Having the conversation: Helping your student cope with tragedy

Posted at 6:27 PM, Feb 15, 2018

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.-- Wednesday's events in Florida have left parents and schools in West Michigan wondering how to help students cope.

The conversation is one that can be both difficult and scary to have, but parents and school staff are being faced with the reality of doing so after such a tragic event. Mental health experts recommend confronting the issue head-on.

"These tragedies are unfortunately happening over and over and over again, so it’s really become a chronic need," says Jan Miller, program director of Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids.

Miller says now is the time to be thinking about your child’s mental health.

“In the difficult, tumultuous times we live in, I think we also need to be paying attention to the emotional health of students much more so than ever before," says Miller.

But tragedies like this can also be hard on parents, and while you might think you’re protecting your child by shielding them from the news, Miller says it could have the opposite effect.

"It’s very important for the parents to let them know what is happening so that they won’t begin to imagine things that are potentially even worse than what the reality is," says Miller, who notes kids need to know they are not in personal danger and adults have a plan.

One place they may be faced with the reality of Wednesday’s events is at school.

Rockford Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Mike Shibler, sent out a letter to parents this morning opening a line of communication about the shooting.

"I want to assure our community: our staff and our parents, and our students that we work hard everyday to create a safe environment for the people who use our schools," Shibler said.

While it can be hard to talk about scary or upsetting things with your kids, both Miller and Shibler say it’s the best way forward.

“I think that the schools really need to show heightened awareness of students in emotional sense by kind of looking at the broader emotional health environment in a classroom," says Miller.

"I refuse to become jaded! I refuse to accept that this is the way the world is today," Dr. Shibler says, "because we should never accept that this is the way the world is today. We need to say what happened is tragic, our prayers and thoughts go out to the parents and families involved in this and so forth, but we also need to learn from it."

Like Rockford, Forest Hills Public Schools also sent a letter home to parents, highlighting safety policies in the district and providing resources to help with those conversations with your kids. They’re also reminding students about the "OK2Say" program, which offers students across Michigan the opportunity to confidentially report any behavior they find suspicious through a hotline or mobile app.

For more information on how to help your students cope you can visit Gilda's Club right here in Grand Rapids or click here to check out their website.