Responding immediately to a school shooting

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December 14, 2012 by eimrick

My heart is breaking over another school shooting. Last February, I had the opportunity to serve in the schools after the Chardon shooting to help provide grief counseling for survivors of that horrible incident. I remember sitting down at the very table that TJ Lane shot 3 students. I talked with the football coach who chased TJ down the hallway and risked his own life for the sake of the teenagers in the hallway. The school allowed me the opportunity to help with grief counseling of students, teachers and parents in the following days/weeks.

If you are a parent, guardian or youth leader who is responsible for working with survivors of a school shooting or other traumatic event:

1. Provide adequate debriefing to the students
Critical Incident Stress Management, or CISM, is an intervention debrief protocol developed specifically for dealing with traumatic events such as the school shooting that happened in Chardon or Connecticut. It is a formal, highly structured and professionally recognized process for helping those involved in a critical incident to share their experiences, vent emotions, learn about stress reactions and symptoms and given referral for further help if required. It is a confidential, voluntary and educative process, sometimes called ‘psychological first aid’. It is most effective if it’s done within 48 hours of the incident.
Many studies indicate that those who debrief the incident after a traumatic event are much less likely to experience PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) down the road.

2. Provide adequate supervision following the traumatic event
Students who witness a shooting will often have recurring nightmares. Feelings of fear, regret, anger, anxiety will be common. Be patient with the student. Be willing to sit and simply listen to anything that they want to share. The more detail that they share about the shooting the better and the more a child/teen talks about the incident, the closer they will be towards healing.

3. Provide an understanding and patient demeanor
While you don’t want to let students make major decisions while in the midst of dealing with trauma, you do want to be wise in the kind of space you offer them. Major mood swings are common. Be patient. If the shooting happened at the school, the child will need to go back to the school at some point, but don’t force them to go back right away. At Chardon, the students were off for almost a week. After that week, they slowly merged students back into their regular routine.

4. Provide opportunities for long term care for families.
This is incredibly important. Students (as well as parents of the students) who experience this kind of trauma have a much greater likelihood of experiencing anxiety down the road. Find a good relational counselor who can provide a safe place to talk through all they experienced. No student is alike and no parent is alike so all their needs will be different.

Feel free to share stories or ask questions in the comment section below.

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