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By Abby Betz, LSW – January 28, 2020

With high profile acts of violence on the rise, particularly in schools, it is important that parents and caregivers talk with children about these types of incidents and teach them ways to protect themselves. 

Schools have been working to prevent violence and make schools safer places for our children.  Not only do staff and faculty play a vital role in promoting school safety, it is imperative that parents also help reassure children that schools are generally safe places. 

Creating a safe atmosphere for students helps establish a sense of normalcy and security. It is essential students feel comfortable talking about their fears, as mental health concerns also continue to be on the rise.

Schools can promote a safe school environment by providing support from social workers and counselors and fostering positive interventions and school-wide behavioral expectations. It is also important that children take part in maintaining a safe school climate by participating in safety planning and drills. 

Frequently reminding children of the importance of school rules and requesting that they report potentially hazardous situations to school personnel can help reduce the instances of violence. The presence of school resource officers, security guards, and/or local police partnerships also plays a large role in keeping schools safe. It is important for staff and faculty to remain a visible, welcoming presence at school by greeting students and visitors to the building.

At home, parents and caregivers can reassure their children they are in a safe place. It is important to validate feelings children have and explain it is normal to feel scared or worried when tragedies such as school violence occur. Letting children talk about their feelings helps in processing these fears, puts them into perspective, and assists them in expressing these feelings in an appropriate way.

Making the time to talk with children is extremely important. Look for clues they may want or need to talk. Also keep in mind that some children may be able to express themselves more freely while coloring, drawing, or engaging in other artistic activities.

It is important to keep conversations appropriate for the child’s developmental stage. Early elementary school-aged children need simple, concise explanations coupled with reassurance that their school is a safe place. Upper elementary and middle school-aged children can be more verbal in asking questions about school safety.

For high school students, it is important to emphasize their role in fostering a safe school environment by reporting threats and communicating safety concerns to school personnel. For children of all ages, it is essential for parents and caregivers to look for changes in behavior, appetite, and sleep. Providing assistance to help children separate real-life from fantasy is also very important.

Monitoring and limiting what children are viewing on the internet and television can help lessen their fears. Maintaining a normal routine is also crucial to the healthy development of all children and gives them a sense of safety and security.

If a parent or caregiver has any concerns for their child, they should reach out to their child’s school and also seek the assistance of mental health professionals.

Ashley Hale, LCSW – Dec. 10, 2019

Encouraging regular school attendance is one of the most powerful ways you can prepare your child for success in school and in life.   An estimated 5 to 7.5 million students miss 18 or more days of a school year, which averages two days per month. 

Some challenges are unavoidable, such as illness or family emergencies.  However, it’s important to be aware of the impact absences from school can have, especially if they are frequent.  

Having good attendance sets your child up for a strong future by assisting them with better grades, healthier life habits, the ability to avoid dangerous behaviors, feeling more connected to the community, developing important social skills and friendships, and giving them a better chance for graduation.

You can help your child prepare for a lifetime of success by teaching them to make school attendance a priority.  If your child is struggling to attend school, the first step is to understand the depth of the problem, whether physical or emotional. 

There are many common reasons children do not want to go to school, such as academic struggles, trouble with bullies, family separation anxiety, and family challenges at home. It can be difficult to understand why some children avoid school or do not want to leave home.

The following are some ways you can help eliminate chronic absenteeism:

  • Make getting to school on time every day a high priority. Make it an expectation. Talk with your child about the importance of showing up to school every day as well as the negative effects of too many absences.
  • Create a safe space for your child to share what is keeping them from participating in school on a regular basis. Find out if your child feels engaged in their classes and feels safe while at school. Be aware of their social contacts. Peer pressure can often lead to skipping school, while students without many friends may feel isolated. 
  • Have a back-up plan for getting your child to school when there are difficulties with transportation, family illness, or other challenges.
  • Schedule doctor and other appointments for after-school hours whenever possible.   Don’t let your child stay home unless truly sick. Common occurrences of headache or stomach ache may be a sign of anxiety.
  • Monitor your child’s school attendance to make sure they are in class every day. 
  • Contact your child’s school to discuss support services that can help them maintain regular school attendance. Know the school’s attendance policy. Talk to their teachers if you notice sudden changes in behavior and ask them to contact you if they notice changes. 
  • Encourage your child to participate in afterschool activities, including sports and clubs. Being involved in extra-curricular activities is a great way to feel more involved in the school and to make new friends.

As a parent, you are on the front line of an attendance problem. The good news is that it is possible to change things for the better and increase the chances for success.