Many children and parents may be afraid of school violence.
Before the start of the school year, a national survey conducted online by The Harris Poll on behalf of On Our Sleeves found parents of school-aged children cited safety concerns as their top challenge related to school.
Children who worry about school safety are more likely to experience anxiety or depression, school avoidance due to fear, and may find it harder to concentrate on their studies.
You can help the children in your life cope with these thoughts and feelings by having conversations with them and discussing what actions they can take to stay as safe as possible.
Start the conversation before there’s a school violence concern:
- Check in with them and ask open-ended questions about their experiences at school. If your child expresses fear about school safety, say things like, “Tell me more about what worries you.” Children may have different ideas than we imagine that they will. It is important to allow them to guide the conversation so we can truly understand what they are thinking. Remember to validate their feelings as you have this conversation.
Have conversations about lockdown drills:
- If lockdown drills make your child feel like their school will be targeted, discuss the drills before and after they happen.
- Beforehand, explain that lockdown drills are done for safety-training purposes. Just like fire drills, they help people learn what to do if an emergency happens. Highlight that lockdowns due to a safety event are uncommon, just like fires, but we have to practice just in case so we know how to stay safe.
- After lockdown drills, ask about their experience participating in the drill and how they feel. Validate their feelings and offer reassurance. They may still feel worried or sad but giving them a safe place to talk is helpful. Remember, it’s normal for them to feel sad or scared after these drills. It’s not necessary to spend too much time talking about this if they don’t want to - the goal is to give them space to talk if they need it.
Have conversations when an incident happens:
- If reports of school violence make the news, talk about it together. Limit how much you and your family read and watch the news about a traumatic event. Discuss ways to cope with strong feelings that may come up and practice self-care activities together as a family. Read these signs and symptoms that a child may be struggling with an upsetting event and need more help.
- Help your child focus on the procedures that are in place to keep their school safe. While there have been serious incidents across the country, schools, generally, are safe spaces for children. A sense of control is always helpful when coping with fear or anxiety. Also talk with your child about who they can talk to at school (teachers, guidance counselors, office staff) if they see something troublesome.
- Routines are important during this time in helping children feel safe. Keep the same schedule and rules as usual – including school, activities and events.
Remember, although we want to shield our children from uncomfortable emotions and scary topics, it is important we make time to talk about school safety. Having a space to share their emotions, feel validated, and prepared on how to respond can ensure children have the tools to cope with difficult emotions.
These conversations can be difficult as you may be feeling similar emotions as your child. One thing that can make them easier?
Daily check-ins and conversations with your child about fun topics can make hard conversations go more smoothly.