Students with children talk about shootings

Portland State parents who are struggling to explain to their children the senseless violence of the December shootings now have a few more on-campus resources.

A makeshift memorial lies along the main road leading to Sandy Hook Elementary School Vin Newton, Conn. Photo © Mike M. Ahlers/CNN.

Portland State parents who are struggling to explain to their children the senseless violence of the December shootings now have a few more
on-campus resources.

Immediately after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting occurred on Dec. 14, Portland State’s Resource Center for Students with Children provided a list of tips for parents about how to talk to children about violence.

The list, written by the National Association of School Psychologists, was made accessible to the center’s community through their Facebook page.

It attempts to provide parents with a strategy for counseling children about random violence. The list suggests reassuring children that they are safe, and not overwhelming children with details that may be inappropriate or beyond the limits of their understanding.

Lisa Wittorff, the center’s coordinator, recommended that parents emphasize the rarity of school shootings.

“The Clackamas Town Center shooting served to compound the ‘scariness’ of the Sandy Hook shooting. Statistics have shown an increase in these shootings at the holiday time,” Wittorff said.

And the shootings came at a time when many student-parents are already stressed out about staying in the black.

Wittorff described the financial burdens of the holiday season—from buying winter clothes and gifts for children to paying rent just as financial aid funding runs out—as being a “stressor” that PSU student-parents combat.

Wittorff also mentioned that she saw more students coming in for food resources this holiday season.

Wittorff said that most parents she spoke with found their children unaffected by the tragedy. During one discussion with a student worker who has children, Wittorff said that the student worker attempted to discuss gun safety with her children but that the children were confused by their mother’s unexpected emphasis on this, and were not able to connect the Sandy Hook shooting to gun safety.

Another student parent from the center found that explaining the shooting wasn’t hard.

“I told my girls about Sandy Hook, briefly,” she said. “[I] remind[ed] them that there are millions of children in the nation and that just because it happened on the other side of the country doesn’t mean it will ever happen at their school. They accepted that and the topic was dropped.”

Parents should tell their children that the world is a safe place, Wittorff said. But in the instance of violence in a school, children should follow their teacher’s lead.

Ellie Justice, director of Portland State’s Helen Gordon Child Development Center, sent out an email after the shooting with suggestions about campus safety for child care providers, along with a reiteration of the Helen
Gordon Center’s safety policies, which include security call buttons and an emergency response plan.

“We have a secured entryway, but it takes everyone to make sure that people aren’t entering the building,” Justice said.

In the aftermath of the shooting, Justice said that one parent wanted to be with her child and picked her up earlier than usual that day. Most parents, however, merely responded to Justice’s email.

“We were on lockdown last July when there was an armed person in the parking structure. Everyone handled it well, but it gave us an opportunity to review our policies,” Justice said.

“The biggest concern is child safety,” she added.