Talk with Your Kids about School Safety

School violence and the resulting intense media coverage bring school safety issues to the forefront for all of us. However, children, in particular, may experience anxiety, fear, and a sense of personal risk. Knowing how to talk with your child about school safety issues could be critical in recognizing and preventing acts of violence, and will play an important role in easing their fear and anxieties about their personal safety.

1. Encourage children to talk about their concerns and to express their feelings. When talking with younger children, talk on their level. For example, they may not understand the term “violence” but can talk to you about being afraid or a classmate who is mean to them.

2. Talk honestly about your own feelings regarding school violence. It is important for children to recognize they are not dealing with their fears alone.

3. Validate your child’s feelings. Do not minimize their concerns. Let them know that serious school violence is not common, which is why incidents such as Columbine attract so much media attention.

Stress that schools are safe places. In fact, recent studies have shown that schools are more secure now than ever before.

4. Empower your child to take action regarding school safety. Encourage them to report specific incidents (such as bullying, threats or talk of suicide). Encourage older children to actively participate in student-run bully prevention programs.

5. Discuss the safety procedures that are in place at school. Explain why visitors sign in and why certain doors remain locked during the school day. Help them understand that such precautions are in place to ensure their safety and stress the importance of adhering to school rules and policies.

6. Create safety plans with your child. Help identify which adults (a friendly secretary, trusted teacher or approachable administrator) your child can talk to if they feel threatened. Also ensure that your child knows how to reach you (or another family member or friend) in case of crisis during the school day.

7. Keep the dialogue going and make school safety a common topic in family discussions rather than just a response to an immediate crisis

8. Recognize behavior that may indicate your child is concerned about returning to school. Younger children may react to school violence by not wanting to attend school or participate in school-based activities. Teens and adolescents may minimize their concerns outwardly, but may become argumentative, withdrawn, or allow their school performance to decline.

The following behaviors are signs that your child may need help:

  • Lack of interest or poor performance in school
  • Absence of age-appropriate anger control skills
  • Seeing self as always the victim
  • Persistent disregard for or refusal to follow rules
  • Cruelty to pets or other animals
  • Artwork or writing that is bleak or violent or that depicts isolation or anger
  • Talking constantly about weapons or violence
  • Obsession with violent games and/or TV shows
  • Lack of enthusiasm, energy or motivation
  • Carrying a weapon to school
  • Overreacting to criticism
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Bullying
  • Misplaced or unwarranted jealousy
  • Involvement with or interest in gangs
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities

9. Seek help when necessary. The more signs you see the greater the chance your child needs help. Contact a mental health professional or the school based health center. Don't wait. Start today.

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