Talking about a major emergency

22 March 2018 marks one year after the Westminster attack, which saw loss of life and severe injuries. The first anniversary of this and several attacks in the UK and around the world can bring back the shock and distress as they appear in the news again.

Daniel Calvert from the British Red Cross introduces their Talking about a major emergency resource and how to have these difficult conversations with students. When we hear about a terrorist attack or a crisis it can be difficult to discuss or understand, particularly for children and young people.

In our topical resource emailed to your inbox, Newsthink, we produce quick activities and critical thinking questions after local and global events. They help to build young people’s resilience and to create opportunities to explore events from a humanitarian perspective. We know that teachers want to have discussions with their class, but don’t always know what angle to take, so in the hours after the Westminster, Manchester  and London Bridge attacks we produced free resources to support discussions with students.

Since then, we have developed Talking about emergencies to help young people explore how they and others may feel following news of other major emergencies. The resource fits with PSHE, Citizenship, Tutor Time and Assembly and is suitable for young people aged 11–19 (a primary version of this resource is available too).

First reactions

 It is important for your students to share their feelings about the emergency and establish what they already know. You can use a photograph, a headline or a short video clip as a stimulus and then discuss:

  • What is your first impression of this image/video/headline?
  • What is happening?
  • How have the people been affected? (this could be emotionally, physically or practically)

You may have to adapt the activity depending on how comfortable your students feel. Some might not be ready to talk about the incident, so you could always start with our stress and anxiety activity in the resource.

Humanitarian help

One of the best ways to explore a major emergency is by looking at real-life examples of people acting with humanity. This can help your students to consider the resilience that has been shown and to develop important skills to help them to cope with challenging events.

News headlines often focus on the horror and suffering of an event. Our resources help to explore another perspective, such as the humanitarian response of local people, and kindness and concern shown for others. During the Manchester attack, there were examples of people giving first aid to those injured and people helping concert-goers as they left the arena.

After exploring these examples, young people could discuss:

  1. What motivates people to help in these situations?
  2. What impact can their actions have on the people affected?
  3. What qualities do you need to help in a crisis?
  4. What would you personally be good at?

Coping strategies

The closing activities help young people to learn coping skills that they can use to help themselves and others when distressing events are in the news. They can explore how they feel when stressed or upset and think about what helps them to cope, so they can develop coping strategies for the future.

Ask students to:

  • Identify one strategy they think would not work for them and say why.
  • Select one they have used and describe in more detail what happened.
  • Select one they have never tried but think might be useful for them

Finally, encourage young people to share their learning and find out what others think.

Sign up to Newsthink to receive more information about British Red Cross teaching resources or visit the Red Cross website.

Blog by Daniel Calvert, British Red Cross

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