Following the fatal shooting of dozens of students at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg and the wounding of several other people, the national children’s crisis charity KidsPeace, which has a center in Richmond, is issuing expert tips to help schools, parents, and local children cope with the aftereffects of the situation, as well as advice and perspective to the media. The 125-year-old nonprofit is also alerting schools and the public about the existence of a free resource that helps kids resolve problems before they become dangerous, and which has prevented school shootings in the past.
Tips to Schools, Parents & America’s Kids:
FOR PARENTS: For area children who have fears that their school or college is not safe or may become the target of a school shooting, KidsPeace offers 10 ways for parents and teachers to reassure and help their kids through such a crisis. The tips are online at http://www.kidspeace.org/
FOR SCHOOLS: To help school systems see the early warning signs of danger and deal with the psychological fallout of the scare, KidsPeace has online articles ( http://www.kidspeace.org/ ) from its national “Healing” magazine.
FOR KIDS: Perhaps most importantly, KidsPeace and top children’s experts Dr. Alvin Poussaint from Harvard and Dr. Lewis Lipsitt of Brown University have created a unique free website, http://www.teencentral.net/ that allows older kids and teens to work through the emotional stresses of growing up today – before those stresses become dangerous or overwhelming. TeenCentral.net, which gets 20 million hits a year, gives clinically screened help and hope to kids in all 50 states, at U.S. military bases worldwide, and in dozens of countries around the globe. The site helps kids identify the problems they face, from depression to school pressures, peer problems, family disputes, drugs, alcohol, smoking, even suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming others.
School Shootings Averted in the Past
TeenCentral.net has prevented a number of mass tragedies, as well as an uncountable number of personal ones. This happened in 2002 when a California teenager wrote in to TeenCentral.net saying he was going to “go Columbine” and kill students at his school. Although the site rigorously protects kids’ identity, a vigilant online counselor at KidsPeace alerted the authorities about the anonymous threat. In cases of potential disaster, the authorities can obtain a court order to track an individual server and the massacre was prevented. Although this kind of occurrence is unusual, this was one of several instances in several states where distraught teens were prevented by TeenCentral.net from carrying out plans to kill groups of their peers.
“The point is,” says C.T. O’Donnell II, president and CEO of KidsPeace, the National Center for Kids Overcoming Crisis, “there are resources that can save lives and limit the fear and damage to other children who worry they may be next.”
“Local kids may still be affected by the fear this has caused,” says Monica Decker, state manager for KidsPeace in Richmond. “It’s important to talk to kids who are still worried.”
10 Tips for Talking to Children About Shootings
C.T. O’Donnell II, Monica Decker and the clinical experts at KidsPeace have compiled a list of tips to help parents talk to their children about what happened and look out 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
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.). Do not go into
4. School-aged children will ask, “Can this happen here, or to me?” Do
not lie to children. Reiterate how the community is focused on working
to keep everyone safe in the community.
5. Parents, caregivers and teachers should be cautious of permitting
young children to watch news or listen to radio that is discussing or
showing the situation. It is too difficult for most of them to
process. Personal discussions are the best way to share information
with this group. Also, plan to discuss this many times over the coming
6. When discussing the 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
7. 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.
8. Be on the lookout for physical symptoms of anxiety that children may
demonstrate. They may be a sign that a child, although not directly
discussing the situation, 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
Refusal to go to school Clinging behavior
9. Parents and caregivers should often reassure children that they will
be protected and kept safe. During tragedies like these, words
expressing safety and reassurance with concrete plans should be
discussed and agreed upon within the family to provide the most
comfort to children and teens.
10. If you are concerned about your children and their reaction to this or
any tragedy, talk directly with their school counselor, family doctor,
local mental health professional or have your older children visit
KidsPeace’s teen-help web site, http://www.teencentral.net/ which
provides anonymous and clinically-screened help and resources for teen
problems before they become overwhelming.
KidsPeace is a 125-year-old national children’s crisis charity dedicated to giving hope, help, and healing to children facing crisis. With a center in Richmond and 66 centers nationwide, KidsPeace directly helps thousands of children a day with life-saving treatment to overcome the crises of growing up. With the help of VIP leaders including its national spokesperson Leeza Gibbons, KidsPeace helps millions more each year through educational outreach and awareness programs designed to help America’s kids and parents anticipate, intervene in and master crises that can affect any child – from disasters and personal traumas to family issues and neglect to life-threatening depression, eating disorders, and the many stresses of modern life. KidsPeace was named “The Outstanding Organization” of its kind in the country by the American Association of Psychiatric Services for Children and was called “a prototype of what we need for all children everywhere” by the late, nationally renowned child and family expert, Dr. Lee Salk.