How to talk to kids about the school shooting in Connecticut?

Photo by Douglas Healey/Getty Images

As many as 27 dead, including at least 18 children. At Sandy Hook Elementary in western Connecticut this morning, one of the worst massacres we’ve had yet.

Teachers and parents: When and how do you talk about the tragedy with younger children, and with teens — especially when so few details are known?

I just spoke with Melia Franklin, an Oakland mother and director of the Parent Leadership Action Network, for a story my colleague Matthias Gafni is writing.

“I think the main thing is children need to know that the people with them are keeping them safe,” she said.

Below, I’ll post a resource that parents and teachers might find helpful.

Tips for parents on coping with traumatic stress

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Jim Mordecai

    These are senseless and horrible killings in Connecticut. I don’t know the best way to explain to students what took place.

    But, I am reminded when I was years ago teaching at an Oakland Elementary and shooting started outside the school. The person being shot at had run from his car trying to get away from the shooters. The school had a principal that had insisted on practicing a lockdown. There was a person being shot at and he ran off the school grounds. Fortunately, he didn’t try to hide inside the school. And, if he had tried to enter, the school, and the classrooms, were locked down including the portables.

    Jim Mordecai

  • makeitgoaway

    We already started the process – amazingly, students told me because they had learned through social media. I immediately read the story on my iPhone and teared up. You MUST talk to your classes as I did today, and reassure them they are cared for and safe. let your students talk and truly listen. It is not business as usual. We live in a violent society. Just the previous day, a young lady came and spoke to my class because she is related to the two teens who were shot and killed near Brookdale Park in Oakland. She is starting a club to stop the violence and encourage students to state “what they know.” Four of my students raised their hands when asked whether they had suffered similar violent losses. It was shocking to see it. I love my students and I will do anything to support them. Like the President stated- ” heal the broken- hearted and bind up their wounds.”.

  • Nextset

    Good discussions on risk management and risk factors are always prudent.

    And it’s not going to happen.

    The types of trauma we are seeing here are rare.
    Whenever you are trying to coach people on discreet risks – risks that are further off in the future (like Herpes, AIDS, Unwanted Pregnancy) you have a much harder time getting risk controls in place. Even more so when the risky behavior involves pleasure.

    Here the risk was becoming a shooting target of a deranged person – a deranged person who was introduced to guns and furnished with guns by his mother.

    I see that a LOT.

    It is common for adolescents known to be disturbed/suicidal/addicted (you name it) to live in homes where firearms/narcotics/cutting instruments/flammables are stored and readily available. The adults involved will not lock down and clean up the place and they will not remove the distrubed person from the home or limit access. That’s just how they are. That’s how it’s going to be.

    I suppose what you do is tell your own kiddies not to play/sleep over at that house or with those people. Even if they are relatives or whatever.

    Good luck with that.

    If we are having the problems we are with VD spreading, unwanted pregnancies, DUI car crashes, and all the more common traumas involving children it’s not likely we are going to skip over all that and go directly to eliminating the already slight risk of being killed by a deranged stranger.

    Not going to happen.

    The most dangerous person most children encounter is that man known as “Mommy’s Boyfriend”. And for some kids the second most dangerous is “Mommy”.

    Back to the thread. The wealthy family I sometimes refer to consider themselves at risk for exactly such an attack. They are Jews. When the children were small they went to religious classes at Temple. Southern CA, you know. They were protected by a deadly looking team that came straight from Mossad. The facility was designed to meet an armed assault. The amount of money in physical plant and armed protection was a good reflection of the value of those children. I toured the place once, it was astonishing. There are other places where very high value children attend. Security is professionally maintained. Armed private guards are on hand and they are far, far from the mall cops you’d see elsewhere.

    Most people prefer to believe the government will always protect them and not worry about much. Others don’t. To each his own.

    But it’s really too bad that that school allowed Mrs. Lanza and/or her son in their society.

    The Democrats will use this “crisis” for an assault on gun rights of law abiding people. They have no intention to protect anyone from deranged people, only to consolidate power for themselves and make people defenseless from the criminals the state maintains in our midst. Measures I would support include registration of the mentally ill with certain presentations – grant funding to finance immediate arrest and searches of those people forbidden to have guns who attempt to buy them (when is the last time you’ve heard of anyone arrested or searched for that?), and criminalizing persons who allow prohibited persons proximity to guns and ammo.

    Remember, some prohibited persons may have no criminal history – an addict for example – or a person with a restraining order. Most prohibited persons have rap sheets. The new girlfriend/roomie can easily let new boyfriend/roomie move in never having a place to check to learn he/she is a prohibited person. We don’t even put info online for the public to know someone is prohibited. Maybe all rap sheets should be on the internet. Wouldn’t that make us safer? Not going to happen. Public Safety is not even a discussion point with the Democrats. It’s only power over the law abiding they are after.

    And the main measure you will never see is a National Registration of thoses persons Dxed with a Psychotic Disorder or Psychopathy, open to TSA, Police Agencies, Law Enforcement, Schools & Gun Ranges, & Gun Dealers or just put it on the internet for general public access.

    Not likely to happen.

    So whenever these so called concerned politicians turn up and tell us their plans – just see if any of it includes public protection.

  • Nextset

    Here’s another current news story where a phycho adult child acquired a gun and tried to murder her mother with it.


    There are no provisions preventing adults otherwise not prohibited but with psychotic disorders from buying guns & ammo, visiting gun ranges, and cozying up to other people to get access to guns. There is no registry anywhere to stop them from buying with maybe some provision for state hospital inmates, if that.

    The politicians in power would die before enacting legislation registering mentally ill, barring them from gun access, and requiring all doctors to report qualifying diagnosis such as Bi-Polar Disorder, Psychopathy, schizophrenia and other such Dx. Dx that legislation would declare render such patients presumptively untrustworthy to handle dangerous instruments, dogs and the like. And even with such legislation you’d be amazed at the number of Doctors who’d refuse to comply. I’ve talked to Drs who laughed at them being expected to report child sex abuse (not recently).. they still won’t report that except in “unusual” instances. They just don’t care.

    As it is, children get to share the sidewalks with refugees from the state prisons and state hospitals because this state among others no longer is willing to restrict the movements of such people with the exception of the Sexually Violent Predator confinements that are ongoing across the country due to scandals involving rape and murder of children by repeat offenders who are diagnosable.

    I would be good if this latest atrocity produced a change in standards like the atrocious murders of little white girls produced the SVP laws, Megan’s list and the like.

    Not going to happen. We will see democrats nationwide resume their war on “guns” and the law abiding who have them. Not on crazies who want to kill and maim.

  • Nextset

    I had to post this article which is a blog of a mother managing her dangerously/violently mentally ill child. I’ve seen kids like this and their mothers. Someone is going to die violently in many of these cases and if we’re lucky it’s only the mentally ill child.

    We need to re-open the State Hospitals and confine these people for life – and prevent them from reproducing.


    As bad as the life in the blog sounds until you have seen this sort of thing unfold for years with people you actually know you won’t understand how bad it is. You are certain the “child” will murder, you really can’t do much to stop it other than kill the child yourself (OD, bad accidents, etc) or allow the child to die. Our society does not intern these people and when they turn 18, if not before, they are free to roam loose on the streets like wolves – and they will find sex partners and reproduce, often before 18.

    Let’s hope your child doesn’t meet up with one of them in a bathroom somewhere. They are in the public school campuses.

  • TeacherMan

    I don’t own a gun and don’t know if I ever will. I do work at an elementary school in one of the most violent areas of Oakland, CA.

    We are literally one mile from what is known as “the kill zone,” an intersection in Oakland that reaps the most deaths than anywhere else in the city. Considering that there have been 122 homicides in the city so far this year
    you would think the school district would take into consideration the safety of it’s employees and students. You would think that, but you’d be wrong.

    High schools do have officers on site, so do some middle schools. My school doesn’t have any security provided by the district. Furthermore, the building on our campus are wide open to the public. It is outrageously easy for anyone to walk into any building without ever passing through the main office.

    The charter school on campus has no security in place either. Anyone passing through their entrances, can easily walk into any one of our buildings without anyone knowing they are coming. It has happened already. In 2009, 3 enraged fathers walked into a classroom and knocked a substitute unconscious in front of 24 students who were cowering in the corners frightened out of their minds.

    911 put me on hold, and it was 5 minutes before any administrators were aware of what was happening and was able to react. The district’s response then was that there simply wasn’t money to give us for a safety officer- we were not a priority. When I asked for therapists to help the kids cope with what they experienced, they hem and hawed until I threatened to grieve the school. Then, I got a call at 11:00pm that they would send therapists to talk to the kids. Why should I have to make threats in order to get help for traumatized students?

    Since then I have witnessed adults walking through our campus and into classrooms drunk, high, angry, with dogs and just to cut through to get somewhere else. I have closed building doors behind me only to have them opened up again, gotten screamed and yelled at by parents who I refused entry without a visitor’s pass, been told I am being ridiculous, and watched other teachers let adults in the community steamroll over the rules because they didn’t want to have a confrontation with someone.

    For the last 3 years I have requested a buzzer system for our doors so that we can be secure on a campus that has no security officer. Our principal has been denied anything- including cameras.

    At the end of the day, who is protecting me and my students if I don’t?

    I am also a witness to the lack of mental health services provided to children and adults in need of mental health services. As a school we work diligently to get the needs of all of our students met. Unfortunately many of our students are in unstable families, some are exposed to drugs, a few were born addicted, some were neglected, the list goes on. Yet, as we work to get services that will allow the kids to thrive and succeed, we have come under scrutiny for recommending so many students. I welcome any of those people to come observe those children and question us again.

    We have 340 children living in the most violent area of Oakland, being exposed to violence, drugs and trauma, yet we have only one therapist- the school 8 blocks away has 3. The district acknowledges our students have PTSD, yet does the bare minimum to support them.

    The violence in CT was in an affluent community and committed by a man that seems to have been mentally ill on some level. If it can happen there, it can certainly happen in Oakland, and still, the only thing that OUSD had to say was captured in a automated voice message that was left on my voice mail:
    We are prepared with trained officers.
    What they leave out is that those officers are nowhere near some of the most vulnerable school campuses…

    This is less about guns and more about how we neglect the neediest of services because it costs too much. What exactly is the price of all the lives lost? Will OUSD wait until they have to count the bodies to make a cost analysis?

  • 1day at a time

    great link, thanks.

    In the East Bay, John George is there for 5150s. But kids are another mattter; I don’t know if they get the same care from the referred providers. What’s there for kids?

  • Observer

    I would point out that plenty of these children are in private schools as well. Yes, it is true that private schools don’t automatically provide extra services, but they will for those who can pay. They are loathe to dismiss any family that pays full tuition and then some.

    I attended a private high school. It was astonishing the amount if mental instability among the students. While performance was far higher than my public school, so was the number of “patients”. It seems this mass killing is regulated to individual that are, by all accounts, brainy.

  • OUSD Parent

    I attended a private school growing up as well. But the school I went to did not hesitate to boot kids if they weren’t up to snuff. Even the ones from wealthy families. Those kids landed up in the local public school system.

    I don’t doubt that there are emotionally unstable kids in private schools, but that hasn’t been my experience. I think more often than not our public schools are dumping grounds for kids that the private schools don’t want to accommodate for whatever reason. I’ve seen that happen in our local public elementary school here in Oakland. We have taken in a few kids that were dismissed from private schools for behavioral issues. I don’t want to pit private, charter, against public. What I do want to see is ample support for our public schools in Oakland to support kids with their learning. More counselors and more support for teachers.

  • Juan

    As mandated by the Education Code, school participation is “compulsory” and takes place in “no gun school zone” shooting galleries, where the only arms available for confronting an armed intruder are subject to being tied behind a teacher’s back.

    Nonsensical idealism and post mortem kumbaya candles do not protect young students from an armed intruder.

  • http://www.thrivingstudents.org/47 Troy Flint

    TeacherMan – Based on your description I have an idea where you’re located, but to confirm, will you please share with me the name of your site — preferably through a direct message to troy.flint@ousd.k12.ca.us? Once I have this information I will present the situation to Oakland School Police (OSP) and the Facilities Department to address these issues.

  • Katy Murphy

    Teachers: We’re doing another follow-up story today that will include how teachers are talking to their students about what happened.

    If you’re up for a short interview about the approach you took, you can reach me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Observer

    OUSD parent, Adam Lanza would not have been kicked out of either of our schools.

    1) He got very good grades

    2) So far, he is described as quiet. Even though the socially isolated are the very people we should be reaching out to, we don’t and won’t because they bother no one.

    3) He was a white boy from a wealthy family.

    He’d be in school and barely be remembered. We had a few of those. They spent all their free time dickering with electronics (this was before everyone had a home computer) and reading comic books, cooking up plots to get back at everyone for not recognizing their brilliance.

  • Blissed non ed

    God bless teachers-

    you are so much at the mercy of so many levels of bureucracy and excuses, frankly I cannot understand really who you do it? I mean the pay sucks, in many schools, its no longer teaching- its just glorified babysitting for many

    And- you must deal with self entitled losers who have been giving the authority to undercut teachers, and leader respect so bad by PC educators and politicians that they toy with your lives.

    Dont know if many recall that a few years ago, the principal at Sobrante Park was threatened and shoved by a group of parents. He stood up to them, then who gets blamed ….he did. You see they fit the thype of excuses and beleieved by excuse makers! He was almost fired!

    Teacher mann is right….all of this cry for parent involvement at the schools….for those of us who have lived in inner cities- do you really want those parents woring with your children, watched by those teachers?

    Bottom line is thatparents need to BE MORE INVOLVED IN THEIR KIDS AFFARIS AT HOME!

    who buys the video games, who monitors the internet, who cleans their clothes, who feeds them…etc – why do we need them at school? This is a terrbile , rich PTA standard passed on to the minority parents and kills kids slowly.And when the kids cannot learn, focus or stay awake- is that the schools fault too?


    Its is very sad what happend in CT and there are nor words to begin the explanation for such acts….

    Can the same happen here…of course it can, but understand there are kids killed daily wih invisible bullets, laws, red tape and words that keep lowering the bar.

    We should force all politicians to send their kids to public schools- see wht happens!

  • OUSD Parent

    #13 Observer – I agree with you that Adam Lanza would not have been kicked out of a private school if he had gone to one. He got good grades and was not a “problem.” But private schools aren’t filled with kids like him either. My point is that the kids that do act out with behavioral problems are often kicked out of private schools and they land up in the local public schools which are underfunded and not able to adequately address their issues.

  • Douglas Appel

    I hesitate to post on this entry. My heart is aching for the loss of our children and colleagues in Newton, CT. There are no one or two things we could change that would have definitively prevented this particular outbreak of insane mass violence. I hope that the deaths of these children causes us to stop shouting talking points at each other and reflect about just why it is that we live in the most violent nation in the advanced world and what we can and should do to change it.

  • Nextset

    “reflect about just why it is that we live in the most violent nation in the advanced world and what we can and should do to change it.”

    We didn’t always have these problems.

    We certainly didn’t have such violence in the early 1960s. What was it about law and order then that worked that is missing in today’s society?

    Let’s see,

    A working death penalty, even in CA,

    State Prisons that accepted and held felons,

    State Hospitals that accepted and held those with altered realities or were deemed a threat to harm others due to mental illness.

    Schools that would expel any student for insubordination, much less threatening behavior.

    No divorce on demand, forfeiture of all community property and lifetime alimony for men who tried to dump wives without her permission.

    Severe restrictions on abortion, welfare, & communists barred from education jobs among others.

    I can go on but you get the point. We have all this glorious freedom now. Whoever said freedom is free?

    You have 33 million people in CA, for example, and tell them they get to do whatever they want and even if they are just out of prison give them up to $26k to merely enroll in the local Jr. College….Is this a great country or what?

    Remember that counterculture song.. “The dumber you are, the richer you get (In the Great Society)? Everyone thought it was just a funny nonsense joke when it came out.

    We asked for all of this. We are now asking for much worse.

  • Juanster

    Perhaps teachers should be asking for this? http://dfw.cbslocal.com/2012/12/17/austin-gun-store-owner-offers-teachers-a-discount/ WITH official permission of course!

  • Joe Mash

    …..USA….in a slow and deadly decline. Remember the Fall of Rome, and it did not happen in a day.

    Nextset for Governor!

  • Nextset


    Another story about a little anti-christ that one family is trying to manage.

    Nothing this administration is up to will affect handling of these people.

    I’ve watched one mother deal with such a kid for more than 15 years now. We know he will murder people. She’s done what she can to manage and contain him, but as he approaches 18 her ability to contain the danger is ending and he can go off his meds and do whatever he wants. I do take some comfort in knowing that he is the most dangerous to people to allow themselves to associate with him. Statistically I believe his first criminal cases (he doesn’t have any yet) will come from assaults on sex partners, “friends” (he only has associates, not real friends) and perhaps family. His family will kill him themselves if required to protect themselves and they understand completely how dangerous he is.

    So while there is likely to be family violence he is not so likely to get the drop on his siblings or his mother and will almost certainly become a transient. He will probably live with various “girlfriends” and could kill their children perhaps. Too bad for them.

    His family will warn anyone they can, but there is no shortage of fools who will take in dangerous people when they are smiling at them and always up for drugs, sex and rock and roll.

    We don’t expect this person would target a school full of little kids. But he’s extraordinarily dangerous and he’s not on any “no gun” list. You see, California believes in “privacy” for deranged and dangerous people. Doctors do have “Tarasoff” duties to warn about dangerous patients but that is so narrow and specific that it won’t save his likely future victims.

    Meanwhile the Democrats want to confiscate guns from you and me as they raise all our taxes and flood the streets with convicts. Right.

    Oh, I forgot to make it clear what I’m describing here. Command hallucinations, explosive disorder, three suicide attempts with multiple locked facility hospitalizations, drugs use and alcohol, MJ dependence, stockpiling knives since 3, fascination with weapons, mood disorder/bi-polar. Long history of anti-psychotic meds, permanent underlying rage… But as he’s getting older he’s always up for a party (if you can find him)!

  • 1day at a time

    I got an email from a family member in the military yesterday. Wanted to share part of it related to Sandy Hook’s principal:

    >>Hey cousin, like I told you before, all marines don’t wear uniforms. I was with 4 other men in tears hearing about this 5’2″ woman showing as much courage and faithfulness as anything I’ve seen. You always wonder if your kids are safe, especially when you’re on the other side of the world.

    That principal showed what “always faithful” means. Always meaning even when you’re sick like Cody Green, unarmed like Dawn the principal, or misunderstood like Daniel Inouye. Heroes come in all shape, sizes, and colors. But they are always faithful. Nothing is more powerful than fidelity. It applies to families, military, schools, religion, government, and whatever else you can think of….

    My buddies and I always talk about the silent promises we make to each other. There are things that don’t need to be said because Semper Fi covers it all. Think about the promises this principal was keeping to the parents of those kids. You take your kids to school and you dont get everybody to sign contracts on what they will or wont do. But you trust there are people there who will always be faithful and put your kids safety above all else.

    That principal out in Sandy Hook. The split decision to get out there and protect. That moment of decision came to her and she likely heard voices saying yes, go, Forward, Oorah…

    So now you can stop asking me, cousin, because THAT’s what “oorah” means.<<

  • makeitgoaway

    That was a cool post. I cry for the teachers, principal and school psychologist too. I hope I would be as brave…