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.
Students make the best teachers. They are the eyes and ears of their schools…. the leaders of movements… and the galvanizers of change. In all the years I’ve spent traveling around the country, I’ve met some incredible students who are just as inspired as we are to create a nation of safer schools.
As excited as I was to meet these students, and thrilled that they understand the need for school safety, I felt frustrated that there wasn’t a way for them to turn their ideas into action. So fueled by their passion and bright ideas, we talked to our network of experts, students, teachers and administrators to build a new program: The Safe and Sound Youth Council.
The Safe and Sound Youth Council gives students a seat at the table and brings them into the national conversation of school safety. It is a leadership program, accessible to all, and gives students the support they need to assess their school’s safety, act with smart and sustainable changes, and audit their impact. At the same time, the Safe and Sound Youth Council provides them with a foundation of credibility to help bring their ideas to life.
We hope you will check out the program page to learn more about the Safe and Sound Youth Council. Please also share this program with your networks, especially any students. The faster we can get more Safe and Sound Youth Council chapters off the ground, the closer we’ll come to creating a nation of safer schools.
So thank you to Kaia, Noah, Trey, Makenzi, Colby, Anthony, John, Julia, Olivia, James, and the countless other students who helped bring to life this unique and empowering program. At Safe and Sound Schools, we will never give up, and thanks to the new Youth Council program, we can bring the students into the conversation and foster a new generation of champions who won’t give up, either.
Michele Gay, Co-founder and Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools
Back-to-school is an important event every year in my home. It represents so much more than just back-to-school. It means my kids are getting older and naturally that I am getting older as well. There will be new teachers, new clothes, new school supplies! Summer wanes, fall creeps in and life takes on a familiar routine. Of course, for me another topic on my mind when school rolls around is safety. Even when our girls were young my husband and I spoke openly and frequently about safety rules and guidelines. We have had these talks so often over the years that our girls are now able to mimic our “discussions” verbatim any chance they can.
Talking about safety at school has been one of the newer additions to our list of safety conversations. After losing my oldest daughter Emilie to a school shooting, how could it not? This year, our safety conversation was initiated by my youngest daughter Samantha, a soon to be 3rd grader, while shopping for new school clothes. “Mom, can I tell you something,” she began. “Did you know there are drills at our school where we have to go outside?!” I smiled and asked her if she could tell me why they would need to go out of the school for a drill. She explained to me not only why they would need to evacuate their school, but how all the other drills at her school work. Samantha loves an audience and I love seeing her repeat all the safety information she has learned both at home and at school.
When we talk to children about school safety, it can often feel intimidating. However, like most things, the more we practice the better we get. In that one conversation while shopping, my daughters covered not only safety drills but also discussions about bullying and what to do if you find yourself surrounded by strangers. Seeing Samantha take our safety talks to another level and become the teacher herself was amazing. Safety is an empowering tool for children. Having safety rules and boundaries gives them a sense of security and control. So, if you haven’t already started those conversations with your kids, start now! You will be amazed with the ideas they will share with you and the questions and conversations that will follow. Hopefully, someday soon they will become your teacher as well!
Alissa Parker, Co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools
This time of year I’m reminded of that Staples commercial that ran a few years back—the one with the Dad joyfully skipping through the store, gathering school supplies with his children to the song It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. It still makes me chuckle. As much as we all love the long, lazy days of summer together, many of us parents look forward to re-establishing routine–and yes, sending our kids back to school.
The start of school can bring on a little anxiety for both parents and students though, especially those starting school in a new building. The K-12 school years are full of transition—preschool to elementary, elementary to middle, middle to high, and perhaps a few moves in between. For families facing a transition year, it’s not only a new building to learn, it’s a whole new staff to meet.
Whether your family is well established or stepping into a new school, these are some of the folks you can work with for a safe school year:
Often most familiar to parents and families, the office staff meets and greets visitors and students every day. Answering questions and calls all day makes them expert sources for information and direction. Take time to ensure that these staff members know you and have your family’s current contact and emergency information. Learn from them about visiting, arrival, and dismissal procedures, as well as how to find important day-to-day and emergency information.
It’s not just about Band-Aids and bumped knees anymore. Our school nurses have a hand in all things health and wellness in school. School nurses can be powerful experts and advocates for student and family needs in school. Pay a visit to the nurse, introduce yourself, and offer support to start a relationship that will benefit your child and family for years to come.
School Resource and Security Officers
More and more schools are working to bring trained safety and security professionals on board. These officers are a part of our schools to build strong, supportive relationships with students, provide safety and security education, handle crises, and advocate for the needs of the school community with local police, fire, and emergency responders. Reach out to learn how you can support their work to keep students and staff safe in school.
School Counselors, Psychologists, and Social Workers
You’ll find that the door is always open to parents who want to support and learn about guidance and social-emotional programs, school climate and culture, and mental health resources. Get to know these leaders in school safety to connect your child and family with resources for a safe and supportive school year.
You may already know the names and faces of your school’s administrative staff, but after the back-to-school busy-ness has subsided a bit, it pays to reach out to your school’s administrators to talk safety. Simply communicating this priority to administrators is not only a powerful way to advocate for school safety, it’s also a great opportunity to listen, ask questions, and learn where you can become involved.
Organizing, campaigning, and fundraising for the needs of students and staff, school Parent Teacher Associations and Organizations offer great resources and opportunities for involvement. Supporting your school’s PTA/O is a natural way to learn about and support the safety needs of your school community.
Club and Activity Advisors
From chorus and band teachers to sport coaches and club advisors, these adults are important links to the extracurricular lives of our children. Check in with these members of the school community to stay up to date on what happens after the bell rings. Connect with them to share concerns and inquire about any patterns.
Teachers, Aides, and Educational Assistants
Most schools offer numerous opportunities for parents and families to interact with their child’s educators. From email communication and online portals to Back-to-School-Nights and volunteer opportunities, it’s often most easy to get to know these staff members. While most of your conversations will naturally center on growth and academics, take time to talk safety with your child’s teachers throughout the year to learn how you can be supportive both in school and at home.
Of course, no one knows better than the students themselves. Your child will tip you off to many other dedicated adults in school that connect with and support their safety and well-being, such as cafeteria staff, custodians, librarians, and volunteers–to name a few. Make it a point to connect with these folks too. Your level of support and involvement says a great deal about how important your child’s safety is to you.
– Michele Gay, Executive Director/Co-Founder Safe and Sound Schools
Celebrated nationally every May, Teacher Appreciation Week offers students, parents, and other school community members an opportunity to recognize teachers for the important work they do in contributing to the education and safety of our children. As professionals tasked with inspiring young minds and laying the foundation for future leaders and professionals, teachers often go above and beyond the call of duty. From spending lunch and after school time providing our students with extra support, to spending their own money on classroom supplies, to becoming emotionally invested in helping our students navigate school life, teachers have proven to not only be educators but also caregivers.
For these reasons and many more, we ask that you take this week to #ThankATeacher.
A heartfelt thank you note is always a welcomed gesture from both parents and students. Parents who have some free time can even consider volunteering in the classroom as another gesture of appreciation. If you are looking to help in other ways, you may also consider donating supplies to the teacher’s classroom, purchasing a gift card, organizing a potluck or catered lunch, or gifting spring blooms from your garden or local market.
Let us know how you are celebrating teachers this week. And if you are on social media, consider participating in the #ThankATeacher campaign.
Below are some statistics and facts that put the ongoing dedication of our teachers into perspective.
The morning of December 14th, 2012, my world was shattered, forever changed. An armed attacker broke into my daughter’s school. He took my daughter’s life and the lives of many other children and educators that day.
Like so many others in our little community, I was instantly devastated. The actions of one man had changed my life forever. I had no idea how to move forward or make sense of anything anymore. Yet, two days later, I would speak for the first time to a person who would again change my life forever, Michele Gay, Josephine’s mother.
Our daughters, sweet friends in this life, lovers of all things girly and fancy, had left this world for the next–together. Michele understood my pain and sorrow–and my desire to make meaning of it, to use this pain for a purpose. Together we made a choice. We chose to be inspired by our daughters. We would let them lead the way.
We focused on the world they shared together, the place where they made friends, shared laughter and learned together –school. This place was so special to our children and our families. It was the heart of our community. In honor
of our girls, we decided to help others protect this special place in their own communities. We made it our mission to ensure that every school is the safe, warm, welcoming place that every child deserves.
Together we created Safe and Sound Schools. With the help of an ever-growing, nationwide community of dedicated parents, educators, law enforcement, community members, and safety, emergency & mental health professionals, we have been able to create something to make our daughters proud. Something that over the last four years has helped the communities close to us and all over the country. Together we have created a change that is working, inspiring others to work hard and work together for the safety of schools. We are honored to share the inspiration and spirit of our daughters to help other communities, and honored again and again to see this inspiration bring positive change to so many school communities.
On this fourth anniversary of our tragic loss, we choose again–to remember our daughters and their friends & beloved educators for the positive forces they were and continue to be. We marvel at the inspiring work of so many, work that makes our children and our schools safer.
There is much work to do, but we will never stop or give up. We invite you to join us in remembering our daughters and carrying on their legacy. A legacy of helping others, connecting with people, working hard, and doing better–together.
We thank you for your support of our families and our mission for Safe and Sound Schools.
– Alissa Parker