Given the number of high-profile school shootings last year, both children and adults may be feeling anxiety about school safety. As we head back to school this year, we want to help our kids feel safe and supported.
Children look to the adults in their lives for guidance and reassurance, and it’s certainly hard to provide a sense of safety when you may not be feeling it yourself. Knowing how to speak with your child is key in helping to alleviate fear and worry about their personal safety. Here’s where to start.
Create a sense of normalcy: In many ways, the most important thing is to return to routine. Children feel safer when things “return to normal,” and will very often open up about their thoughts and feelings as a result.
Encourage your child to talk about his feelings: Talking about feelings is not always easy. You may need to prompt your child gently to open up, asking open-ended questions about how they feel at school. Let your child lead the conversation, and answer what’s being asked, no more and no less. Also, keep an eye out for signs that your child wants to talk but may not know how to ask (hovering in the door, starting and stopping conversations).
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Validate your child’s feelings: Your child’s concerns and worries are valid. Recognize that. Provide reassurance that, despite what might be covered in the news, school shootings are actually not common and that schools are safe places. In reaction to all that has been happening, schools are becoming more secure and safer overall.
Discuss safety procedures: Most schools now do active shooter drills. Review why this is necessary, and also discuss other safety measures that their school has. Reinforce that these things are in place to promote safety. Help your child identify trusted adults that she can go to if feeling worried or unsafe. Remind her, too, that she can come to you anytime she is feeing scared.
Check your own feelings: Be open with how you are feeling while being careful to not overshare. Your children look to you for guidance as to how to react. We want them to feel comfortable and confident sharing their feelings, so modeling how to do that is important. It is equally important to not overdo it, because your child may feel that there isn’t room for his feelings then.
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Keep the discussion age appropriate: Children of different ages may have different ways of talking about safety.
Elementary school: Keep it brief and simple. Balance it with reassurance that they will be OK.
Middle school: As they get older, children may have more specific questions. Help separate fact from fiction. Talk about what’s being done to provide a safe school environment.
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High school: Kids at this age may have a lot of opinions about what’s happening and what the causes of the situation are. They also may be getting a lot of information online, so it’s important to help note which news sources are more reliable than others.
Get involved: It is so easy to feel helpless. Combat that by empowering your child (and yourself) to take action when it comes to school safety. Families can do this together.
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