Parents often ask us how to be more engaged with their kids, how to best support them as they navigate this complicated world around them. Shari Nacson, LISW-S, Child Development Specialist, and Advisor to Safe and Sound Schools weighs in with some helpful tips.
1. Development happens on a continuum.
Anna Freud called this the concept of developmental lines. It’s easiest to picture with an everyday task that babies can’t do, but adults have mastered — like eating. We’re fed soft things, then hard things, then we become able to feed ourselves, someday we shop and prepare meals.
When we consider the challenges that face our children — of any age — we need to think about where they are developmentally. Are they learning about something, wanting it done for them, emerging with mastery, or dancing in-between? When we think developmentally, we are able to honor what kids have mastered and then lay scaffolding for where they soon will be. This concept applies to all life skills: literacy, math, maintaining friendships, personal hygiene, time management … everything that we hope our kids will someday do independently and successfully.
With school safety, one might think about your child’s existing awareness, what information they might soon receive from elsewhere (and if they need to hear things from you first), what information intersects helpfully or unhelpfully with your own family values, issues, and strategies. Just like we do on a systemic level, assess the context, then act on what you know, and audit/reflect on how it went.
2. Some things are best heard from your parents. No matter how old you are.
While many schools have mastered the art of sharing difficult news and supporting the school community through related processes, kids of all ages still do best if they have been prepared at home. Talk together about community tragedies, school policies, and global issues that they might hear about at school. Do this in a developmentally and age appropriate way — so your child is more prepared should they hear something in a group or media setting. When we talk with our kids about these things, they feel respected and can manage any big feelings in the privacy of home.
The world comes at kids fast and furious; our job is to slow it down so their hearts and minds can process information in the healthiest possible way.
3. Do good together.
Volunteering together is one of the best ways to intentionally be together. It’s constructive, fun, creative, tech-free, and makes the world a better place. While volunteering, you interact in ways that no other activity provides. You transmit your own values and build special memories that are likely to inspire each of you. One of the keys to empowerment is shifting away from passive roles (the world happens to us) to active roles (we make things happen in the world around us). Volunteerism offers a platform where kids (and adults) can feel encouraged, empowered, and can directly see their impact on the world around them.
Volunteering together builds healthy neuropathways, supports conscience development, and increases resilience — for everyone involved. For older kids and teens, follow their lead in choosing volunteer opportunities.
All of the things that make our world a better place when done by adults — all of the engagement that makes our civic institutions and communities function in healthy ways — all of them require a foundation of engaged compassion.
4. Convey that you believe in your child.
Even with something that is tricky to master, we want our kids to know that we believe they will get there. We also want them to know that we trust them. Sometimes this may be more of a Jedi mind trick (“I know you’ll do the right thing” is often code for a worried parent trying to elicit a kid’s conscience), but it works better than shaming kids into compliance.
If your child has a track record of poor decision-making, you might need to be more concrete about the steps to good decision-making, all-the-while conveying that to err is human and that you know they will get to a place of self-sufficiency, even if the road is bumpy. Collaborate with helpers if your child has had difficulty making safe, smart decisions.
When kids know we believe in them, they feel empowered and make better choices.
5. Don’t wait for a crisis to happen.
Our fast-paced society doesn’t allow us the time to think, to be intentional. This is the one investment that can make the biggest difference in your parenting: dedicate time to think about parenting.
Every family should have a trusted someone — counselor, clergy member, pediatrician, educator, friend — who helps them think clearly about their kids. Take a moment right now to think about who your trusted someone is. Do you talk regularly? Do you only reach out when it’s a crisis? Think about increasing that contact — like the old saying, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Each child is unique; the situations they encounter are complex. And just when they master something, development kicks-in and all the things that worked before will need to be recalibrated. We do best by our kids by embracing this part of life — this messy, bumpy, exciting, and thwarting part of life.
We don’t have to wait for our kids to be in grave distress before we ask for help. The day-to-day minutiae also warrants our thoughtful consideration; tending to it can sometimes prevent a larger crisis. Professionals who work with kids welcome your questions, about small and big things.
More than anything, find someone who helps you be the parent you want to be.
Shari Nacson, LISW-S, is a freelance writer, child development specialist, and nonprofit consultant in Cleveland, Ohio. As a public speaker, she enjoys helping busy parents become more intentional with their child-raising strategies.
While schools are among the safest places for young people in our society, the recent mass shootings and school shooting in Benton, Kentucky, can increase fears and safety concerns for children and parents.
While the odds of a child aged 5 to 18 years being the victim of a violent death at school are extraordinarily low, it can and does happen. Consequently, it is important for parents to have guidance on how to address such events with their children. Adapted from guidance we have developed for the National Association of School Psychologists, in this blog we offer some of our thoughts on how parents can support their children when they ask questions about school violence.
Develop and Foster Resiliency
Proactively developing resiliency can help your child develop resources needed to cope with trauma exposure. Internal resiliency can be promoted by:
- Encouraging an active (or approach oriented) coping style (e.g., helping others, taking action to help yourself)
- Teaching your child how to better regulate their emotions and solve problems
- Providing your child guidance on positive, healthy ways of coping
- Fostering self-confidence and self-esteem by building upon your child’s strengths
- Validating the importance of faith and belief systems
External resiliency can be promoted by:
- Facilitating school connectedness and engagement in school and community activities
- Facilitating peer relationships
- Providing access to positive adult role models
Provide a Safe Place to Talk
Next, let your child know you are willing to pay attention, listen, and without forcing them to do so, talk about school violence. Protect your child by answering questions truthfully and providing reassurance that adults will take care of him or her. When providing facts about school violence, avoid providing any unasked-for details that might increase fears and emphasize actions adults and their school are taking to help keep them safe.
Build Community Connections
Connect your child to others by engaging the assistance of your child’s teachers, a school psychologist, coaches/mentors, friends, and neighbors. Spend extra time with your child and encourage engagement in familiar routines and activities.
Take Care of Yourself
It’s important to be aware of your own emotions, and while it is okay to show some emotion, it is a problem when adults lose the ability to regulate their emotions or fears in front of children. Especially for youth in preschool and primary grades, this makes a situation seem more frightening. If you are struggling to cope with the reality of school violence, reach out to others with similar experiences, or seek professional help. Taking care of yourself, will help you to better care for your child.
Increase Self-awareness and Understanding
It is important for your child to learn how to identify and manage fear and anxiety related emotions. You might tell your child to listen to their body’s “alarm system.” Help them to understand that stress reactions can help to keep them safe from physical and emotional harm in a dangerous situation, but when danger is not present such stress is not helpful. Enlist the support of a school psychologist to help your child regulate emotions such as anger, anxiety, and fear. Development of these skills empowers your child with knowledge that they have control over their emotions.
Encourage positive messaging by helping your child to assert: “I am strong,” and “People care about me.” Help your child to understand that while they may not have complete control over their circumstances, they do have some control over how they respond to the situation and how they seek support. Review safety protocols their school has in place and what they can do to get to a safe location if there is a concern. Refer to Developmental Levels of Safety Awareness for information on providing such guidance.
Increase Empowerment through Engagement
Let your child know that his or her voice matters. Help them find a way to be a part of the solution and a true stakeholder in safety. Younger children may enjoy starting or joining a Safety Patrol at school, while middle and high school students may take a greater leadership role by starting or joining the Safe and Sound Youth Council in their school.
If your child is distressed, keep in mind that recovery is the rule. However, if stress reactions do not begin to lessen after a week or more, consider seeking the help of a trained professional such as a school psychologist. This is especially important if your child has ever been directly exposed to an act of violence or has lost a family member.
Dr. Melissa Reeves is the Immediate Past President of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) and a speaker and advisor for Safe and Sound Schools. Dr. Stephen Brock is a former President of NASP and speaker and advisor for Safe and Sound Schools.
Now that we are well into Spring and warmer days are upon us, more kids will be playing outdoors. Parents and guardians will find themselves frequenting public parks while teachers and administrators will find themselves keeping watchful eyes as students actively spend recess and/or lunch on the playground.
Since this week is National Playground Safety Week, it’s a good time to review safety tips, assess playground equipment, and talk to children about playground safety.
Although playgrounds have certainly improved since our days, a recent study by the CDC found that emergency departments still see more than 20,000 children ages 14 and younger for playground-related traumatic brain injury each year. Below are some tips and suggestions schools can consider.
Tips for playground safety:
- Actively supervise children at all times.
- Encourage children to follow playground rules and play safely with other children. Shoving, crowding, and pushing should be discouraged. And although playfully wrestling may be fun for some children, these types of activities should be avoided while on top of a play structure.
- Dress children appropriately for playground play. Avoid items that can cause strangulation like scarves, necklaces, purses.
- Use playgrounds that are age-appropriate. Having separate age-appropriate areas can help prevent accidental injuries.
- Take children to playgrounds with shock-absorbing surfaces like rubber, grass, sand, wood chips, or synthetic turf.
- Conduct periodical assessments of playgrounds by following the S.A.F.E framework.
If you feel a playground is unsafe, report your concerns to the owner, park district, or school district. And remember to always keep a watchful eye on children.
Scarlett Lewis, Founder of the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation, mother of Jesse Lewis, and Safe and Sound speaker/instructor, shares our dedication to the safety of children. Here she talks about her mission and Jesse’s legacy, teaching love and compassion to prevent violence and promote peace.
After the shooting death of my 6 year old son, Jesse Lewis, along with 19 of his classmates and 6 educators, two questions emerged from my shock and horror: How could something like this happen? What can I do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?
I watched as people began pointing fingers, first at the shooter, his mother, and then at guns, politicians, video games and media—all to no avail. When blaming and demanding that others fix the problem doesn’t work, what then? We must take responsibility for what is happening to our children and in our society. We must be part of the solution. The truth is that every school shooting is preventable. Period.
Before Jesse’s funeral, I found a message he had written on our kitchen chalkboard shortly before he died, “Norturting Helinn Love” (Nurturing Healing Love). Those three words are in the definition of compassion across all cultures. Love is as necessary to our healthy existence as food and water. This need unites and connects us all as humans. What if we could infuse our classrooms with love and teach all children how to give, and receive love?
The hard fact of the matter is, some children do not receive love at home and in their lives. I set out to figure a way to get Jesse’s message into classrooms with my understanding that if the shooter knew how to give, and receive love, our tragedy would never have happened. I found that this was already being done, through Social and Emotional Learning, “SEL”.
SEL has been around for decades and teaches children how to get along with one another, how to manage their emotions, have empathy for others and show compassion – basically how to be responsible and kind citizens. Children and adults without these skills suffer from feeling a lack of connection to others, impaired–if not disabled–ability to learn, increased physical and mental health issues, and increased rates of drug abuse and incarceration among other negative implications.
Studies show that children who receive SEL have better academic performance, more positive attitudes and behaviors, and experience less anxiety and depression. Long-term studies following kindergarteners who were taught Social and Emotional Learning skills into adulthood have found there were higher graduation rates and even less divorce rates among these individuals. In fact ALL the research on SEL shows that this is the most powerful and proactive mental health initiative we have, and cultivates safer and more positive classroom and school climates.
When I think about what we focus on in schools other than academics: anti-bullying, drug awareness, suicide prevention, sex education, it looks to me like we are teaching kids what not to do. Social and emotional learning teaches kids what to do by providing a positive focus on tools and skills that can help children feel good, about themselves and others.
Columbia University did a study recently that showed for every $1 invested in SEL programs there was an $11 return to the community. I can’t think of a better investment –in our children, in our safety, and in our futures. In fact, SEL has proven to be more important than academics, when determining future success. When children have these skills, personal and academic achievement follows.
The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement is committed to making sure every child has access to this life-changing and life-saving education. This fall we are piloting our signature Choose Love Enrichment Program, Pre-K through 12th grade, that includes SEL, Character Values, Positive Psychology, Neuroscience, Mindfulness and more. The Choose Love Enrichment Program teaches children a formula to choose love in every situation, based on Jesse’s message. This is offered online and is free at www.jesselewischooselove. org.
Scarlett Lewis, Founder of the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation, mother of Jesse Lewis, and Safe and Sound speaker/instructor.