Talking to Students about the Paris Attacks

Talking to Students about the Paris Attacks

This past weekend, a series of terrorist attacks rocked Paris.

As educators, we are all thinking about how to best to approach the subject of the Paris tragedy as our students start the school week, today.  Do we avoid the subject and shield them, especially those under five, from the discussion? Do we give them the basic facts to make sure they have accurate information on what occurred?  How do we allay their anxiety? How do we answer questions that we may not have the answers to and plague us as well. Questions like “Why did this happen.?” “Will this happen here now?” “Are we safe?” “Are our loved ones safe?”  Each of these questions brings up a lot of emotion  — for our students as well as for all of us.

RULER classrooms have a ready tool for this conversation. We can use the Mood Meter to frame this difficult discussion and create a safe place to share for students to share their feelings and then harness the strength of the classroom community to identify coping skills and self-regulation strategies.

First, use the Mood Meter to check-in with yourself.  How are YOU feeling about this tragic event? Where are you on the Mood Meter and what thoughts are going through your own head? Are you concerned that you use mass transportation getting to and from work and that frightens you? Are you anxious about your students asking question that you may not be able to answer? How will you help them deal with their anxiety when you can’t promise them they will be safe? This is an opportunity to check-in with yourself and get your own emotions under control before you begin a conversation with your students. We recommend identifying the strategies you use to regulate your ‘red’ emotions  –using these strategies will best prepare you for the conversation and serve as examples for your students. Some of us use gratitude to shift our mood, some of us use self talk “I will do everything I can to be as safe as I can,” many of us rely on our ‘best self’ to help bring us from our own anxiety to a compassionate place with our students.

Next, lead a brief class discussion about the events that occurred in Paris on Friday. Use this time as an opportunity to gather information about how much your students may know or not know. Clarify any erroneous information and be careful not to embellish with unwarranted detail. Then, segue into a Mood Meter check-in where you plot yourself first and go through the R-U-L-E-R questions.  It is important to be authentic and clear about your own feelings. You can share with the class how difficult a weekend it was for you and how you kept thinking of the people in Paris and what feelings that raised.  Identify and label your own feelings of sadness and anxiety. When you share your plot on the Mood Meter stay calm and try to moderate your own emotions as best you can. Do not feel you have to avoid telling your students that you are in the BLUE because you are so sad about this tragedy or in the RED because it makes you angry that people can behave this way or this event made you feel frightened. Do tell your students that you are ok, even though you have these sad or scared feelings. The most important thing is to be real and then share how you are regulating your own feelings – thought strategies, like the ones above, and action strategies.  For many of you, it may be sharing with your students how you reached out to friends and family to discuss what occurred. Help your students to see that many people seek social support when they have uncomfortable feelings. You may want to share with them how hearing that other people were feeling the same things made you feel better and not so alone. Explain to your students that after spending time with friends and family and talking together, you felt yourself shifting from the BLUE quadrant into the GREEN as you became calmer and more comfortable.  Clearly identify social support as a regulation strategy that we can all use in school, at home and in the community when we want to reduce or prevent uncomfortable feelings. Now, add it to your Strategy Wall in the classroom.

As you bring your Mood Meter check-in to a close, be clear that you don’t  expect students to be in the YELLOW.  Whatever feelings they have are ok. What you hopefully have accomplished is that you have created  a safe space to discuss their feelings and you have validated certain realities for them. We hope that by the end of this activity, students will feel they are shifting into the GREEN as you highlight the following points:

  • Events such as the terrorist attacks in Paris are very rare and unusual.
  • Students are loved and cherished by their families and teachers
  • It is important to talk about what they are feeling if they are concerned.
  • Their feelings are natural and normal in such a situation.
  • In our country, we are trying to always be prepared for events like this by having drills and using technology to stay aware of what is happening.
  • The adults in the community are trained to keep them safe and will always do their best to ensure that happens.
  • The teachers and school leaders in their schools have a plan for any event that may happen and will keep them safe.
  • There are many more good people in the world than bad and those people are working to make sure events such as this do not happen again.


Words by: Bonnie Brown, Robin Stern and Dawn DeCosta