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Talking to Your Children About the LAUSD School Closure

by on Dec.15, 2015, under Adolescents, Communication, Elementary School Children, Environmental influences, Parent modeling, Parenting, Safety, School, Sensitive Topics

Boy, do I ever dislike having to write this, the safety threat which caused the Los Angeles Unified School District wide school closure today, December 15, 2015

But to help you and all our children, may I remind you of a few things.

1. No one knows all the facts yet. Do not say what you suspect or do not know.

2. Turn off your radios, TV’s, computers. Kids who have NOT be exposed to this breaking news, need not know about any of it…until they need to know. Kids who have heard some news do not to keep hearing about it all day, generating fear and anxiety.

3. If your child’s school is closed and he hasn’t asked why, consider yourself lucky. Say nothing. But remember that with older children especially, there is likely to be playground and classroom conversation tomorrow.

4. If you child’s school is closed and he has asked why, keep your answers short, minimal and based on your child’s age/development.

Your school left us a message to say it is closed to children today. They said that the adults are there the making sure the school is safe for all the students and staff.”

Depending upon what (and IF) your child next asks and his age/development/temperament, you can add:

“Someone left a message about doing things that would hurt people. That is all I know.  It was a threat. The helpers in our community along with adults at the school are making sure that your school is safe for everyone and that nothing will really happen.”

Because we don’t know any of the facts yet, you can say, “I don’t know the answer to that” to many of his direct questions.
5. With older children you may want to add something about this having been a threatYou can discuss the reality that  sometimes people say things that they don’t really mean and that often threat is only that, a threat.  Threats are scary because we don’t know when or if it is going to happen so we have to take them seriously.

6.Follow your child’s lead, and answer only the questions your child asks. Do not add to her fear by telling her more than she has asked. Your child’s primary need is to feel safe, regardless of your feelings about politics, terrorism, and the like.

7. If he asks, “Why?” I suggest you fall back on what I have offered too many times in the past,

“Most people in the world are good, and their brains tell them to do the right things. But there are some people who are not good, who like to scare people, and who do bad things.”

8. Remember that elementary school and middle school age children see the world in black and white, bad guys and good guys. Help them to know that the great majority of people in the world are good guys.

9. Do not be overly dramatic. While you don’t want to underplay the severity of the situation, keep in mind that your child will absorb your affect and fears. Be serious; don’t be dramatic. Your child will pick up on your tone.

10. Do not downplay your child’s fears. Your child needs you to acknowledge her fears. However, your primary job is to let her know that she is safe and that you will keep her safe.
11. Be careful not to jump to conclusions. I believe this is a time to be very careful of profiling of any kind. No one knows who made the threat or why.

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2 Comments for this entry

  • barry

    It was very disturbing to me that on Air Talk today, Betsy Brown Braun kept suggesting phrases like “some people have brains that don’t work right” as explanations for why someone would want to hurt children. This can easily lead to ostracism and bullying of disabled children in the classroom. The language frequently used to describe these children is often something like “their brains work differently”, and it would be easy for a young child to conflate these two. Especially given the current attempts by various groups to shift blame from guns to mental disability and mental illness, we must be careful not to stigmatize these children.

  • Betsy Brown Braun

    Thank you for taking the time to write, Barry. I agree with you that the language I suggested can be conflated with a slightly different description. It is an extremely difficult thing to describe, as you obviously know. In this case, we are talking about adults and not children whose brains work differently.

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