How Mentors Can Respond Best to Tragedy

The school shooting that took place at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, last week took the country by surprise and left sadness, helplessness, and terror in its wake. Schools have become, unfortunately, more effective in responding to emergencies such as this one. While there is much to discuss at a policy and community level on how to better prevent more school shootings from happening in the future, adults can take steps now to help reassure children and youth who are responding to the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Resources from psychologists and mental health counselors provide good, basic ideas for parents to talk with their children. Given the large number of mentoring programs situated in schools, mentors may be part of a child's support system. However, mentors are not parents - we stress this in training - and this advice about how to talk to children about traumatic events may be confusing. With her permission, I'm pleased to repost the comments from Dr. Susan Weinberger, also known as Dr. Mentor and president of the Mentor Consulting Group, with her thoughts on better ways for mentors to respond:

Many young people today are blessed to be surrounded not only by caring parents but also by formal and informal mentors in their lives. For those youth who are in mentoring relationships, it is important for mentors to know what their role is and is not in terms of helping their mentees get through crises like the horrific mass murders in Newtown, Connecticut, a small community of 27,000 just 15 miles from mine. 
Mentors are not professionals. They are not teachers, psychologists, doctors or members of the clergy. Typically, their role is to serve as a guide and friend to a young person, a positive role model and cheerleader. The key role of a mentor is as an advocate. Parents should tell their kids they love them and hug them tighter and shelter them from  24/7 media coverage. Mentors, on the other hand can help to get mentees back to a routine, give them time to play which is so popular when mentoring younger  youth, answer their questions honestly and ask them, "How are you doing? What can I do to help you?" 
Watch for any changes in the mentee's demeanor or behavior or if there are indications of being unhappy. In the role of advocate, mentors can reassure mentees, give them the time and attention they need and help them to return to a normal routine during their mentoring sessions. Do more of what  mentors and mentees often do anyway: talk a walk together, read together, draw and engage in arts and crafts activities, play games and allow time if they do not want to talk. If mentors have concerns about their mentees, don't dismiss them. Seek the resources of the school or community to help depending on the  location of the mentoring relationship. 
Finally, Mr. Fred Rogers an icon for children in America for more than four decades once  said "Good trumps evil." Pointing out the good in this world and the many who want to help when such tragedies occur may be consoling and calming. I hope so. I pray so.
As an art therapist, I would also add that any kind of creative activity may reveal under-the-surface anxieties or fear, as it's often easier to express these emotions through images than words. If you have any concerns about your mentee's mental or emotional health, talk with your program staff right away, so that they can connect appropriate resources and professionals as soon as possible. Remember your role as an advocate, a supporter, a caring guide as you continue to build your mentoring relationship and be there for your mentee.


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