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What Would You Do? A Kid's Guide to Staying Safe in a World of Strangers

What Would You Do? A Kid's Guide to Staying Safe in a World of Strangers
Keeping Children Safe

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I Am Not Adam Lanza’s Mother

A very intelligent and insightful article was published in the Huffington Post. It was called I Am Adam Lanza's Mother: A Mom's Perspective On The Mental Illness Conversation In America.  In it, a mother shares her concerns for her son who suffers from mental illness. She discusses her worries about her son, her fear of her son, and her sense of helplessness to get much-needed help for him and for her. She admits that the problem is far too big for her to handle on her own. She shared her story because, as she stated, “I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am James Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.”

I, and many other mothers across the world, have one thing in common with Adam Lanza’s mother. We all, as mothers, love our children and want them to be healthy, safe, and happy. Adam Lanza’s mother loved her son too. I should imagine that her desire was to have him be happy, healthy and safe. Perhaps Nancy Lanza tried, unsuccesfully, to get help for her son. I don’t know. Perhaps Nancy Lanza’s problems with her son were far too big for to handle on her own. I don’t know.

One thing that I do know with absolute certainty, however, is that I am not Adam Lanza’s mother, Nancy Lanza (God rest her soul), in the sense that my children and grandchildren do not suffer from mental illness. I have never feared, nor will I ever have any reason to fear, my children or grandchildren. I am blessed with happy, healthy children and grandchildren whom I love with my whole heart. I am loved whole-heartedly by them, as well.

I am not Adam Lanza’s mother in the sense that I would never have a weapon of war in my home. The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and all of the others that preceded it, were needless and possibly preventable.

I am heartbroken by the horrific murders of children and other innocents at Sandy Hook Elementary and by the similar tragic deaths that occurred in mass shootings that preceded Sandy Hook. Senator, Elizabeth Warren, in commenting on the tragedy stated, “I don't know how to explain their deaths, or to explain why six heroic teachers and staff members needed to make the ultimate sacrifice for their kids. And I don't know how any of us explain what happened to our children and our grandchildren.

The ultimate causes of such tragedy are impossible to understand fully, but the difficulty of untangling all the elements is not an excuse for failing to do what we can to make our children safer. We have a responsibility to ourselves and to our children to take the steps we can to stop the violence.”

In the past two years over 6000 children have been killed by guns. That number, not only increased by 20 with the Sandy Hook tragedy, but it continues to increase daily all across this nation. Statistics show that 83 Americans die every day from gun violence.  Eight of them are children or teens. That is eight children a day, every day. That is thousands a year, and tens of thousands in the last decade.

Just expressing regrets and opening up yet another conversation about solutions to such tragedies is insufficient. It is time to take action to address the culture of violence, mental health issues, and gun reform laws in our nation.

Mental health facilities, and coverage for their services, need to be better funded There has been a decrease in coverage for mental health services and, with the looming fiscal cliff, mental health services could be in even greater jeopardy. President Obama stated in a press conference announcing his task force to address gun violence, “We’re gonna need to work on making access to mental health care at least as easy as access to a gun.”

It is also time to take action to reform our nation’s gun laws. As Mayor Tom Menino, the  co-founder of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, stated, "Now is the time for a national policy on guns that takes the loopholes out of the laws, the automatic weapons out of our neighborhoods and the tragedies like today out of our future."

 Most gun owners are responsible people. There should be a place for responsible gun ownership in our society. But no one needs military-grade assault weapons or high-capacity magazine clips to hunt or to protect their family from intruders.

President Obama has created a task force, to be headed up by Vice President Joe Biden. The purpose of the task force is to address many-faceted solutions to the ever-increasing problem with gun violence. Senator Feinstein has introduced a bill to re-instate a ban on assault weapons and other commonsense gun control measures.

Parents and grandparents all across this nation should unite and lend support to President Obama’s reform policies and Senator Feinstein’s bill. President Obama urges Congress to support such policies, and we as responsible parents, grandparents, and other kinds of child caregivers, should also urge Congress to support such reforms.

Picture credit: Gabriella Fabbri


Friday, December 14, 2012

How to Talk to and Reassure Your Children about School Shootings

There was a time when “duck and cover” drills were done in schools as a safety measure in the event of a war bombing or nuclear missile attack. “Duck and cover” has taken on a whole new meaning now with the many incidents of school, movie theatre, and shopping mall mass  & random shootings.

In the news today is the tragic and schocking school shooting and killing of 20 children and 7 adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Also in our recent history of violence were the mall shootings in Oregon, the movie theatre shootings in Aurora, Colorado, the Sikh temple shootings in Wisconsin and, of course, the Virginia Tech mass shootings. And who can forget Columbine? In addition, today, December 13, 2012, it was reported that 20 elementary-aged children in China were stabbed.

Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and families of such senseless and needless murders. While the murder of anyone is horribly tragic, murders of children are horrific beyond measure. The point must be made that such things happen because of the prevalence of guns and the culture of violence in our society. Those issues need to be addressed, in a common sense way, by the public and by our lawmakers.

Children who have been in schools or public areas where such violence has occurred, as well as children who hear about such violence on the news, can become fearful and even suffer from Post Traumatic Stress. Such traumatic effects in children can have physical and behavioral manifestations.  Psychologists and other experts in PTSD, as well as an organization called KidsPeace, dedicated to helping children and parents deal with trauma resulting from such violence, suggest strategies for talking to your children about school shootings or natural disasters.

1. It's vital, after an event that can cause such trauma, that parents listen to their children .and encourage them to express their fears, concerns and trepidations.

2. Regardless of the age of the child, one of the most important strategies is to reassure your children of safety and security by telling them that you, their school, their friends and their communities are all dedicated to, focused on, and working for their safety.  Talk to them about people, such as police, teachers and other school officials, neighbors and all concerned adults in their community whose job it is to protect them.

3. Discussing such things with younger children is more challenging. The type and amount of information shared should be limited to very basic facts. You should use words that they can understand and are meaningful to them. Share with them that some bad people have used violence to hurt innocent people in the area. Tell them that you don’t know exactly why it happened, but the violence has occurred. Avoid going into specific details.

4. School-aged children may wonder or ask if such an event could happen to them. Be truthful to your children. Tell them that it is unlikely that anything like this will happen to them or in their community. Then reassure them by repeating how you, the police, their schools and their communities are focused on working to keep everyone safe.

5. Parents, teachers and all child caregivers should be cautious about allowing very young children to watch news or listen to radio that is discussing or showing such violence. That kind of violence is far too difficult for most young children to process. Personal discussions with them that take place many times over the weeks that follow such tragedies are the best way to share information with young children.

6. When you talk with your preteens or teens, more detail is appropriate, as many will have already seen news broadcasts about the mass shootings. However, don’t allow them to focus too much on any of the graphic details. Rather, elicit their feelings and fears and focus your discussions on what they are willing to share with you. Even with teenagers, you should still be cautious of how much media they are exposed to regarding such tragedies. Talk directly with your teens about the tragedy and answer their questions truthfully.

7. Even though teenagers are more mature, you still must remember to reassure teens of their safety and the many collective efforts to protect them. No matter the age of your children, they must hear this message. During tragedies such as public shootings, school shootings or any school violence, words expressing safety and reassurance with concrete safety plans should be discussed and agreed upon within your family. Such discussions can provide the most comfort to young children and teenagers.

8. You should watch for physical symptoms of anxiety that children may demonstrate following such violence. Such anxiety may be a sign that your children, even if they aren’t directly mentioning the tragedy, are troubled by the recent tragic events. You should talk more directly to children who exhibit such signs as excessive worry, head or stomach aches, argumentativeness, irritability, sudden withdrawal, sleeplessness, nightmares, trouble eating as normal, clinging behavior, or reluctance or refusal to attend school.

If you, as a parent, are concerned about your children and their reaction to such tragedies, talk directly with their school counselor, your family doctor or local mental health professional. You can also have your older children visit KidsPeace’s, a teen help website providing anonymous and clinically approved help and resources for them. Access  KidsPeace at the website, www.TeenCentral.Net.

Schools and communities that don't already practice drills to better prepare students, staff, and community members as to safety measures to take to better protect them in the event of similar violent incursions, should immediately implement protective drills nationwide. You, as parents and child caregivers, can also access specific strategies that you and / or your children can take to better protect yours and your children’s safety in the event you or they are ever caught up in any public place where a violent intruder intending violence and mayhem may suddenly appear. Access this information through the following pdf file:

Picture credit: Blake Campbell