8 ways to talk with your child about safety at school

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Nothing could be more important than making sure your child is safe at school. So how do you start the conversation?  Here are 8 ways to talk with your kids about safety and the warning signs that something is wrong – from Nathan Miller, Director of Cumberland Mental Health Services.

News 2: How should parents talk to their children about school safety?

Nathan Miller: “I think the first thing they need to do is be honest with them, and be direct with them, and don’t be afraid to ask those questions: what’re you feeling, what’s going on with you, what’s been happening at school. Being direct with them, and telling them. Be reassuring with them and their safety. A lot of schools these days do have safety plans in place for shootings and those type things.”

News 2: What are the different ways a teacher or parent should talk to a younger child versus a child in middle or high school?

Miller: “On the younger level, I would think you would kind of just be more on their level with it. You might not go into as many details. You may end up having more problems and scaring a child than you would someone who’s older and able to understand what exactly you’re telling them. Be aware of your surroundings, listen to your teachers, report anything if they see it. If you see something, say something. And that goes with a child of any age, whether they’re a younger child in elementary school, or they’re in middle school or high school.”

News 2: What are the warning signs that parents should look for if they think their child is having issues in school?

Miller: “There are a few things (parents) could look out for. The first one is changes in (their child’s) personality, and their behaviors, their habits. Maybe they’re beginning to isolate. Crying might be one of them. Increased anxiety. Not being interested in the things they used to be interested in – hobbies and things. Maybe their grades dropping. There’s quite a few things like that that parents need to be involved with. If it goes untreated and left alone, things can only get worse.”

News 2:  Have you talked about school safety with your own children?

Miller: “It’s kind of a concerning subject for me as well as my kids because it’s hard to sit down with them, even though they’re high-schoolers, and say, ‘What are you gonna do if somebody comes in shooting? They know to be aware of their situation, know what’s going on around them, and to report that they see and what they hear. Sometimes that’s a big thing. What they do need to do, though, is take care of themselves first. And that is going to help somebody else. If they help themselves and they do what they’re supposed to do, that’s going to help others as well.”

News 2: How do children process trauma? 

Miller: “Of course when you have the small children, they may not be able to express the same feelings. Well, they may have the same feelings and emotions, but they don’t know how to communicate that as well as someone older does. So it’s a lot harder sometimes to work with the younger children than it is with the older ones who can tell you those things. And even older children sometimes are not willing to tell you those things, what’s bothering them. But get involved with them. Be direct with your children. Ask them the questions that you feel like you need to. Don’t be afraid of them; they’re yours.”

News 2: Is there an appropriate time or age to have this kind of talk with children?

Miller: “It could happen at any age, so we need to let our children know to be aware of these things. Again, we don’t want to scare them to the point where they’re afraid to go to school. We need to build that assurance in them. They need to be aware of their surroundings and be aware of what could happen. Of course, with those younger children, you want to approach that a little differently and a little bit softer than you would with a child who’s a little bit older.”

News 2: Do you have any tips for teachers and parents when kids come to them and ask them these kinds of questions?

Miller:  “First, find out what’s actually bothering them, why are they coming and asking these questions. Is it a recent event, is it something going on with them, are they having issues with themselves, instead of some general thing. Next, hook them up with maybe the school counselor, a staff member. Seek private help if they need that. But talk to the child first and see what’s happening with them. Be direct. Don’t hide anything, especially with the older children. If you know what’s going on with your child, you’re gonna be better off in the long-run to help your child. Something that’s left untracked and untouched may only get worse.”

News 2: How does social media come into play?

Miller: “I do think social media plays a big part in what we have in today’s world. We’ve got kids returning back to school, and a lot of times they’re having issues anyway with maybe self-esteem from when they left last year: they were being picked on, or something’s going on over the summer. Some kids are excited to go back. Other kids may have a lot of fear when they go back and face a lot of anxiety when they go back. Some of those things we need to talk about. And there needs to be an open discussion with parents and whoever needs to be involved. Don’t be afraid to be involved with your child. Sometimes kids have a lot of anxiety and a lot of issues with grades, as well, performance, meeting the expectations of a team. Always be reassuring to your child and build their confidence so they have a better experience in school, as well as in life in general.” 

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