Making Sense Of Challenging Times

HOS Jessica Donovan addresses the new spate of hate and bigotry we have witnessed in recent days and the ways we can support our children and each other.

Dear Sheridan Community,

I find this letter difficult to start. Once again, I’m writing to you, my community, after a national tragedy. In this last week, we witnessed the effects of more gun violence, we saw a journalist killed, we held our breaths as pipe bombs appeared across the country, and we watched as innocent people were shot in their house of worship because of hate and bigotry.

In these times, it is hard to make sense of the world. It’s hard to imagine facing our children and giving them the hope they deserve. Nevertheless, this is what we are called upon to do. We are called upon to share love and hope, and through our actions teach our children to celebrate the diversity of life. There is comfort for me in knowing that our little school is doing its part to guide our children to a better world. Sheridan works every day to teach against hate and bigotry, and I hope you find comfort in that as well.

After this latest senseless event, it is a relief to come to school where we can relish in the normalcy of routine and the joy of children. Nevertheless, we know our children are not completely sheltered from the world around them, and it is our job to help them navigate their world in a way that is appropriate to their age and maturity. Whether it’s our youngest students feeling the tension around them or our older students watching the news as it unfolds, all of our children need help dealing with the issues we struggle to comprehend ourselves. We are called upon to make sense of the senseless. It’s okay to not have all the answers, and you may need to take some processing time for yourself before initiating a conversation. We’re here to support you, too.

As adults, we each respond to tragedy in our own way. We canvas for votes, protest, mourn, write our representatives, attend religious services, worry, and become better informed. Our children look to us for guidance. They want to know how to think and react, but mostly they want to know that they are safe. This list from the National Association of School Psychologists can help you as you think about parenting through this tragedy (a more descriptive version of this list can be found here):

  1. Model calm and control.
  2. Reassure children they are safe.
  3. Remind them trustworthy people are in charge.
  4. Let children know it is okay to feel upset.
  5. Tell children the truth.
  6. Stick to the facts.
  7. Be careful not to stereotype people or countries that might be associated with the violence.
  8. Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate. It can be tempting to read more into children’s questions than they intend. Try to stick to answering the question they are asking.
  9. Maintain a “normal” routine.
  10. Monitor or restrict exposure to scenes of the event as well as the aftermath.
  11. Observe children’s emotional state.
  12. Be aware of children already at greater risk (children already dealing with social-emotional stressors).
  13. Provide an outlet for students’ desire to help.
  14. Keep lines of communication open between home and school.
  15. Monitor your own stress level and practice self-care.

If you are looking for ways of initiating a conversation with your child, these discussion starters from the Anti-Defamation League can be helpful.

For Elementary Students:

  • What do you know about what happened?
  • How do you feel about it?
  • What questions do you have?

For Middle School Students:

  • What do you know about the incident that happened?
  • What are your feelings about what you heard?
  • In what ways do you think bias and intolerance played a role in what happened?
  • How can we help to prevent ourselves and other people from stereotyping and scapegoating others?
  • What can we do to help the victims and their families?

At Sheridan, we will keep working to teach a curriculum that celebrates difference and combats bigotry of all kinds. Every day, we work toward creating a small community of learners who are confident enough in themselves to be upstanders for others. We appreciate your partnership in this work and are grateful everyday to share this community with you and your families.

Please feel free to reach out me, Kelly Nelson, Jay Briar or Phyllis Fagell if you are in need of more support or have further questions about how to support your child. In the meantime, Phyllis has suggested the following resources:

In community, solidarity and friendship,