The Las Vegas attack was the largest mass shooting in modern American history. No matter how young your students are, it is unlikely that they haven’t heard about it by now. Violent acts like this can cause a huge mix of emotions in your students. It can lead to heightened anxiety in individual students and your entire classroom.
But children are also extremely resilient. Media presents a lot of violence to young eyes, and children are more able to understand violence than adults may think. This doesn’t mean that violence should go unaddressed. While parents are likely to speak with their children about violence, this doesn’t mean you can’t acknowledge these events in school.
Be sure to approach your students about these acts of violence thoughtfully. Here are some ways you can do so.
- When discussing a violent act that has happened in the world, make sure to only present the facts. Explain what happened, and avoid going into grisly details. Instead gently explain what happened and why you want to discuss it at school.
- Don’t wait to broach the topic with your students. The longer you wait, the more time students have to investigate on their own and gossip about what has happened.
- When speaking about violence you want to ensure you are speaking to students in a way that is appropriate for their age. You may not want to go into depth about a shooter’s motivations with a kindergarten class. Use different language for different age groups. The older a student is, the more likely they are to understand the political side of these types of events, whereas young children may not. Take that into consideration.
- Ask your students questions and answer whatever questions you can do the best of your abilities. You want to ask how they feel, what they are scared of, and what concerns they have in their own everyday lives.
- Give projects or options that help students feel less helpless in light of the situation. Maybe you have students write letters of support, or write letters to local authorities about how they feel about what has happened. Explain local events that may be happening to students. They may want to go.
- Ask your students if they want to do anything to help. Maybe you can begin a fundraiser that will go to victims of a tragedy, or organize a vigil.
- Be honest about the situation. Don’t tell your students that everything is ok when it clearly is not. Put emphasis on the fact that you and the rest of the staff are hard at work keeping the school as safe as possible. Don’t tell students that violence can’t happen in the community, but do point out how uncommon mass shootings actually are.
- Be patient with your students, especially if they have friends and family in the area of an attack. It is understandable that students may be distracted for a couple of days following such a terrible event.
- Keep an eye on your students and note if there are any significant changes in their behavior. If certain students become withdrawn and exhibit signs of anxiety, talk to them individually.
Discussing the violence in the world is not what any of us wants to do, but sometimes things happen that cannot be ignored. Discuss the topic then move on to your regular lessons, but don’t try to pretend nothing is wrong. In the end, it can do more harm than good.
Our thoughts are with the victims and their families of the Las Vegas shooting.