Maandamano days: The art of breaking news to students’ parents
True story. A working parent had been previously informed by the school where her children study that they would break at half day at 1:30 pm on #MaandamanoWednesday owing to opposition demonstrations that would be held on the same day (last Wednesday).
Mildly comforted that the children would be home before the demonstrations gathered steam in the afternoon like they always do, the parents proceeded to their workplaces having uneventfully taken the kids to school in the morning.
However, at 10 am, a call came through. “Aren’t you coming for your children? The buses are already leaving,” said the school administrator.
And so commenced a confusing day for the parents, sprinkled with a healthy dose of anger and anxiety at how the news was broken to them, how crippling anxiety overtook them because a renowned demonstration hotspot is located between their home and the school and worry whether the roads would be passable.
One can only imagine how the parents of students at the New Kihumbuini Primary School in Kangemi felt when they received calls to urgently come for their children when police lobbed tear gas canisters into their premises while battling demonstrators.
51 children ended up being hospitalized with a myriad of health issues, and one parent could be seen on the news visibly angry, distressed, and aggressive at the turn of events, and how their children were exposed to such harm as the school is right next to the main road.
Breaking news to parents with school-going children- especially on maandamano days- should then be an art form.
And so, how should schools communicate the sudden change of events at their schools?
Here is what the authority from the school can do before, during and after contacting the student’s parents/guardians:
- Take time to process the news yourself and gather all the necessary information before sharing it with others. Are demonstrators in the vicinity of the school? Any law enforcement in the area? Any safe exit routes from the school? It’s important to be clear about the details and potential impact of the news.
- Find a suitable and private setting where you can have a comfortable and uninterrupted conversation. This allows the person receiving the news to express their emotions without feeling self-conscious or rushed. Don’t call a parent while you are surrounded by chaos because this will only add to their terror.
- It’s important to be honest and straightforward when delivering bad news. Avoid using vague language or beating around the bush. Clearly communicate the news while maintaining a calm and understanding tone.
- Be attentive and empathetic towards the person receiving the news. Give them the space to express their feelings and concerns; and offer reassurance and support as they think of how to handle the situation and get their children home safely.
- Keep your language clear and simple to ensure that the person understands the news.
- Offer any available information or resources that may help the person cope with the news. This could be information on someone who can be in charge of your child until you arrive, where your children might be safely secluded until you arrive or a person who could drop their children to them whether at an extra fee or not.
- Understand that the person receiving the news may react with a range of emotions, including shock, anger, sadness or disbelief. Give them the space to express their feelings without judgment or interruption.
- Everyone reacts differently to bad news. Respect the parents’ need to process the information. Let them know that you are available to r provide support.
- After delivering bad news and the school is empty, it’s important to check in on the parents and children later to see how they are doing. Did the children get home safely? Do they need to make any arrangements to take care of the children’s wellbeing in the days to come? Will the children be attending school on other maandamano days henceforth? What curriculum arrangements can be made for them?