Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

Our hearts are broken with this horrific event.  We’ve been posting guidelines of varieties of sorts on the website.

 

We are getting many questions from schools regarding how to support staff who are rattled today, what to say in parent letters home..  We will continue to upload information at https://www.cmionline.com/current-events/.

Please post questions here and I’ll reply as often as I’m able.

 

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  1. brantwalsh Reply December 17, 2012 at 10:07 am

    Test

  2. cherilovre Reply December 17, 2012 at 10:18 am

    Please ask questions here ~  Cheri

  3. brantwalsh Reply December 17, 2012 at 10:19 am

    Should we go ahead with a lock-down drill that was scheduled for this week?

    • cherilovre Reply December 17, 2012 at 10:22 am

      @brantwalsh Thanks for the question… others have asked the same thing.  I think that until after the holidays, it might be helpful to talk with kids about how we do them rather than actually practice.  Answer all of their questions.  Ask what would help them feel safe.  If, in one classroom, kids actually ask the teacher to show them where it is safest, they could just walk over there and talk about it.  They key is to keep asking kids what will help.

  4. tmcgrane Reply December 17, 2012 at 10:53 am

    We have students who are worried at the high school level about Friday’s prediction. Some are talking about staying home or coming to school armed. That is frightening other students. Any suggestions?

    • cherilovre Reply December 17, 2012 at 11:19 am

      @tmcgrane
      I’m sure that the incident at Sandy Hook is only heightening kids fears in general, and so now this!  A few things come to mind.  I wouldn’t suggest schools bringing it up if there isn’t any conversation about it at all, but if kids are talking about it, we are always wisest to be a part of the conversation.  Otherwise we drive the conversation underground and out of our view.  If there is even a small chance that kids will be bringing weapons to protect themselves, YOU BET you want to be part of the conversation. It is only by making this a topic of conversation that you will hear from kids what they’re planning.  We have to remember, if they are worried about it, our silence only makes it more frightening for them.  Frightened people lose the ability to be rational.  This heightens risk for all of us.  Talking relieves pressure.
       
      You could choose from some of this to put together a discussion:
      – We’re hearing that kids have heard of the Mayan Calendar prediction for Friday.
      – For students, this may be the first time you’ve heard about a prediction like this.
      – There have been many that have come and gone over the years.  (The whole of Oregon/WA were to fall into the ocean in … 1999 or so?)
      – Talk about the role of contagion and how we can all add to one another’s anxiety, and why that doesn’t help.
      – We make our poorest decisions when acting out of fear.
      – (If they’re talking about bringing weapons) Help me understand how arming yourselves would help?
      – Help them thing through how it would be worst of all to be the last person standing – armed and alone – against the ending world!!
      THEN!!!
      – Talk about predictions being analogies – that many aren’t literal at all, but that this could be when they saw us moving from the
      – Then begin to give honest reassurances.  “I’ve seen too many of these predictions come and go, so I’M not worried
      – I understand that, for youth, you’re still making sense of the world and this could seem haunting.
      – I’ll be going about my day as usual, and I’m looking forward to seeing you all on Friday.  All day!
       
      We have to remember that, if we simply tell them not to worry, or tell them it isn’t going to happen, this only exacerbates their fears.  They can only become less anxious if we FIRST listen to their fears and walk them through what I call “awful-izing”… or letting them voice their worst fear, and then we move them to a more rational place.  Every time we shut down their side of the conversation, we tell them not to let us know when something is really important… and if there is anything we need right now, it is to hear kids’ deepest, darkest fears.  You can see the “THEN” in the list – we walk with them into their fears so they will voice them, and THEN we begin to bring them to a new place, BRINGING them with us.
       
      Bless you for all your good work!

  5. cherilovre Reply December 17, 2012 at 11:17 am

    I’m sure that the incident at Sandy Hook is only heightening kids fears in general, and so now this!  A few things come to mind.  I wouldn’t suggest schools bringing it up if there isn’t any conversation about it at all, but if kids are talking about it, we are always wisest to be a part of the conversation.  Otherwise we drive the conversation underground and out of our view.  If there is even a small chance that kids will be bringing weapons to protect themselves, YOU BET you want to be part of the conversation. It is only by making this a topic of conversation that you will hear from kids what they’re planning.  We have to remember, if they are worried about it, our silence only makes it more frightening for them.  Frightened people lose the ability to be rational.  This heightens risk for all of us.  Talking relieves pressure.
     
    You could choose from some of this to put together a discussion:
    – We’re hearing that kids have heard of the Mayan Calendar prediction for Friday.
    – For students, this may be the first time you’ve heard about a prediction like this.
    – There have been many that have come and gone over the years.  (The whole of Oregon/WA were to fall into the ocean in … 1999 or so?)
    – Talk about the role of contagion and how we can all add to one another’s anxiety, and why that doesn’t help.
    – We make our poorest decisions when acting out of fear.
    – (If they’re talking about bringing weapons) Help me understand how arming yourselves would help?
    – Help them thing through how it would be worst of all to be the last person standing – armed and alone – against the ending world!!
    THEN!!!
    – Talk about predictions being analogies – that many aren’t literal at all, but that this could be when they saw us moving from the
    – Then begin to give honest reassurances.  “I’ve seen too many of these predictions come and go, so I’M not worried
    – I understand that, for youth, you’re still making sense of the world and this could seem haunting.
    – I’ll be going about my day as usual, and I’m looking forward to seeing you all on Friday.  All day!
     
    We have to remember that, if we simply tell them not to worry, or tell them it isn’t going to happen, this only exacerbates their fears.  They can only become less anxious if we FIRST listen to their fears and walk them through what I call “awful-izing”… or letting them voice their worst fear, and then we move them to a more rational place.  Every time we shut down their side of the conversation, we tell them not to let us know when something is really important… and if there is anything we need right now, it is to hear kids’ deepest, darkest fears.  You can see the “THEN” in the list – we walk with them into their fears so they will voice them, and THEN we begin to bring them to a new place, BRINGING them with us.
     
    Bless you for all your good work!

  6. kellias Reply December 17, 2012 at 11:23 am

    My son is almost six.  Is he too young to learn about this event?  His pediatrician said we should talk to the school about the school’s emergency procedures and make sure he understands those.  I’m a little worried that he’ll hear about the event at school though.  Should I talk to him about it proactively, even if it’s just to explain that if he ever sees someone with a gun he needs to run away as fast as he can?

    • cherilovre Reply December 17, 2012 at 12:13 pm

      @kellias Oh I know this is so painfully difficult!!  But what we find is that kids hear SO MUCH about this stuff on the school bus.  I think that the number of kids who wouldn’t hear about it at school today will be less than one percent.  I have gotten hundreds of texts, emails and calls about how much the kids ARE asking questions.  We don’t to have them wonder whether we are too afraid to talk to them about it.  They need to hear us be calm, tell them the truth – BUT developmentally appropriately.  Please use the banner at the top of our page – the red line with “Sandy Hook” in it and look for the parent handout.  Although I voice that what you can do is just continue to inquire about what they know, I really do know the best thing is for you to be the one that brings it up… after all, isn’t it best for our little ones to hear about frightening things when in the arms of a loving adult rather than the back seat of the school bus?
       
      Take a deep breath… have courage… you don’t have to have the right answers… he doesn’t need you to be an instant counselor… he just needs to feel you close and have the sense that you’re in control of life (as much as any of us can be!) and that you are so THERE for him… ask what will help him feel safe… absolutely.  Talk with him. 
       
      Keep checking our website for more uploads on the “Current Events” page.

  7. sheila argeris Reply December 17, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    Hi Cheri,
    Your website is the first place I looked for guidance.  Thank you for always being that “rock” for us and being the voice of wisdom and experience.  I appreciate the validation that cancelling drills for this week is wise.

    • cherilovre Reply December 18, 2012 at 9:20 am

      @sheila argeris
      Hi Sheila! 
      Always brings a smile to my face to see your name. 
      I just think it is OK to take it easy for a few days… answer questions, walk kids through it if they’re really asking what to do.  I just think that right now, too many kids would think it was a true emergency and would have much higher anxiety and, for some, trauma.
      Blessings on all of you for all you do!

  8. cherilovre Reply December 17, 2012 at 10:05 pm

    Hi Sheila! 
    Always brings a smile to my face to see your name. 
    I just think it is OK to take it easy for a few days… answer questions, walk kids through it if they’re really asking what to do.  I just think that right now, too many kids would think it was a true emergency and would have much higher anxiety and, for some, trauma.
    Blessings on all of you for all you do!

  9. CZ Reply December 18, 2012 at 5:25 am

    Hi Cheri,
     
    I am so pleased to have your site to refer to for guidance.  My son’s elementary school sent a reprint home from your site.  
     
    I have a difficult task in front of me.  At church on this past Sunday, the Pastor addressed this situation before the member congregation and during the children’s sermon.  The age level of children was from birth up.  He gave a very detailed account of this tragic event unfortunately before I had even discussed it with my 7 and 4 year old.  You can imagine the difficult position all parents were in. 
     
    Do you have any guidance for me in addressing the Church on this inappropriate talk to a vary captive audience?  I would like to be able to provide some good sound advice trying to keep my emotions under control.
     
    Thank you so much,
    Colleen

    • cherilovre Reply December 18, 2012 at 9:16 am

      @CZ Oh, Colleen, break my heart!  I appreciate your effort at managing your emotions in the midst of this. There are likely many other parents of young children who are having the same reaction you are having, so one thought would be for you to find a few like-minded parents with whom you could craft a clear statement to the minister, which could be delivered as such or could be the outline you’d follow in addressing this with him in person.  Having several minds will help bring together ALL of the reasons clergy might consider whether or how they would do this in the future.
       
      I would envision a series of points…  just a few might include:
      – the difference in giving parent/adults suggestions, skills and tools vs. taking that opportunity away
      –  importance of levels of details being different for different ages (which this didn’t segregate)
      –  value of empowering Sunday School leaders with no-drama no-gore responses they can give kids who talk about it
       
      A beautiful role the church could provide would be to provide an adult forum between church services that provides helpful information and insight for parents on  how to talk with their kids and how best they might integrate the spiritual message into that conversation. 
       
      Please feel free to pass along my web site and I am happy to take phone calls from anyone in a child’s life, not just schools and parents!  So I’d be happy to speak with anyone who wanted to consider how to do it differently/better another time.
       
      This is also a good reminder that I could be reaching out to faith communities in addition to what I do for schools when these things occur. 
       
      Please continue to be in touch to let me know what you decide to do and how it goes.
       
      Blessings…

  10. lsilverman Reply December 18, 2012 at 7:46 am

    Hi Cheri,
    A question has come up in my school district.  Do you recommend conducting lock down drills with students or just the staff in a school?  Our worry is that the drill itself could cause unnecessary stress and trauma for children if we practice how to respond to a shooter.  What are your thoughts on this?
    Thanks, Lori

    • cherilovre Reply December 18, 2012 at 9:33 am

      @lsilverman Hi Lori ~
       
      Several thoughts.  I think it would be GREAT for schools to wait till after the holidays to do any drills, so not to add to anxieties kids already have.  If students are asking, “What would we do?” I would consider just having teachers talk them through it  “… someone would pull the shades… we’d go over there” (point to area), etc.  Unless students say they really want to go through a drill right now in order to feel safe, I think verbal reassurances are plenty at this time if that question comes up. 
       
      The bigger question – should we even involve kids in these drills because of the psychological message it gives… will be answered by your state and your district mandates.  I am very concerned about the message we’re sending kids – that school is so dangerous that we have to practice what we’d do if an intruder came into the building.  We lose 300 times more kids to gunshot wounds outside of school than in school every year.  I don’t like that the message having lock-down drills sends kids is just the opposite – that school isn’t safe. School is still the safest place for your children and mine.  I wish we’d address trigger locks and gun safes and illegal sales of guns to minors with the same kind of fervor we’re addressing lock-downs.  We could be saving so many MORE children if we’d deal with ALL gun deaths of youth.
       
      It is clear that what saved some of those kids wasn’t even what was practiced in their drills.  Teachers improvised what would work with their students and hid them in places other than what had been practiced.  We know that teaching kids to follow teachers’ instructions is key, and that teachers will adapt any plan in the moment to be even more effective. I’ve seen it over and over again.
       
      We can never know whether the teachers at Sandy Hook could have been as effective in saving lives if they hadn’t ever practiced lock-down drills WITH students, but practiced them during teacher-only time.  I think we need to listen carefully to what we will learn, once again, from these terrible tragedies.  What concerns me most are those who are strident in their reactions, being sure they know exactly what we need to do.  We still have so much to learn about this.

  11. nikkibkd Reply December 18, 2012 at 10:29 am

    Hi I am a school counselor in California and one of my students knew a student killed at Sandy Hook.  His mother flew out to be with her friend.  She is asking me what she should tell her son. I have no idea.  I know she should tell him she died, but how much detail should she give him.. the boy is 5

    • cherilovre Reply December 19, 2012 at 12:16 am

      @nikkibkd One of the fulcrums that is a tipping point on what we do or don’t tell kids rests with whether they’re going to hear what happened somewhere else. That’s my first consideration.  is he in a kindergarten class that is in a public school where he may hear children talking about it on the bus or at recess?  is he in daycare?  Is he a stay-at-home child?  The first consideration for me is always that, if there is any chance at all that this child will hear about it, I want that child to learn of it from an adult they trust to take care of them, not from a peer.  If one is really certain the child will not hear about it anywhere else, the mother has some choices.  And I’m having to make some assumptions here that the son is not going back to CT with the mother.
       
      She could just say that her dear friend is hurting – feeling really badly – and that mommie is going to go be with her for a short time to help her feel better.  She could say that their dear friend’s daughter/son died and mommie is going to help her feel better. If the child asks for more detail and the mom decides to give him a deeper explanation, it is important to frame it with the sense of how extremely unusual this is. 
       
      Here are my guidelines for what we tell the kids if they ask about something:
      – Has to be an honest answer
      – Respects the integrity of the child and of the question
      – Is developmentally appropriate
      – Does not add any gore, drama or trauma
       
      The “developmentally appropriate” part really comes into play here.  At five, keep answers to their questions brief and fairly limited to exactly what they’re asking.  Often we give too much detail, or we assume something about the fear that might be behind their question.  Keep it honest, simply, loving, brief, and then wait to see if there are more questions.  It is OK to ask, “Does that makes sense?” or “Does that answer your question?”
       
      If it is possible for the mom to Skype or at least do phone calls with her son while she’s gone, that is likely to be very helpful for both of them.

  12. Grateful counselor Reply December 18, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    As always, your materials have been enormously helpful at a time when all of us have heavy hearts. Helping us find the words when our own words fail us is deeply appreciated.  Your encouragement to address the issue in schools with children is something all need to hear and understand including parents and school personnel from administration to all the rank and file.  Many, many thanks.

    • cherilovre Reply December 19, 2012 at 12:20 am

      @Grateful counselor It is heartwarming for me to have messages such as yours.  I just put this stuff out there on faith, and it only has meaning because people who are with those kids every day are doing something that makes a difference.  Our whole country should be thanking all of you!!     CJ

  13. Grateful counselor Reply December 18, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    As always, your materials have been enormously helpful.  Your helping us find the words when our own words fail us is deeply appreciated.  Your encouragement to take up the painful issues with our students is something that all need, our school administrators to the rank and file, and parents as well.  Thank you.

  14. cherilovre Reply December 19, 2012 at 7:20 am

    Additional thoughts about the Mayan Calendar end-of-world fears….

    • cherilovre Reply December 19, 2012 at 7:30 am

      Here is an article with clear information to address the fears students have for the Mayan Calendar message. 
       
      http://www.vindy.com/news/2012/dec/19/2-ysu-profs-debunk-mayan-end-world-prediction/
       
      It clarifies that this is perhaps the ending of “an age” much like we would find New Years the ending of a year… that much like the ’60s “Age of Aquarius,” this Friday could have been marked as the beginning of a new age of ushering in peace or some other new dimension of a culture.   The Youngstown State University professors go on to say, “The monument from which the end-of-the-world proselytization stem was found in Tortuguero, Mexico, and lists the date. But it’s unclear what it says about the date because the hieroglyphs that explain it have been eroded.”  Further quoting of Matt O’Mansky, associate professor of sociology, anthropology and gerontology:  “The monument from which the end-of-the-world proselytization stem was found in Tortuguero, Mexico, and lists the date. But it’s unclear what it says about the date because the hieroglyphs that explain it have been eroded.”

  15. eeevee3 Reply December 19, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    Last Friday, I walked to my car, got in, and turned on the radio to listen to NPR. The news was horrifying. I had no idea that the terrible tragedy had occurred, So, I had taught all day in isolation from the world in the sequestered comfort of an elementary school,  and no other adult had come to tell me or my colleagues what had happened. I felt betrayed by my administrators. We have no plan in place to relay important news to the adults who work in out district. What can be done about this?

    • cherilovre Reply December 19, 2012 at 11:55 pm

      @eeevee3
      What an opportunity to look at the importance of how we hear critical information!  What is true for us is true for children as well.
       
      Some of the angriest people I’ve met following tragedies are people who either didn’t get honest information from someone they trusted, or who felt they should have gotten the message from a trusted source who could have done so.  In one case, a mother was called to the door in the middle of the night by a police officer who did tell her that her daughter had died, but didn’t tell her that it had been a homicide.  She learned that in the morning when she went to the police station.  For a brief time, she was angrier at the policeman who didn’t tell her the whole truth than she was at her daughter’s boyfriend, who committed the homicide.  In another case, although administrators could have given staff a call in the evening to let them know of a death, the administrator decided to just put a sign at the entrance to the school telling teachers there was an urgent meeting in the library, to come there instead of going to classes.  But a student who was outside the school told her as she was walking in, and she was the teacher who would now have “the empty desk.”  She was furious not to have had warning – not to have been told the night before – so she would have time for what we call “emotional inoculation” or that psychological preparedness that allows teachers to have dealt with their initial emotional reaction before facing the daunting day of supporting their students.
       
      Our trust of those in leadership is earned. For every teacher in our country, a great response would have been to call you all together for a brief meeting after school, to tell what happened, to let you know that you’d receive an email over the weekend with guidelines on what you were to do Monday morning (mention it?  not mention it? pretend it didn’t happen???) and to let you know that there would be a meeting Monday morning so you could voice your concerns and get further guidelines as more would be known.
       
      One of the most helpful things an administrator can do in a case like that would be to pose the same question at both meetings.  “What do you most dread about Monday (or “today”)?  What questions might kids ask that will be most difficult to answer?
       
      This is the only way for all kids to get the same answer from teachers.  Without this opportunity, when students ask teachers about it, it would be likely that some teachers would say, “That is a good question for you to ask your parents,” while others are giving graphic details about what happened, neither of which is appropriate!! 
       
      What is key for us to realize from your comment is that the same need holds true for our kids.  Parents could totally shield their kids over the weekend, but people on bus duty were hearing comments from kids about what happened as they walked into school.  My question for parents is, “Would you rather your child heard about something terrifying while being held in your loving, supportive arms or from a kid in the back seat of the bus?”  I have great concern for children who hear about it from peers and don’t have adults talking with them about how very very rare this is, and – as frightening as this is to hear about in the news – how very much safer they are in school than out of school.  And the dilemma you have at school is you don’t know what they know unless you ask.  And if nobody asks, these kids are dealing with monumental fears with only the wisdom of themselves and their peers.
       
      When we don’t know the truth, as soon as we learn that something awful has happened, we fill in the blanks with our own stories.  Often those imaginings are worse than reality, and we can build terrific anxiety around things we make up!  And when we don’t hear it from those who we expect to be forthright with us, it undermines our trust.  This is true of youth as well.
       
      Every one of these major events is a teachable moment for all of us.  Administrators nearly always feel ambivalence about what should be done.  This was too far out of the realm of the norm for most of us to be absolutely certain about how to manage things.  But it is an opportunity to learn.  Information is critical to improving our responses next time.  I hope you’ll deal with your own feelings enough that you can talk to your administrator from a place without blame, but of sharing with him/her how you felt and what you think would be helpful the next time we face a major crisis.  Unfortunately, we know that we will, so we really need to keep honing our skills and refining our plans.

  16. middle school counselor Reply December 20, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    Thank you for your website and helpful resources.  Our middle school used them to help guide discussions in our homerooms on Monday.  During those discussions, several students asked what they should do if they were outside when something like this occurred.  What is the best advice?  We have a nearby church that we evacuate to for emergency evacuations, such as a bomb threat.   Do we tell students to run to the church?  Also, what would be the best response if we had students in the cafeteria (about 250 students per lunch period) and we needed to do a code red lock down?

    • cherilovre Reply December 20, 2012 at 2:40 pm

      @middle school counselor 
      Great question, especially because you are listening to the kids!!!  We always look at in-class procedures first, but often schools stop there!
       
      We need to look at several things:
      – what to do if kids need to quickly get INSIDE the building from recess (or outdoors anywhere)
      – what to do if kids need to get AWAY from the school
      – although you didn’t ask it, what do we do in cafeterias
      – what do we do before and after school
       
      A few things to considert:
      – How many doors can kids use to get back in the building?    Often we keep exterior doors locked.
           in the shooting at Stockton CA when a vet opened fire on a playground, the doors into the
           individual classrooms facing the playground were locked, so they were trapped against the
           building with the gunman walking toward them, which cost many lives.
      – How can you communicate so kids can hear during recess?
      – Are your playgrounds all fenced in or secure? If so, how would they get out toward the church?
      – Have you communicated with your parents NOT to come to the school because it will block ingress
           and egress of emergency vehicles, but instead to park on side streets and come to the church so
          people who can help at the scene can do so, knowing that their kids will be brought to the church?
       
      Those are just a few for starters.  What we know is that creating a pretty good plan for all of the above scenarios (cafeteria, playground, etc.) it is STILL likely that those plans will be amended depending on the nature of the threat, the location of the threat and other unpredicatables.  What we also know is that, in the heat of the moment, teachers and school staff do truly heroic and remarkably creative things to save their students.  They need to have a basic plan in place, though, from which to start.

    • cherilovre Reply December 20, 2012 at 3:08 pm

      @middle school counselor 
      Great question, especially because you are listening to the kids!!!  We always look at in-class procedures first, but often schools stop there!
       
      We need to look at several things:
      – what to do if kids need to quickly get INSIDE the building from recess (or outdoors anywhere)
      – what to do if kids need to get AWAY from the school
      – what do we do in cafeterias
      – what do we do before and after school
       
      A few things to considert:
      – How many doors can kids use to get back in the building?    Often we keep exterior doors locked.
           in the shooting at Stockton CA when a vet opened fire on a playground, the doors into the
           individual classrooms facing the playground were locked, so they were trapped against the
           building with the gunman walking toward them, which cost many lives.
      – How can you communicate so kids can hear during recess?
      – Are your playgrounds all fenced in or secure? If so, how would they get out toward the church?
      – Have you communicated with your parents NOT to come to the school because it will block ingress
           and egress of emergency vehicles, but instead to park on side streets and come to the church so
          people who can help at the scene can do so, knowing that their kids will be brought to the church?
       
      With cafeterias, it depends so much on the layout of your building.  Perhaps kids will go in a variety of directions, depending on doors that are unlocked that they can reach.  A few people could scope out the options in your cafeteria and make sure all cafeteria duty folks know what they are to direct students to do.  It might be easier, if you really want to run a drill on that, to do so when it isn’t really lunch so kids see what they’re supposed to do, but maybe not try to do that during an actual lunch when kids meals will get spilled, etc!
       
      Those are just a few for starters.  What we know is that creating a pretty good plan for all of the above scenarios (cafeteria, playground, etc.) it is STILL likely that those plans will be amended depending on the nature of the threat, the location of the threat and other unpredicatables.  What we also know is that, in the heat of the moment, teachers and school staff do truly heroic and remarkably creative things to save their students.  They need to have a basic plan in place, though, from which to start.

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