Dealing with tragedy - Tips and Resources for Teachers and Parents
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Tragic events like September 11th, 2001 are difficult to discuss with students and children no matter what age they may be. We offer the following suggestions to help your students and children cope with and move beyond tragc events.

Tips for Parents


Reassure children that they are safe.
 Explain to them that there are good, competent people in charge who are working to keep us all safe.

Point out good deeds that have come out of this tragedy. Focus on stories of heroism and generosity to help children fortify their belief in humanity.

Explain that feeling upset is normal. Communicate to your children that being sad or crying about these events is ok.

Talk about the tragedy with children old enough to understand recent events. Tell your children the truth, but make sure that your explanations are age-appropriate. Younger children will need brief information (only if they are aware of the tragedy and are asking questions) combined with reassurances of safety and love. Older children will be able to ask more involved questions and may need more detailed reassurances about why they are safe. Give children the answers to their questions and try to avoid speculation. Be a good listener and ask your children why they are asking the questions they are asking, to get to the root of their anxiety.

Try to keep your routine. This fosters feelings of safety and stability.

Encourage young children to express their feelings through art.  This may help them express thoughts they are unable to articulate.

Stay calm.  Children take cues from your behavior. It is ok to show that you are upset, but avoid expressing strong feelings of anger, fear, or hopelessness.

Try to spend more time with your children.  Tell them that you love them and engage them with quiet, calming activities.

Limit exposure to the media. Avoid "staying glued" to the television. Instead, watch for a brief time and then talk about what you are seeing.

Don't punish children for reverting to behaviors from an earlier age, e.g., bed-wetting. Instead, encourage them to verbalize the feelings behind their actions. These behaviors will subside over time.

Be familiar with signs of trauma and monitor your child's behavior in the upcoming weeks. Be in touch with teachers and caregivers to ask about your child's behavior.

Take care of yourself. Your children take cues from your words and actions, and you will need to take care of your own needs in order to stay calm and strong for your children. Seek out community resources to find the support you need.

This list of tips has been compiled using information from the Web sites of the following organizations: The American Counseling Association, The National Association of School Psychologists, and The Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance (COVA).

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Tips for Teachers


Listen carefully and be honest. Talk openly with your students about the tragic events with clear, age-appropriate information.

Avoid rumors and misconceptions. First talk with other teachers in the school and your principal about what factual information to provide.

Give your students the opportunity to gently face the reality of what has occurred. Include plenty of time during the day for class discussions in which the children can express their emotions and ask questions.

Assure the students that their feelings are normal. Admit when you don't have specific answers, and share your own feelings with them, even if your feelings are difficult.

Comfort your students. Emphasize that they should not be afraid to share how they feel and to cry if they want or need to.

Stick to a normal school day routine. Routines can provide a sense of comfort for students who feel that their lives and emotions are out of control.

Before they return to school, ask students who have suffered personal losses if they would like to discuss the death of their loved ones with the class. Set the tone for the discussion by explaining to the other students how they can support their grieving classmates by listening and being there for them.

Incorporate activities that allow your class to process their feelings. Ask your students to write condolence letters or cards to the victims' families, and thank-you cards to the heroic men and women who rescued people. Point out all the stories of heroism and generosity.

Encourage your students to express their feelings through art. This may help them express thoughts they are unable to articulate. Provide opportunities for your students to work together on a class project, like a memorial Web site, to express and display the emotions they share.

Create an educational forum. Set up forums and discussion groups to discuss the attacks, and give students a chance to express their views. If possible, include or invite members of the Arab-American and Muslim communities to speak, too. Invite your social studies students to consider other ways of achieving peace and justice. Reaffirm the inherent value of all human life.

Information on this list has been compiled from the Web sites of The National Education Association, National Association of School Psychologists, and www.tolerance.org.

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