Life's Tool Box – A Guide for Parents and Educators

March 19, 2012

Helping Children Feel Safe in An Unsafe World

Filed under: Tools for Life Posts — by Life's Toolbox @ 10:12 pm
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         I turned on my computer this morning to be greeted by the terrible news of the school shooting in Toulouse, France, at a Jewish day school. This afternoon, I received a security alert from the University, explaining that while there are no specific concerns, please report anything unusual and be certain to have your ID with you at all times.  As I, an adult with degrees, training, and experience in managing trauma, struggle with sadness, anger, fear and loss, I wonder how we can help our children and students make sense of such tragedy and cope.

Many Jewish students, whether in day schools or congregational Hebrew schools, have become accustomed to having their Israeli counterparts in their prayers.  They know that the children of Sderot and other Israeli neighborhoods live in the shadow of bombs and never stray far from shelters.  To show solidarity they have sent books, cards, and wishes.  Many children in the US seem able to simultaneously be distressed at the situation their Israeli cousins experience, but feel safe in their Jewish institutions and lives here in America.  After all, Israel is a country surrounded by those sworn to destroy it.  Israel is a country that experiences wars at and within its borders.  America, even when fighting a war, maintains a peaceful life in its streets and neighborhoods.

The shooting in Toulouse may arouse greater concern among Jewish students.  Although some are aware of the dangerous increase in anti-semitism worldwide, their personal lives have been, to a large extent, wonderfully free from anti-Jewish violence.  Today’s events, an ocean away, may feel too close, happening at a place too much like the places American day school students spend their days.

As parents and educators, we have to do what we always have to do in times of challenge and trauma.  We have to be the grown-ups.  Sobbing and panicky inside, we need to present ourselves as capable of protecting, as taking all the right steps.  We can engage older students in providing for the victims and their community, whether with words or concrete items.  We can, in developmentally appropriate ways, answer children’s questions, recognizing that more than information, they need reassurance.  Of course, right now, every head of school and every parent is feeling incapable of providing just that.  How can we reassure children that they are safe, when the images of violence in schoolyards is fresh in our minds?  But we cannot respond to children’s questions about safety with silence.  We need to tell them that we are  doing and will do everything to make our schools safe.

Jewish children worldwide have just finished reading the Purim story, a dramatic reminder of the power of anti-semitism, and our power to be victorious.  Jewish schools are now busily preparing for Passover, learning of the Jewish nation’s emergence from slavery.  These are stories of trauma, but also of resilience.  Educators and parents should be open to both narratives in their children’s current stories.  We should be ready to listen to their words of worry and sadness, and be able to sit strong and patient as they share feelings of vulnerability and danger.  We should be prepared to provide some extra cuddling or other TLC, to be a bit lenient with bedtimes and homework due dates.  We should watch tv with our children and students, prepared to address any disturbing images they see.  We should also listen for and build their resilience, and engage them in filling their personal narrative with chapters of helping and healing, praying and giving.

When we think of the families in Toulouse, in Sderot, in Chardon, Ohio, in tornado alley, and in too many places in the world where war and disease invades childhood, it is easy for us to become paralyzed and overwhelmed.  Our children need us to see beyond trauma and tragedy, and to help them see a world where even in terrible moments, adults are here, listening, protecting, and getting ready for tomorrow.

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1 Comment »

  1. So, up to the minute, with all the “right stuff”…….. Blessings to you, and all who will heed your words……. I do feel helpless… at my age, and stage of life….. but I DO FEEL!! Thanks for your contribution to humanity…. It is for a blessing to us, for sure!!! (Even if vicariously, it makes us feel that something is being done!!) Love and strength, E and S

    Comment by Edward Milch — March 21, 2012 @ 1:23 am |Reply


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