Easing back-to-school fears about safety | #schoolsaftey

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What can families do?

It is good for parents to familiarize themselves with their specific school system and know who the key contacts are. Know the channels to get help if your own child is struggling in some way. Know what your children’s school is doing to promote safety. Most schools are adopting well-researched, evidence-based models for creating a safe environment and they are educating their staff about how to detect early signs of psychological trauma. 

Does your children’s school have a school resource officer, a social worker or a school psychologist? There has been a significant shortage of these professionals around the country. It has been challenging for schools to staff those positions even if they are committed to providing support.

One of the most important things a parent can do is to be informed about their child’s life. Know who your kid’s teachers are, who their friends are and what they do at school.

Be curious about their lives. Rather than only engaging with them when something distressing is happening, find regular opportunities to talk with your child. Spend time together. It allows you to talk naturally. Make them feel safe to share with you when they are going through difficulties or when they make mistakes. Be a safe person to talk to, not one who will judge them. 

By regularly spending time with your children, you will know when your kid is not acting as they usually would. That’s a good litmus test that maybe your child is struggling with something. It may be mundane or it may be significant. 

Ask yourself: Is my child less interactive than usual? Less happy? More irritable? Tired? Isolating themselves? Avoiding things they usually enjoy? Those can be signs that something is wrong.

Don’t bombard them with questions, like an inquisition. Just let them know you noticed. Say something like, “I noticed you are a bit more irritated today. I want to understand why. I just want you to know I love you and I am worried about you. If you want to share things with me, I’m here for you.”

They may not tell you much at first but they’ll know you are there for them. It is less about prying the information out of them and more about creating a sense of trust and safety. Families can be very influential by giving kids the space to express those thoughts and emotions that may be very distressing to them.

If you have real safety concerns, you might seek help from your primary care doctor to get guidance or seek the help of a mental health professional. If it’s an immediate safety concern, you can go to an emergency room. Safety is paramount.

Another resource we have nationally is the 988 Hotline. It is available to youth and adults who have a mental health crisis or significant social conflict. It is available 24/7. A supportive staff member will answer and help them get through the situation.

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