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.