Paris attacks leave parents, schools with tough questions
BOSTON — The deadly attacks in France left schools and parents around the world grappling with what to say to children, and how to say it.
When classes resumed this week, many teachers struggled to decide whether to discuss what happened in Paris. Parents wondered whether to talk about the violence or how to explain it. From country to country, the topic was tackled in different, and similar, ways.
Many schools held moments of silence to honor the hundreds of people who were killed or injured while out simply enjoying a Friday evening. Some held open discussions about terrorism and the Paris attacks. Teachers of younger students often tried to shield them from the topic.
At Miami's George Washington Carver Middle School, teacher Sindy Garcia started her eighth-grade social studies class with a moment of silence and then showed a video designed to teach students about the attacks. During a discussion afterward, some in the class asked what ISIS stands for and why the group wanted to attack France. The Islamic State militants have claimed responsibility for the attacks.
"I tried to give them just enough facts that they're informed but not enough to overwhelm them," said Garcia, the school's department head for social studies. "They'll know the number of deaths they'll know the number of injured, but I won't show more than that."
At the Lycée Français de New York, students were called into assemblies by grade to discuss the news and their reactions.
"We took a really careful approach," said Elisabeth King, a spokeswoman for the French-language school in Manhattan. "It's really about listening and alleviating fear."
In Paris, schools reopened Monday with normal routines. In one public school, a teacher drew a classroom of 7-year-old children to a corner, had them sit close together on the floor and explained there were attackers at a stadium. The teacher said there were more and more police every minute to protect people.
A French newspaper, Liberation, published a special children's edition Monday.
At Downtown Magnets High School in Los Angeles, social studies teacher Daniel Jocz scrapped his lesson plan to discuss the attacks. He asked his 11th grade students if they had any questions, and then taught a primer on the history and politics of the Middle East and North Africa.
"I want them to have a clear picture of the complexity," he said. "And I realize it's a daunting task because many of them have not had any historical background."
In Toronto, the school district's director of education issued guidelines Monday to help teachers and parents address the subject with their students and children. Tips included addressing students' concerns about the events and asking open-ended questions about their feelings.
"It is normal for people to try to make sense of things when a serious loss occurs. Allow your child to share his or her ideas and speculations," Director Donna Quan said in the guidelines. "Help them to separate what they know from what they are guessing about."
Experts say parents should avoid talking about the attacks with children younger than 6. For older children, parents should invite them to watch the news as a family and then discuss it, said Dr. Steven Berkowitz, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania.
"For a lot of kids this is part and parcel of the world they've grown up in," he said. "Often, kids may have less of a reaction to these events than we do as adults, and sometimes we're surprised by that, and we shouldn't be."
Berkowitz said parents should take care to avoid passing their own anxiety on to their children.
"A lot of adults are pretty overwhelmed and scared by this, and they have to be aware of their own feelings," he said. "If you're feeling that way as an adult or caregiver, which is understandable, it's important that you get support from somebody else and not put it onto the kids."
In the U.S., individual schools decided how to respond to the news. The superintendent of schools in Hartford, Connecticut, distributed guidance from the National Association of School Psychologists to principals on how to help children cope with terrorism.
Terrorism fears in the U.S. prompted some schools to cancel or postpone trips to Washington, D.C.
In Italy, the minister of education asked schools and universities to devote a minute of silence and at least an hour of reflection to the attacks.
Minister Stefania Giannini said in a message that educators must help students "reject, today more than ever, any temptation toward xenophobia or racism."
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