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  • Writer's pictureJulie Love

What to Say

Updated: Jan 4, 2023

From the Archive: June 2022


There’s a reason this newsletter is late. What is there to say? There are no words.


Unfortunately, that’s not an option. You go to school, and the students have questions. They want you to tell them…. What happened? How could such a thing happen? Is it going to happen here? How can you prevent it? And you can’t tell them you’ll get back to them later about that. You can’t say “Now is not the time to talk about such things,” because such a deflection is patently ridiculous. And since you can’t avoid the questions, neither can I. It would be nice to hit pause and go spend months or years examining research and developing a detailed curriculum for you, but you can’t always wait for that.

There are two approaches to developing support programs. The Institutional Mindset focuses on setting goals, gathering research, and designing a plan to solve the problem. An alternative is the Ecosystem approach: throw a bunch of seeds and see what takes. Not randomly, of course – you find people with expertise to know what to offer, but you also recognize that the recipients of services are the experts in what they find useful. Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages; an ideal support system includes both. There are many organizations working very hard to develop programs and services to help schools deal with the increasing mental health crisis, and that’s wonderful, but it takes time. Organizations like the MSNLP might have fewer experts to draw on, but can respond more flexibly and quickly – offering basic support until the more substantial help finds its way out of committee. I do the quick research to give you links and resources when you ask (see below). And of course MSNLP offers more in-depth trainings as well; it looks like I’ll be writing Dealing with Grief this summer, along with Understanding Eating Disorders.

So, what to say? Start with anything is better than nothing. Silence is also a statement, and tends to be heard as “I don’t care” or “Everyone’s pain should be bottled up and hidden.” That’s not good – suppressed pain is often what leads to these events. It’s okay to say to say you don’t know what to say, that you are upset too and don’t have answers. It can be scary to not understand, but when you think about it, the world would be even scarier if days like this made sense.

The main thing is to follow the child’s lead, and let them set the pace. Ask what they’ve heard, how they feel, and if they have any questions. Keep your answers simple and to the point, don’t overburden them with details they weren’t looking for. “We have a plan for what to do to keep you safe” is sufficient – there is no need for drills teaching them to close the doors and sit quietly to include traumatizing special effects. Think about fire drills – we don’t crank up the heat and pump smoke into the building, we just make sure everyone knows what to do, and the importance of doing it efficiently and calmly.

The goal is for everyone to feel safe and secure. It might feel dishonest to offer such reassurance these days, but remember that children often live in a very black and white world. Everything on the news feels like it’s happening near them. A tragedy that is statistically very rare feels certain to happen to them, any day now. Our frustration over inaction by those who should do more to prevent such events comes across as evidence there is nothing anyone can do to reduce the risk, and that everyone is in immediate danger.

And don’t ignore your own needs in times like these, and take steps to meet them. Notice the stress of exposure to news, and take breaks from it. Find outlets to discuss details and your emotions with other adults, so you can talk with the kids without the distraction of suppressing those reactions. Recognize what you can do to help yourself feel safer, too. And remember that you can call MSNLP for support, any time.


USEFUL LINKS

A guide about talking to kids, from Common Sense Media

John Oliver’s episode this week, about School Police.Honestly, there are many other videos that look relevant to discussing this issue, but it’s depressing how many of them are years old, responding to previous incidents. And yet remain as relevant as then, with no change.


LIGHTER LINKS

June is still Pride Month, so I have to share this glorious commencement speech by Zander Moricz. Confused? He's in Florida. And an interview with him about it.

The Reacher’s Handbook is an excellent new podcast about… developing a program in the modern interconnected world. Sort of. But it includes a really wonderful discussion of the Ecosystem Mindset.


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