Walking into a store the other day I, and the woman next to me, stopped when we saw a fire truck, ambulance, and police car outside. We looked at each other and questioned whether it was safe to go inside. The conversation continued, and she told me that even though she works in a busy hospital, she never goes anywhere alone. She has her husband or grown son accompany her. The anxiety of the past year has taken its toll on her and she explained that getting her nails done by herself was a monumental step. If an adult woman struggles to go in the outside world, how do young children step inside of a school? How do we make them feel good about it?
The American Psychological Association urges parents to speak honestly with their children and to keep the level of detail age appropriate. Allow them to speak without interrupting and try to make home a haven where they can have a respite from the outside world. Following a crisis, children’s habits may change including sleep patterns, study patterns, and changes in appetite. Keeping news to a minimum and allowing children to express themselves through forms of art are some of the suggestions to help parents navigate this difficult time.
Christopher Gannon, a music teacher at Eagle Ridge Elementary and a band/color guard instructor at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, has been connecting with children at every age level during the recent crisis. “February 15th feels like it was yesterday,” Gannon said, referring to the day after the shooting. Because of his position as a music teacher, he sees children from pre-k to fifth grade and indicates that many of the children are discussing the tragedy at home.
Recently, the school had a day for children to wear orange for gun violence and Gannon remarked that an overwhelming number of children wore orange. “Maybe some parents just told their children they were wearing orange to school that day, but I think that most of the children were aware of the reason,” Gannon said. The fear, sadness, and awareness differ for each child he said, which may be due to the amount of discussion or exposure at home. “There is no right or wrong how parents handle it,” he said.
Gannon has not witnessed any major changes in his students. While it may be in the back of their minds, he feels that the children believe everyone is doing their best to protect them. One common denominator among children of all ages is their resilience, particularly among high school students. “They are driven by the right things, whatever they believe that is,” Gannon said.
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas band recently gave their last performance for the year and a tribute was played for the victims. The practices were highly emotional, and, at times, students would have to leave the room to collect themselves but would then return. During one of the practices an instrument was dropped and thinking that it was a gunshot there were some screams and a moment of fear, but that the students quickly regained their calm.
Gannon, who comes from a family of musicians, is a firm believer that music has provided a form of release for them. “Being involved in any form of art allows one to creatively express themselves,” he said. Gannon offers a reminder and some reassuring words: “These kids are positive and powerful.”