Tough morning for local parents, teachers and students

Prince William County elementary children head to school on Monday. (Kathy Stewart/WTOP)

Kathy Stewart,

Ed. Note: Given the sensitivity of the Newtown, Conn. shootings, some sources listed did not want to provide their full names in this coverage.

WASHINGTON – It was an emotionally rough morning, as students headed back to school in the D.C. area on Monday. It’s the first day since the Connecticut shootings and emotions were raw.

“There are no words to talk about this,” says Lana, an elementary school teacher in Prince William County who is also a parent of a middle school student.

“When I left home this morning my son, he was kind of worried. And I tried to assure him that this doesn’t happen every day. He’s worried about me coming to the elementary school too,” she says.

Phil Kavits, Prince William County Public Schools spokesman, says safety is a top concern 24/7 in the school system.

There was an obvious stepped up police presence at the schools in this county and across the region. Police were not there because of any particular threat. They are there as a way to help parents, teachers and students deal with fears and anxiety.

Liz is a parent of a first grader at an elementary school in Prince William County. She was battling her fears Monday morning.

“I didn’t want to take him in today (to school), but I knew I had too. I just said a little prayer of protection to myself. I didn’t want him to know that I was anxious. All you can do is pray and hope that everything is OK,” she says.

Michelle Mullaley is the parent of two kids at the same elementary school in the county. After dropping off her two daughters, one a kindergartner and the other a fifth grader, both she and her husband had that moment, “you know where your heart drops. There’s that twinge of discomfort, even though you know, chances are that nothing like that will ever, ever happen but I’m sure those parents thought that,” she says.

Mullaley is a clinical child psychologist. She works in Fairfax at the Child and Family Counseling Group. “You can’t live in fear. You just have to let life move on.”

She speaks from experience after losing a child to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) more than five years ago.

Mullaley says to answer your child’s questions honestly but to talk to them at whatever age and level they are at emotionally and developmentally. Her kindergartner knows nothing about the shootings and shouldn’t, and she feels a child that age should be shielded from the coverage.

On the other hand, her fifth grader heard about it on the news before Mullaley could turn off the TV. Her older daughter doesn’t want to talk about the shootings because it’s too scary for her. So Mullaley is following her daughter’s lead and advises other parents to follow their child’s lead.

“But not giving too much information is key and not letting them see the images. It really makes them terrified. As adults it’s the thing that keeps us up at night,” says Mullaley.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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