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Explaining School Violence to Children

Explaining School Violence to Children

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.

Build Confidence

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.

Seek Help

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.

Summer Camp Safety: Cover All Your Bases

Summer Camp Safety: Cover All Your Bases

School’s out, sun’s out, and for many families, it’s time to gear up for camp! For many parents, the carefree, fun-filled memories of summer camp are the kinds of gifts we dream of providing our children. Yet today, sending a child to camp raises new and important questions. Questions about safety. It seems there are ever more bases to cover before deciding on the right camp for your child.  So before you choose a program for your child, make sure to consider these important points:

Licensing & Accreditation. There’s a difference. While summer camps are often required to be licensed (depending on the state), accreditation is optional. Although licensing varies from state to state, it generally refers to the enforcement of regulations pertaining to sanitation and food services. In order to achieve accreditation, a program must not only comply with mandatory standards, but they must also comply with additional standards, often pertaining to program operational areas and quality. These additional standards are often government recognized best practices. A camp that is both licensed and has achieved accreditation, is a good sign that the program is committed to a safe environment for campers and staff.

Camp Site. A tour of the camp is a good start once you have found out if the camp is licensed and accredited. Ask about fire protection and camp maintenance. As you explore the camp grounds, pay attention to the sleeping areas (if applicable) and the bathroom facilities. You may also want to consider the eating facilities and areas of play or learning in evaluating camp safety.

Staffing. Certainly a topic to inquire about. After all, it’s good to know about the backgrounds of the people caring for your child. Consider asking about the hiring and screening process. How does the camp recruit, hire, and screen employees? Are staff subject to criminal background checks? Additionally, you’ll also want to ask about staff experience, qualifications, licensing, certifications, training, and counselor to camper ratio.

Safety Management. Become familiar with the camp’s safety procedures, plans, and practices. Don’t be afraid to ask about past emergencies or potential scenarios/circumstances. It’s helpful to understand prevention, management and recovery efforts when assessing whether you feel the camp is prepared to keep your child safe in the event of an emergency. Scenarios to consider inquiring about can be: how does the camp handle a lost or missing child, an unauthorized visitor, a hurt or ill child, a fire emergency, bullying, or an active assailant? How will the camp communicate with parents if there is an emergency?  Make sure you feel comfortable with safety and security regulations, as well as disciplinary procedures.

Health Care. Determine whether you are comfortable with their onsite healthcare offerings and off-site health care availability. What kind of health services does the camp offer? Is there an onsite health facility or nurse? If so, what kinds of emergencies and illnesses are they prepared to handle? If emergency attention and transportation is needed, where is the nearest hospital and how long would the ambulance take to arrive at the camp? If your child has special needs, communicate your concerns to help you determine if you feel confident in their management and accommodations.

Special Needs. What should you look for if your child has a disability? Ask about staff training and qualifications. Are there staff trained to work with campers who have special needs? How much experience do they have? What sorts of disabilities are they familiar with? Is the camp able to provide special accommodations if needed? If your camper needs to have medicine administered, who will be in charge? Like school, make sure you communicate all your concerns and needs with the camp director in assessing whether you feel safe entrusting your child to the camp.

Transportation & Field Trips. Like school, field trips may be an occurrence at camp. Learn about where campers will be going and what method of transportation will be used to get to and from the destination. If transportation is via bus or shuttle, you may even consider asking about the driver’s training and driving record, or how they were screened.

The best way to determine whether a camp is safe and right for your child is by asking questions and exploring the site. Don’t hesitate to cover all your bases, asking questions similar to the ones you would ask your child’s school.



National Playground Safety Week

National Playground Safety Week

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.

Jesse’s Legacy: Nurturing, Healing, Love

Jesse’s Legacy: Nurturing, Healing, Love

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.

nurturing-healing-loveBefore 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

Three Ways to Keep Students Safer Online This NCSAM

Three Ways to Keep Students Safer Online This NCSAM

hero-k12-1October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM), an annual effort cofounded and co-led by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to provide everyone with the resources they need to be safer, more secure and better able to protect their personal information online. As our world becomes more connected, our children spend more time online and connect to the internet more often at home, at school and on the go. It’s crucial for kids to understand the importance of protecting their personal information and how they can be smart, ethical internet users. We all have roles to play in strengthening our cybersecurity and privacy. NCSAM is a great time for parents and teachers to talk to kids about online safety; here are a few tips to get you started.

  • It’s not about the technology – it’s about how it’s used. There can often be hysteria around the latest app or how young people use devices. It’s important, however, to focus not on the specific devices or apps but how they are used. For example, smartphones have cameras that can be used to spark and promote creativity, and apps may have functions that allow video chat or live streaming; however, they can also be used to send inappropriate images or create security vulnerabilities. Teaching kids to use the technology in their classrooms and at home appropriately and manage privacy and security settings will help everyone learn how to better protect themselves online.
  • Establish a safe environment for technology conversations. Although kids might not always come to parents or teachers for online advice, it’s important to be prepared to help them when they do. Work to create an environment of trust in which your child or student can comfortably talk to you about their experiences and issues without fear of punishment or blame, and consider asking kids to talk about their friends’ experiences online – they may be more comfortable discussing someone else’s experiences than their own.
  • Help kids help their friends. Friendships are key parts of kids’ development, and a recent NCSA/Microsoft survey revealed that 40 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds would turn to their friends first if faced with a serious problem online. Talk to kids about developing the tools and knowledge they need to protect themselves and advise their friends about online safety concerns. Help children understand their capacity for responding to issues and challenges online and encourage them to seek help from adults they trust if aced with problems that seem beyond their ability. Establish some parameters about when they should seek adult help, such as if a friend may commit harm to themselves or if the law has been broken.

Resources That Work


About the Author

Michael Kaiser joined the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) in 2008. As NCSA’s chief executive, Mr. Kaiser engages diverse constituencies—business, government and other nonprofit organizations—in NCSA’s broad public education and outreach efforts to promote a safer, more secure and more trusted Internet. Mr. Kaiser leads NCSA in several major awareness initiatives, including National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM) each October, Data Privacy Day (Jan. 28) and STOP. THINK. CONNECT., the global online safety awareness and education campaign. NCSA builds efforts through public-private partnerships that address cybersecurity and privacy issues for a wide array of target audiences, including individuals, families and the education and business communities. In 2009, Mr. Kaiser was named one of SC Magazine’s information security luminaries.

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