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As Election Day approaches, Dr. Scott Poland answers questions for families on how to handle anxiety around politics.


How is election stress affecting not only parents and caregivers, but children?

There is considerable stress right now for parents and caregivers due to the pandemic, racial strife, and a contentious election. The result is many parents and caregivers are feeling overwhelmed and suffering from what we might term a low grade depression. One of the most significant factors for overall well-being is simply getting the proper amount of rest but that has been difficult in these recent months. I have responded to many traumatic situations that have affected children and one of the things that I think is very important is for children to be given permission for their own range of emotions and have opportunities to express those emotions if they wish through talking, writing, music, artwork or projects.

Children, especially younger ones take their cue from adults to see how upset to be about something. My thoughts are that younger children should generally not be included in lots of discussions about the election unless they asked to be. However, older students are likely to be very interested in understanding the election process and it may even be a part of their school assignments, for example, in a government class.

How can we approach political issues and other complex topics with our younger children?

I believe strongly with young children, we should provide opportunities for them to share their thoughts with us and it is often done the best when there is a shared activity such as playing a sport or baking a cake. The questions they ask should be answered developmentally in the way they understand. Adults are cautioned not to provide more information than the child is asking for at this particular time. Young children may have witnessed some of the election ads on television that have very strong messages that might be worrisome to them. In general it would be best for younger children not to view those election ads as many of them are filled with incorrect information provided in an overly dramatic manner.

One of the most significant factors to a child’s well-being is the modeling of coping and optimism from their parents and feeling like whatever is happening they are secure with their parents. This means that if we have strong feelings, reactions and worries related to the election we should share those with other adults in our life not with younger children. They should be assured that they will be cared for and safe at all times.

What is your advice for families that are grappling with political differences among friends and family?

There are very diverse opinions in families about the presidential election in particular. It is almost as if family members are existing in a different universe with regards to the information they receive and their belief about which candidate should be our president. I think all of us have a good sense of who we can have a reasonable, but spirited, discussion about politics with and what family members we cannot. If there are family members we cannot have a civil political conversation with then, it’s really as simple as, they’re in our family, and we love them, but do not agree with their political views and politics are simply not a subject we will be discussing with them.

What are some ways to help children deal with stress during these uncertain times?

All of us including children need self-care plans at this difficult time. Even small children are encouraged to draw out a self-care plan with pictures of themselves getting proper rest, eating healthy foods, getting exercise and doing nice things for others. One of the things that helps all of us deal with stress during difficult times is simply being that kind and compassionate person who does something nice for others. We should be grateful and acknowledge all the positive things that are going on in our life and not only focus on the stressors.

How can we prepare our kids for the results of the election?

It is not going to be helpful for us to spend valuable time with our families if we are moaning and complaining about the election results. The message to our children should be we are the United States of America and although many people appear to be far apart right now politically – America has always come together as a country. This is the time for parents and children to find those shared activities that they truly enjoy together and for parents to let children know they are cherished, loved and will be cared for and their parents will keep their world secure.


About the Author:

Dr. Scott Poland is a Licensed Psychologist, Nationally Certified School Psychologist, Professor at the College of Psychology and the Director of the Suicide and Violence Prevention Office at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Dr. Scott Poland is also the Past President of the National Association of School Psychologists and a part of the Safe and Sound Speakers Bureau. 

To book Dr. Scott Poland for a training, workshop, or keynote presentation, click here

 

It took four months to plan, write, field, analyze and prepare the final summary, but through the hard work of students and faculty from Boston University, in partnership with our team, we are excited to share this report with you.

We can boil down the results of the State of School Safety 2020 survey and report to this: we are headed in the right direction.

When we first set out to report on the state of school safety in 2018, the world was a different place. In the wake of the Parkland school shooting, educators were grappling with safety threats but lacked resources, parents were hungry for details about plans, and students demanded to be heard. Communication about school safety was sparse, and parents and students were not confident in their schools’ safety preparedness.

In 2019, the State of School Safety report showed a continued disconnect among stakeholders about school safety. Educators felt more prepared than students and parents. Students still felt they did not have a voice in school safety decision making, and parents and students sought increased communication about plans and protocols. Parents and students were unsure how to access mental health experts in their schools. However,educators and parents both felt a sense of optimism that schools have the expertise to improve school safety, and educators showed a deeper understanding of the role mental health plays in school safety.
Results of the State of School Safety 2020 report indicate we have come a long way in three years. Not only have we increased understanding among all stakeholder groups, we have fostered a more proactive culture of comprehensive school safety awareness and saw educators enhance the safety of their schools through easily accessible improvements. While we love seeing the impact of our work, there is still much more to do.

As you dive into the report, you will see we delivered it to you in a more visual format, which we hope will make it more accessible to all members of your community. We also divided the results across our framework for comprehensive school safety, making it easier for you to parse out feedback for various members of your safety team.

The strides we’ve taken are worth recognizing, but we must stay vigilant in our cause – school safety is not an item you can ever cross off your to-do list. The more we learn and as threats continue to evolve, we must stay alert, committed, and invest in all areas of school safety.

Q and A with Michele Gay

I overheard a conversation the other day in the grocery store (from a distance of course) where one well-intended shopper said to another “We’re all in the same boat.” The other shopper replied, “I don’t think so. Maybe the same sea, but way different boats.”

One of our favorite team members, Susan Parziale, has been especially on my mind this month. It’s April and this month is special to both of our families because it’s Autism Awareness Month, time to celebrate our children and families, and so many inspiring individuals with Autism. Having daughters with Autism is what brought us together years ago.

Sue and I sat down recently to check in and talk about the unique challenges in her “boat.”

From left to right: Jonathan, Jenna, and Susan.

MG: What’s going on in your world right now?

SP: Well, “my world” is now “my house!” Here in Massachusetts, we have been in full “stay home” since the beginning of March. Our daughter attends a full day, year-round school to meet her needs. Under normal circumstances, any interruption to school is a challenge for us, so as you know, this long-term shutdown has hit us especially hard. Like most children and adults with Autism, our daughter thrives on daily structure and consistency. Services after school for life skills, swimming and outings in the community are also essential to her progress and stability. Of course, none of those things are happening now and her daily routines have been upended. We are seeing difficult behaviors–that we had conquered in the past–rear up again. Normally, school and support staff would do a home visit to assist, but obviously that’s just not possible now.

MG: So what kind of support can you get from school right now? What does schooling from home look like for you and your family?

SP: We start each morning with a parent/teacher consult via Zoom to discuss a daily program. Because my daughter is a teen, we are focusing on life skills (e.g., laundry, trash, making the bed, preparing small meals, etc.). There is sure a lot of time to reinforce those skills at home right now! A few times a week have a 1:1 Zoom call with one of her teachers to work on a task with her iPad program L.A.M.P. (Language Acquisition through Motor Planning). We are lucky to be able to do at least some programming this way. I am grateful that the activities are still set by the school staff, but obviously I have to work on all of the programming with my daughter throughout the day. This means taking turns with my husband to do our own work–often at odd hours!

MG: What’s been an unexpected benefit?

SP: I am an organized person by nature so staying on task and focused has come in handy with keeping a daily schedule for all of us. The family walks have been a nice benefit too. Like most families, we only had time on the weekends for walks and weather was always a factor since we live in the Northeast. Before COVID-19, we would have never gone for a walk in cold
weather, now we do not bat an eye because it is an essential part of our day—and our sanity!

MG: What’s been the hardest?

SP: The hardest part is the Autism meltdowns. We have created a safe calm-down space where our daughter is free to go for breaks, but I feel so helpless in soothing her through these. We just have to ride it out, but it is incredibly stressful as a parent. She also has been exhibiting perseverating behaviors [repeatedly asking] for certain places and people. It is very difficult for her to understand that we can’t go to these places and see these people that are normally part of her life.

MG: How have you had to adjust expectations for yourself and your family to make this work?

SP: We get up at the same time each day; start home school and then take our afternoon walk. It’s a little like Groundhog day for us! But we know that it’s just what we need to do for our daughter. We give her a daily printed schedule each morning to show her the plan. We try our best to keep to this schedule but have learned that we have to roll with the unexpected. I’ve also learned to give her breaks whenever she asks. It’s a give and take.

MG: How are you taking care of yourself so that you can be the best version of yourself for your family?

SP: To deal with stress, I exercise each day with online classes by my local gym, I have Zoom meetings with other parents of children with Autism and we discuss our challenges and give suggestions to each other. I also call my family each day to check on how they are doing. And my husband and I are watching a lot of comedies!

MG: I know you are still working out! I can tell—even on Zoom. I’m so glad you are finding ways to stay connected with other parents too. The support of your “Autism tribe” can be literally lifesaving. It makes such a difference. You’re one of the most positive, forward-thinking people I know. Before I let you go, will you share what gives you hope for the future?

SP: Now that we are 30+ days in with our focus on life skills and home schooling, I find I’m more confident that I can handle teaching my daughter all sorts of skills that she will need when entering adulthood. I guess I am more capable than I thought. For lots of parents supporting a child with Autism, the transition to adulthood is daunting to say the least. Somehow, I feel a little more ready to face the challenge…An unexpected silver lining in all of this.


Susan Parziale, Administrative coordinator for Safe and Sound Schools, NAPO professional organizer, owner Organizing Offices and Homes
Michele Gay, Co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools

With the recent onset of Covid-19 both nationwide and globally, anxiety is on the rise. With so many unknowns, how do we help our kids navigate a new normal and keep their anxiety in check?

Here are a few tips that you may find helpful:

  • Know the signs of anxiety. When kids feel that they are out of control of their surroundings and their situations they may misbehave, have trouble sleeping, experience shortness of breath, and ask the same questions over and over again – in hopes of getting consistent answers.  They might also appear to have a lack of focus, experience cold sweats, dizziness, nausea, feelings of panic and even irregular heartbeats.
  • Teach your child to practice mindful breathing. Kids and adults tend to hold their breath or “breathe shallow” when they get uptight or feel scared.
  • Limit screen time and highlight offscreen accomplishments. Build confidence and positivity through activity!
  • Be sure you and your child are getting adequate sleep. Poor sleep can lead to irritability, increased anxiety and increased depression.
  • Be the person your child trust and can talk to. Every human relationship revolves around two things: trust and communication.  Be appropriately truthful with your child. If you are asked a question that you don’t know the answer to, it’s ok to say, “I don’t know how to answer that question, but let me find out and we can talk about it later.”
  • Talk to your child about their feelings. Identifying feelings is an important first step for understanding their emotions. Though children experience feelings, understanding their emotions can be difficult.  A feelings chart can help parents help their child connect an abstract concept (feelings) with a concrete visualization (chart).  Check out the printable “Feelings Chart” Julia developed with Safe and Sound Schools here.
  • Listen to your child’s perceptions and gently correct misinformation. It’s always a good idea to listen to and understand your child’s perceptions before you tell them what you want them to know. This way you do not risk introducing new worries or information that your child is not ready to absorb.
  • Genuinely accept your child’s concerns. Every child needs to be seen, heard, and feel validated.  Listen carefully and validate what your child is saying. You might say, “I can only imagine how you must be feeling. Let’s talk through what’s in your head and we’ll work together to try to make some sense out of all of this.”
  • Focus on the CAN-Do’s and the GET-To’s. Nobody likes to be told what they have to do, but we all like to be told what we get to do. Even though our choices might be more limited than ever, we still have choices—and that can be empowering.
  • Limit your child’s media exposure – and yours too! It is very important to stay informed, but over-watching interferes with cognitive balance and coping abilities.
  • Establish a predictable routine at home and follow it. The inability to predict what might happen and feeling out of control of a situation can fuel anxiety.  Work with your children to establish a predictable routine at home.  The more involved your kids are in establishing the routine, the better!
  • Set expectations—and consequences. Don’t confuse anxiety with other types of inappropriate behavior.  Set limits and consequences so that you don’t allow anxiety to enable your child.
  • Do everything you can to NOT pass your fears onto your child. People are like snowflakes – we are all unique.  Every person deals with anxiety differently. Keep in mind–although you are your child’s expert, you are not your child.  Just because you feel a certain way, does not mean your child will feel the same way.
  • Designate a DAILY fun time that kids can anticipate and plan for. Planning for and looking forward to a “positive feeling” event is a great way to counteract the unsettling feelings of anxiety.

We are all currently sailing in uncharted territory with so many things to worry about. Now more than ever, it is important for you and your child to remember that together, we are strong!


Julia Cook
National Award-Winning Children’s Author/ Parenting Expert
www.juliacookonline.com

 

 

What could fatherhood and school safety possibly have in common? Plenty, it turns out. At the heart of each is a primal instinct: survival and a need to protect. Central to each is a call to action — what we do and how we make our voices heard.

I began my professional career working with children as a general and special education teacher, and then through my doctoral training, gained a wide array of experiences as a psychologist  – working with children, adolescents and adults, forensic and health psychology, crisis and disaster mental health, and trauma-informed care and practices.

When our son was nearly two years old, I decided to leave full-time private practice as a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist in New York City to help design and open a global network of international schools, nursery through grade 12, the flagship campus of another international school, Avenues: The World School. This first campus would open the same year our son would begin his first formal educational experiences and enter nursery school. While I was excited to help build a “dream school,” I was also glad to be near my son and protect him throughout his school years.

Just as many “expecting parents” do, I sought to continue learning as much as I could about school design, safety, crisis management, and the many dangers our children face in setting out on this new journey to collaboratively design a new school. As a senior school administrator and leadership team member at Avenues and, more recently, the United Nations International School, I played an instrumental role in planning and developing key support foundations and programs, including health and safety; emergency management and crisis prevention; response and postvention; child protection and safeguarding; school climate; student physical and mental health prevention and wellness; social-emotional learning; life skills and human sexuality; and school safety,  school violence prevention, risk-reduction and intervention.

With a wonderful team of “co-parents” (aka school administrators, faculty, staff, and parents), Avenues opened in September 2012. Proud of this new venture, I was eager to participate and experience the growth and progress of this new school and simultaneously, this new stage of development of my own son as he began his early school years.

With halls abuzz and the academic year off as one would expect for a startup school, two disasters hit before winter break that, ironically, in my mind, have stuck as “the year of Sandy”: Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 and the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in December 2012.

Hurricane Sandy, a natural disaster, caused some physical damages due to flooding. We needed to close school for a few days and provide essential outreach and support to school community members who lost homes. So many parents and community members reached out with a desire to provide support, and some raised important questions about safety measures for our leadership team.

As the school doors reopened, regular school routines and rituals resumed, and the fall months quickly passed. This was, of course, until a news alert from the NY Times popped up on my iPhone during the morning hours of the last day of school prior to our first winter break. It was Friday, December 14, 2012.  The mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, an act of human violence, shocked and traumatized the Newtown community, the State of Connecticut, the nation, and the entire world.

As an administrator, the shooting at Sandy Hook was hard to accept, but as a parent, it cut to the core of my most grave fears about our children’s safety. I saw how community members came together to show support, and how human connectedness was essential for care, healing, and rebuilding. I was glad that through work, I had a role to play in safeguarding “my” children.

Upon relocating to Cincinnati in 2017 with our son and my partner for his career, I became a stay-at-home parent and for the first time, had to send our son to school on his own. Not only would I not be in the same building during the day, but I was also no longer one of the key leaders and decision makers. This was hard, so I was on the lookout for ways I could proactively put my “primal parenting” urges of physical and psychological protection to use.

Inspired and impressed by the strength and growth of the Safe and Sound Schools mission, becoming a part of the Parent Council was a no-brainer. I applied for the program, eager to increase my own learning in the area of school safety advocacy from a parent and community member perspective.

Since starting this national leadership program, I’ve been able to collaborate with like-minded parents interested in being active, invested and empowered ambassadors, advocates, and parent leaders. Through our Parent Council training program, I’ve looked at school safety from a parent’s perspective. It has been an eye-opening and inspiring experience and a true privilege. Schools should be healthy, cheerful places of learning. The Safe and Sound Schools Parent Council is a way to foster this potential and reality.

As noted in the Final Report of the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission: “the successful implementation of Safe School Design and Operations (SSDO) strategies requires the support of ‘local champions.’ Each community or school district should have a small standing committee or commission, comprised of individuals representing the school community, law enforcement, fire, EMS and public health, whose responsibility is to ensure that the SSDO standards and strategies are actually implemented in their community.”

Parents have an essential role to play in this framework. Combined with the resources of Safe and Sound Schools’ Comprehensive School Safety Planning and Development model, communities have a plethora of tools to help create safer schools. While negative news coverage may dominate the headlines, we need to keep reminding ourselves of how communication, collaboration, and proactive planning has resulted in stronger, prepared, and resilient school communities.

There is so much more we can all be doing to make our schools safe and welcoming places where our children can reach their full potential, and teachers, staff, and administrators can educate without fear. Our common voice as parents and safe school advocates is extremely important towards this vital goal, and we need to exercise it at all levels with an overarching belief of ‘everyone safe, everyone learns and everyone is successful.’

Herein is the call to action. Let’s work together to make this happen!


About the Author:
Topher Collier, PsyD, ABSNP, In addition to being the proud father of a 9-year-old, Dr. Topher Collier is a licensed psychologist and school administrator with advanced training in trauma-informed and crisis-specific care as well as in clinical care and intervention and neuropsychological, psychological and educational assessment of children, adolescents, adults, and families. 

Editor’s Note:
This blog contains views, and positions of the author, and does not represent Safe and Sound Schools. Information provided in this blog is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Safe and Sound Schools accepts no liability for any omissions, errors, or representations. The copyright to this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

After months of preparations, the Safe and Sound Parent Council program training has officially begun! The Parent Council is an exclusive structured education program to empower and prepare participants to advocate for school safety with authority and credibility.  With our first webinar session completed last week, we are now gearing up for a string of guest experts who will teach our Parent Council about each topic in our comprehensive school safety approach.

Brooke, one of our Parent Council members, explained how she has always wanted to get more involved in school safety, but wasn’t sure she could make a difference. She said, “ After the first session I couldn’t believe how my mind was swirling with thoughts on how I actually could make a difference. SASS presented school safety as so much more than just a topic but as a process and as an achievable goal with many avenues. I can’t wait to learn more!”

Next week we will be hearing from Dr. Todd Savage, a professor of school psychology and former president of the National Association of School Psychologists. Dr. Todd Savage will be teaching us about Culture, Climate, and Community. He will be presenting with Bill Modzeleski, a senior consultant with several groups specializing in school safety, threat assessment, emergency management, and homeland security. Bill recently retired after over 40 years of service at the Departments of Justice and Education and  will be presenting on Law, Policy, and Finance.  

We look forward to seeing all the amazing ideas from our fantastic group parents come to life as they work with school administrations to make their schools safe and sound. We are so grateful for this wonderful group of parents who understand that school safety is not one person’s responsibility – it is all of our responsibility.  


Alissa Parker, Co-founder & Director of Safe and Sound Schools

I can still remember the feelings of fear and guilt that washed through my body when I first heard a gunman had entered my daughter’s elementary school. Fear because only two months earlier, at a parent-teacher conference, I made comments to my husband about the flaws in the school’s security system. Guilt because I buried the pit in my stomach, despite knowing my child’s safety was in danger, and dismissed my concerns altogether. Guilt because I remember thinking the words, that would never happen here.  Not only did it happen a few months later, but my daughter, Emilie, would be one of the victims who would not survive.  

After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, I vowed to never silence my voice again.  This was the beginning of my journey towards becoming a school safety advocate and co-founding Safe and Sound Schools.  

When I travel across the country sharing my story, I am always approached by parents, just like me, who are concerned about their child’s school and feel completely lost about what to do. There was a lack of resources available for parents who also wanted to get involved in school safety, and I know from personal experience how intimidating the process can be.  

The Parents for Safe Schools program is designed for parents who want a more hands-on approach to school safety. This free program helps guides you on how to organize your own community dedicated to safety.  

Just like any school safety initiative, this is not a one-size-fits-all approach. That’s why the Parents for Safe Schools program offers different options, whether you want to start by learning more or sparking discussions at your school, or if you want to take action and advocate for safer schools in your community, Parents for Safe Schools has guidance just for you.

Over the years, I have seen how incredibly powerful the voices of parents advocating for their child can be. There is so much to be done, and Safe and Sound Schools invites you to join our mission. Together we can make our schools safe and sound.

 


Alissa Parker, Co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools

One of the key takeaways from the 2018 State of School Safety Report illustrates a lack of communication and misunderstanding about school safety among parents, students, and educators.

Safe and Sound Schools is addressing this need with some quick, simple ideas for how parents can get more involved. We hope you can use these ideas as a start in your community.

1. Form a Parent Safety Team within your school community. This could be the organizing body for safety activities and communications throughout the year. You can also tap into the Safety Team to have discussions with leaders and administrators to share the programs and resources from Safe and Sound Schools. Another idea is to bring administrators the State of School Safety Report to learn about how your school compares to our findings.

2. Conduct a Survey in Your Community. This will help your school community get a better sense of what concerns they have, as well as what assets already exist. Perhaps you have a parent who is also a public safety officer, or another who is a mental health expert, or one who has been studying the influence of media on our youth. You might find some real gems and people who can enrich your community’s knowledge.

3. Fundraise for Safety. One way to help fund subject matter expert presentations and workshops, and safety improvements is to tap into the power of parent networks for fundraising. Asking friends, family members, and neighbors to support school safety for your children will help defray costs while having a tangible benefit to the community. Have a bake sale or lemonade stand, run a “Change for School Safety” collection drive, start a GoFundMe page, sell tickets to a talent show, or even hold a silent auction. A little bit spread over a broad network will go a long way.

4. Organize Volunteers. Launch a volunteer program at your school designed to have more adults on hand during busy moments such as arrival, dismissal, or lunchtime. Make an effort to get as many parents CORI-certified as possible to strengthen your volunteer force.

5. Tip Reporting. Check in with your school to see if they have an anonymous tip-reporting system. Help them promote the tool through posters, announcements, and even guest speakers. If they don’t have a system, help them get one. Giving students, staff, teachers and administrators a safe way to report concerns will increase the likelihood of stopping a security threat before it starts.

School safety isn’t one person’s responsibility, it is the responsibility of every school community member. As parents, we should have a seat at the table and play an active, present role in ensuring the safety of our students. For more ideas, visit our Parents for Safe Schools page.