Work to Influence Lawmakers

Writing an editorial for the local newspaper, holding a petition drive, speaking before a school board meeting, or sending a letter to your legislator can be effective ways to voice your opinion and gain support from decision makers for violence prevention programs in your community. Working with other concerned parents, teachers, and community members, you can influence local, state and even federal decisions that affect the education, safety, and well-being of our children.

www.nasponline.org/resources: The National Association of School Psychologists offer suggestions for both parents and school officials.

Here’s one of the organization’s tip sheets:

WHAT PARENTS CAN DO

• Be Good Role Models- Violent behavior is often learned behavior. Therefore, parents must model appropriate behavior. Angry or excessive physical discipline, yelling and verbal aggression, and physical or verbal abuse of children always should be avoided, as should violent arguments or behavior between parents.

• Limit/Avoid Exposure to Violent Media- One particular culprit that lends to violence among children is the television and other media. Studies of the effects of TV violence on children have found that children may become immune or numb to the horror of violence and gradually accept violence as a way to problem- solve. This fact holds true for music and video games as well. Parents should limit the amount of exposure their children have to violent television and video games. • Keep The Lines of Communication Open - Parents should make themselves accessible to their children for talks about events in their lives, problems they may encounter, and feelings that they may experience as a result. Parents should assist with healthy problem-solving; stressing problem solving without violence. • Teach Positive Ways to Express Emotions. Help children understand that all feelings are valid but there are appropriate ways to express them, even anger and frustration. Help them learn to identify how they feel and why. Suggest a variety of ways to express their emotions, including talking, drawing, writing, and playacting as well as strategies for stress release such as physical activity and mediation. • Keep Weapons Away From Children- Ideally, do not keep guns at home. Store all weapons (e.g., guns, knives) in securely locked locations. For safe gun storage, make sure that the gun’s safety is engaged, the gun is not loaded, and that ammunition is stored in a separate location. Only parents should know where the weapons are located. • Monitor Changes in Behavior – Pay attention to changes in your child’s behavior. For example, if your child begins to exhibit new or increased rule breaking behavior and acts aggressively verbally and/or physically, address this behavioral change with the child and seek assistance from mental health professionals as necessary. WHAT EDUCATORS CAN DO

• Create a Positive School Climate- Develop a strong academic mission along with clear nonviolent and pro-social behavioral expectations. Apply consistent and fair rule enforcement.

• Early Identification and Intervention – Identify students who exhibit at-risk characteristics of violent behavior, and provide support before these students engage in disruptive or violent behavior.

• Teach Conflict Resolution- Implement social skills programs and other programs designed to teach peaceful ways to resolve conflicts. Examples of these types of programs are Stop and Think, Peacebuilders, Second Step Intervention, and Peacemakers. • Provide School-Based Mental Health Services- Have available staff to whom students can go when they are having problems, having difficulty coping with, or adjusting to particular events or situations in their life. These staff can help students’ work through their personal difficulties and/or refer the student and their family to community resources.

• Build Community Partnerships- Schools should collaborate with community service agencies to provide additional knowledge, skills, and resources that can contribute to greater outcomes of violence prevention efforts.

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