We do this not just because it’s a strong educational model but because we care about building strong kids. We care about supporting our learners, no matter what they may be facing.
Academic growth is an unquestionably high priority at iLEAD Schools, yet it is secondary to creating a safe, supportive learning environment in which the basic needs and well-being of youth are ensured. Only then are learners available to learn, interact, and grow into individuals prepared to excel in college, career, and civic life.
Sadly, a growing number of children and teens experience severe challenges related to anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicidal ideation, and rates of suicide among youth continue to increase. A nationwide survey conducted by The Jason Foundation indicated that the number-one person a learner would turn to when trying to help a friend at risk of suicide is a teacher. Our staff and facilitators know this and endeavor to create and maintain an environment where learners feel safe addressing these topics.
Suicide Awareness: Identifying Warning Signs
Some warning signs may help you determine if someone is at risk of suicide, especially if the behavior is new, has increased, or seems related to a painful event, loss, or change. Warning signs include the following:
- Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves.
- Looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun.
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
- Talking about being a burden to others.
- Increasing use of alcohol or drugs.
- Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.
- Sleeping too little or too much.
- Withdrawing or isolating themselves.
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
- Extreme mood swings.
If learners believe someone they know is at risk of suicide, they should speak with a facilitator, staff member, family member, or contact one of the agency contact numbers listed on this page immediately.
For more information and resources, visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
Parent Tips for Helping Children after a Traumatic Event
1. Initiate the conversation
Just because children aren’t talking about a tragedy doesn’t mean they’re not thinking about it, experts say. They may sense your discomfort and not want to upset you by bringing it up, or they may be too overwhelmed by their own feelings to express them.
“Without factual information, children (and adults) ‘speculate’ and fill in the empty spaces to make a complete story or explanation,” explains psychiatrist Bruce D. Perry in a guide for the nonprofit ChildTrauma Academy on “Helping Traumatized Children.” “In most cases, the child’s fears and fantasies are much more frightening and disturbing than the truth.” As soon as the child asks questions or seems to be thinking about the event, it’s time to have a conversation, Perry advises.
Educators for Social Responsibility (ESR), in a guide called “Talking with Children about War and Violence in the World,” suggests that children as young as four or five can benefit from talking about the event. To open up the conversation, you might start with questions like these:
- “How do you feel about what’s happening in the world?”
- “What are you or your friends thinking and talking about in terms of the world situation?”
2. Reassure them
Tragedy can rattle our and our children’s sense of safety. One goal of this conversation is to provide them with the reassurance that…
- Things will get better.
- You will be there for them.
- They can ask you questions anytime.
- They are safe, and so are the people they care about.
To make your reassurances more believable, you can point out some of the safety measures that are being taken. “Children need to hear very clearly that their parents are doing all they can to take care of them and to keep them safe. They also need to hear that people in the government and other grown-ups are working hard to keep them safe, too,” reads a quote from Fred “Mister” Rogers on his website, which contains a section dedicated to helping children after tragic events.
Although we always want to be good listeners for our children, it’s especially crucial in the wake of traumatic events. That means giving them our full attention, and not jumping to judge or minimize what they’re saying — no matter how silly or illogical it may seem. For example, if a child says he’s afraid that a plane overhead carries a bomb, it might be better to say, “I understand why you’re scared, but actually…” instead of stuttering out a horrified “No, of course not!”
“By your ability to listen calmly, even to concerns which might seem unrealistic, you communicate that their fears are not too frightening to deal with,” the ESR guide explains.
If children’s fears sound vague or jumbled, parents can help by gently summarizing what they’re hearing: “It sounds like what you’re feeling is…” A few clarifying questions can also help:
- “That’s interesting. Can you tell me more about that?”
- “What do you mean by…?”
- “How long have you been feeling…?”
4. Find out what they know
By listening, parents can discover the snippets and rumors that their children have already absorbed about a tragedy. If it’s unclear, a simple “What have you heard about this?” should do the trick.
A key purpose of this conversation is to correct any misconceptions children may have picked up, while at the same time offering more concrete information. You can tailor the level of detail depending on their age and how many unanswered questions are weighing on their minds.
Some of those questions may be tricky to answer — and in that case, ESR suggests responses like these:
- “I don’t know the answer to that and I’m not sure anyone does. I do know, however, that many thoughtful people throughout the world are working hard to understand this issue.”
- “That’s an interesting question, and I don’t know the answer. How can we find that out together?”
“The process of figuring out where to get the information, and going through the steps to obtain it, can be a powerfully reassuring experience for children, especially when a trusted adult participates with them,” the guide explains. “In a small but significant way, this experience can demonstrate for young people that there are orderly ways to go about solving problems and that the world is not beyond our understanding.”
5. Encourage children to share their feelings
Sadness, anxiety, fear, stress, even excitement — all feelings are possible in response to tragedy and violence. Whatever children are feeling, Mister Rogers encouraged parents to show understanding and acceptance. “If we don’t let children know it’s okay to feel sad and scared, they may think something is wrong with them when they do feel that way,” he said. “If we can help them accept their own feelings as natural and normal, their feelings will be much more manageable for them.”
We might even encourage children to express their feelings in a nonverbal way, through drawing, writing, singing, or play.
6. Share your feelings
Experts seem to agree that sharing your feelings with your child can be beneficial, with some caveats.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF, TOO
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or traumatized by the event, try these resilience-building practices:
Mindful Breathing: Spend 15 minutes meditating while focusing on your breath.
Expressive Writing: Write continuously for 20 minutes about your deepest emotions and thoughts about the event and how it relates to your past.
First, you want to communicate that you can handle whatever it is you’re feeling. “[Children] get a chance to see that, even though upset, you can pull yourself together and continue on. Parents hear it often: Be a role model. This applies to emotions, too,” explain the experts at the American Psychological Association in their guide on how to talk to children about difficult news and tragedies. (If your anger or worries threaten to overwhelm you or distract you from your child, you might not be ready to have this conversation yet.)
Another risk is that your feelings might add to or replace the ones children are already experiencing.
“A serious pitfall is that we might burden them with our adult concerns, raising new questions and fears for them, rather than helping them deal with questions and fears they already have,” explains the ESR guide. “We might simply find ourselves talking over their heads, answering questions that weren’t asked, providing information that isn’t useful, satisfying our need to ‘give’ children something rather than satisfying their need to be heard and understood.”
As a result, ESR suggests limited expressions of emotion, such as, “You seem sad when we talk about this. I feel sad, too.” This approach avoids the pitfalls mentioned above while demonstrating acceptance, showing empathy, and not denying what you’re feeling.
7. Focus on the good
Where there is tragedy, there is also heroism — acts by police officers, doctors, or ordinary citizens that restore our faith in humanity right when it is shaken. The forces of good spring into action with their love, support, and generosity.
After tragedies, a quote from Mister Rogers is often cited to beautifully make this point: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”
Entire systems exist for this very purpose, such as the Red Cross or the study of earthquake-proof architecture. The University of Michigan Health System encourages parents to use tragedy as an opportunity to educate kids on all the ways people are working to keep us safe. The message is “There are good people all around you.”
8. Encourage children to act
When we feel the pain of others, compassion motivates us to help and to transform that pain into a feeling of connection and support. Encouraging kids to do something about what they’re feeling can give them an outlet and restore their sense of control.
Some suggestions might include:
- Writing letters to victims and their families.
- Sending thank-you notes to doctors, paramedics, firefighters, or police. Setting up a community study group to learn more about the issue. Organizing a town meeting to create an action plan.
- Writing a letter to the editor.
- Raising money for charity.
“You can help children find a way to step out of their position of powerlessness. You can tell them honestly that their concerns are quite healthy because people’s concern is the first step toward doing something to make the world safer,” explains the ESR guide.
9. Know when to seek outside help
What does a “normal” reaction to tragedy look like?
There may be no normal, but experts seem to agree that if more than three months have passed and your child is still suffering — from anxiety, distraction, fear, hopelessness, sleep problems, nightmares, sadness, angry outbursts, or headaches — it might be time to consult a mental health professional. Every child is different, and how they react will depend on factors such as how close to home the tragedy was, whether they were traumatized in the past, and their general level of mental health.
When immediate outside help is needed, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always available: 800-273-8255 (Press 2 for Spanish).
Love and Logic
Love and Logic is a research-driven, whole-child philosophy founded in 1977 by Jim Fay and Foster W. Cline, MD. This philosophy informs how our facilitators build healthy, respectful relationships with learners.
Parenting with Love and Logic
An authentic, loving connection between parents and their children is the root of a healthy, thriving relationship built on trust and understanding.
- The “Love” in Love and Logic means that we love our kids so much that we are willing to set and enforce limits, yet also means we do so with sincere compassion and empathy.
- The “Logic” in Love and Logic happens when we allow children to make decisions and experience the natural, or logical, consequences. When we balance this with sincere empathy, kids develop the following logic: “The quality of my life depends on the quality of my choices.”
For more information, visit www.loveandlogic.com.
Our iLEAD Values
We are a people of purpose, establishing a new paradigm for education. We are a caring culture that values community, which contributes to a better society. Our focus on developing empathy allows for respect and invites an engaging, positive, rich environment. We believe people are natural-born learners. We provide opportunities for discovery and wonder to nurture a lifelong love of learning. Success is demonstrated through leadership, self-direction, problem-solving skills, creativity, collaboration, innovation, and service. We embrace stepping out of our comfort zone. We value joy, fun, choice, and voice, and we celebrate that our differences contribute to our common humanity.
“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.” — Fred Rogers
The following is a list of Crisis Prevention Hotline resources providing toll-free, 24-hour, immediate, confidential, culturally and linguistically appropriate, over-the-phone suicide prevention services to anyone who is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
(Press 2 for Spanish)
The Crisis Text Line:
Access by texting HOME to 741741
Children of the Night (24-hour runaway Hotline):
CA Coronavirus (COVID-19) Response
Resources for emotional support and well-being
Los Angeles County
LA County Crisis Prevention Hotline:
LA County Child Abuse Hotline:
LA County Sheriff’s Department Non-Emergencies:
661-255-1121 (Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station)
661-948-8466 (Antelope Valley Sheriff’s Station)
Orange County Crisis Prevention Hotline:
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) WarmLine:
Crisis Assessment Team (Health Care Agency):
Orange County Sheriff’s Department:
(714) 647-7000 or (949) 770-6011
San Bernardino County
Crisis Intervention Team:
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) WarmLine:
San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department:
Desert: (760) 956-5001 Valley: (909) 387-8313
Ventura County Sheriff Department:
(805) 654-2551 Office of Emergency Services
Ventura County Suicide Hotline:
1-877-727-4747 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week)
Ventura County Crisis Team:
1-866-998-2243 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week)