We mourn with the community of Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children and 2 teachers at Robb Elementary School have died in yet another school shooting in the United States. We remember, too, and extend our thoughts to the families and communities of Parkland, Santa Fe, Newtown, Columbine, and too many others in our country who are retraumatized by these events. Our hearts go out to the families of those murdered in Uvalde and recently in Buffalo, New York, and we recognize that nothing we say will ease their pain. Ours is a nation once again reeling from grief and outrage.
Our schools should be a safe space for all children and educators, and that they are not speaks to the failure of governments at all levels. There is much to say on that front—and much of it has been said time and again—on issues of responsible gun-control legislation. We know the change that is necessary. What is also essential is being present for one another, for the sadness, the anger and the myriad emotions this latest horrifying event brings to the surface. You are not alone in those emotions.
We recognize that we are not OK—as parents and families, as educators and advocates, as communities, and as a nation. In one moment, we mourn the lives of the community members in Buffalo, many of whom were elderly adults, and in the next our hearts shatter again for the lives of some of our nation’s youngest community members in Uvalde. We are not OK when we live with fear as we send our children to schools under the threat of violence. Our children are not OK when they are afraid to go to school, the place that should be safe for learning and community.
LFJ Associate Editor Crystal Keels, a former classroom teacher, describes the fear that has become the norm in active shooter drills and echoes the emotions of many educators in reflecting on the events in Uvalde:
“Once you have huddled under a table in the back of a classroom with a group of students after turning off the lights and locking and barricading the door with whatever is available—knowing that it’s your responsibility to make sure these children are safe—and then listening silently, straining to identify the sounds that you are hearing throughout the building, hoping that what you just heard wasn’t a bullet hitting someone, life is never the same. And that’s just from a practice drill. … I cannot even begin to imagine what surviving a real act of terror in a school building would do to a person, nor can I imagine the terror any of the children who have been murdered in this manner must have experienced as they watched their friends, classmates and teachers lose their lives just before they lost their own. The cruelty is too much.”
Across our nation, families and educators once again face the difficult struggle to explain another act of gun violence to our youth. And the Uvalde school shooting comes at a time of transition at the end of the school year, where reestablishing routines for children—which is necessary for coping with trauma—is even more difficult. In the LFJ 2013 magazine feature “When Bad Things Happen,” Janet Robinson, then Stratford superintendent and a former school psychologist explains:
“Schools are where children typically spend the largest part of their day. They receive much needed support from teachers and staff members, and it is often the center of the child’s natural support system, their friends. Reestablishing routines following any disaster has been found to promote resiliency while also reducing the negative effects of a tragedy like that which occurred in our school. We all find safety and predictability in our routines, and children are no different.”
The establishment of a real sense of security is an essential part of the fabric of our society that is being undermined by ongoing gun violence, disinformation campaigns and political assaults on our rights and institutions that aim to build a more just society. These devastating acts of violence—Buffalo, New York, Uvalde, Texas, and so many others—impel us as individuals and communities to work for the greater good of our nation. These incidents are not isolated. They spring from the same forces that seek to engender fear and despair, whether through violence, rhetoric or disenfranchisement.
The young people who bravely stood up to demand change after the Parkland school shooting in 2018 continue to speak out. As do the parents and families of the many victims of gun violence. But as a nation, we must do more, for, as Keels says, “The ongoing reality of young people and teachers losing their lives in a place where they are supposed to be safe doesn’t give enough people pause. People aren’t acting in a critical mass to stop these kinds of attacks. And that’s traumatizing, too.”
We must balance these two needs right now—to reestablish the routines necessary for our mental health while maintaining the urgency to take collective action. We can’t take away the pain of this moment for the families in Uvalde or Buffalo, but we can steel ourselves to not despair. In “A Love Letter to Teachers After Yet Another School Shooting,” Lauryn Mascareñaz encourages teachers with these words, “Keep going, Teacher. Keep rising each day with the promise of hope. Keep showing up and teaching and inspiring and giving your students all that they deserve. In the face of the unknown, keep going until our future doesn’t hold this fear anymore.”
To keep going, we all must first pause and grieve and care for ourselves and those around us. Then we can be more fully present to commit to fighting for the hope of a future without fear.
For Families, Caregivers and Educators
In the aftermath of these tragic moments of gun violence, we offer these suggestions for caring for yourself and helping children feel safe as we cope.
- Be sensitive to the people around you because how we experience and respond to tragic events varies. Consider that some people might want to talk, while others need quiet and space to process what has happened.
- Be kind to yourself in recognizing your needs. We can’t be there for others if we don’t take care of our own emotions. Make self-care a routine practice—from the simple things that relax you to more intentional plans. And remember, you don’t have to heal in isolation. Reach out to your community—if you feel safe—or look for a safe space where you can find support and express your feelings.
- Be aware of how your reactions to events impact the children in your life. They pick up on your emotions, so be conscious of their feelings and their urgent need to feel safe. Support young children with comfort and reassurance and give them opportunities to play and share their feelings in multiple ways.
- Limit exposure to the news so violent events are not playing repeatedly on TV or on social media. The constant bombardment of images and details of difficult events can affect our ability to cope. Be conscious of, and limit, children’s exposure to news reports. Carefully select and watch the news together so children can discuss and share their feelings about what is happening.
- Children often obtain information from overheard conversations and the media, so even when you haven’t discussed what is happening with them, ask what they already know. Encourage children to ask questions, and let them express their feelings, especially their fears and sadness. They may not only feel fear for themselves, so consider how these events might make them worry about losing parents, family members, teachers and others they depend on in their lives. Give comfort and reassurance with gentle words, and don’t dismiss their concerns and fears.
- Try to center the good people in the community who are working to help in times of tragedy. Children need to know that caring, kindness and empathy are significant values in their communities.
- Feelings of helplessness when faced with tragic events are common for all of us, and children and youth feel that keenly. Discuss ways—even small acts of kindness—that can empower us while supporting others at this time. Explore and support adolescents in their feelings and the need to do something in these moments.
- Remember that individual responses and the impact of violence may not be immediately clear, so be observant and maintain open communication, especially with young people. Sometimes anger can manifest in behaviors months later, and sadness can slip into feelings of despair. If you or the children in your life are having a hard time coping with these events (i.e. there are signs of sleeplessness, anxiety, depression, or behavioral concerns), please reach out for professional mental health and counseling support.