Guest Commentary: Talking to kids about school safety

Recent acts of 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 fear and anxieties about their personal safety.

To guide parents through discussions about school violence, the National Mental Health Association offers the following suggestions:

• Encourage children to talk about their concerns and to express their feelings. Some children may be hesitant to initiate such conversation, so you may want to prompt them by asking if they feel safe at school. When talking with younger children remember to 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.

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

• Validate the child’s feelings. Do not minimize a child’s concerns. Let him/her know that serious school violence is not common, which is why these incidents 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.

• Empower children to take action regarding school safety. Encourage them to report specific incidents (such as bullying, threats or talk of suicide) and to develop problem solving and conflict resolution skills. Encourage older children to actively participate in student-run anti-violence programs.

• Discuss the safety procedures that are in place at your child’s school. Explain why visitors sign in at the principal’s office or certain doors remain locked during the school day. Help your child understand that such precautions are in place to ensure his or her safety and stress the importance of adhering to school rules and policies.

• 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 at school. Also ensure that your child knows how to reach you (or another family member or friend) in case of crisis during the school day. Remind your child that they can talk to you anytime they feel threatened.

• 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.

• Keep the dialogue going and make school safety a common topic in family discussions rather than just a response to an immediate crisis. Open dialogue will encourage children to share their concerns.

• Seek help when necessary. If you are worried about a child’s reaction or have ongoing concerns about his/her behavior or emotions, contact a mental health professional at school or at your community mental health center.

The following behaviors are signs that a 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

The more signs you see the greater the chance the child needs help.

For a free and confidential mental health screening, go on-line to www.mhacolorado.org.

1 Comment

  1. • Talking constantly about weapons or violence, when we as kids talk about weapons and violence we joke around.
    • Lack of enthusiasm, energy or motivation, when lacking motivation, we’re just not interested.
    • Obsession with violent games and/or TV shows, Obsession with violent games or show is normal, like Call of Duty Black ops 1 and 2.when we watch show like Happy Tree Friends (I still dislike that show, It’s worse than southpark) or things like that, it’s just us being who we are.
    • Artwork or writing that is bleak or violent or that depicts isolation or anger, most of my friends are the best artists I know, they use their art to channel their anger (that gets them to make really good drawings too). I take pictures of some of the most amazing things (I’m told they’re beautiful, but I think I could do better if I tried)
    • Bullying, *sigh* I’m still trying to spread the word around about this video so kids stop bullying=> http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=sa1iS1MqUy4

    so many times I’ve been told who I’ll be when I grow up, I’m tried of parents thinking that we are too young to see blood, to hear some words that are considered inappropriate for our age, to even like someone.

    We don’t need help, let us be who we want to be.

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