The Safety of Our Children

 

I saw a cartoon on Facebook of a boy standing in a doorway wearing a backpack. His mother was standing behind him. She said, “Watch where you are walking, look before you cross the street, don’t talk to strangers, pay attention and follow directions.” He looked around and said to her, “Mom, relax. I am just going to school.”

We are increasingly aware of the potential for danger in schools. For the most part, we are, to a lesser degree, aware of impending danger everywhere. I am hearing from clients, friends and people in the many groups I belong to about fears surrounding their children. The questions most commonly asked are, “What can I do?” and, “What can I say to my children?”

Let me address the second question first. There is often an inclination to say nothing. The fear is that we will scare our children and they may become resistant to attending school. I can certainly understand that feeling. Teaching children about possible danger without overwhelming them takes work. 

It is wise to begin by finding out what school officials are saying to the students. Many have exercises teaching the children to duck or run. It is not just discussed, it is practiced. Check to see if your child’s school is doing this, if the teachers have a routine to follow and what they are saying to the children. 

Reflect on what your child knows. Are they aware of the news? Are there discussions in the family? Are older children talking about it? What have they heard from friends? Often, we do not learn how much information our children have. It is preferential that they hear it from home, from people they trust and know how to talk to them, rather than to hear it from peers who have their own perspective. 

Begin a conversation by disclosing what happened in a school incident. Indicate that children were hurt, but most got out safely. Inform them that most adults in schools are trained to provide safety to the students and that it is wise to follow their directions. 

Tell them that it is very unlikely that this will happen in their school. End by reiterating the value of going to school. Talk about the value of learning and of being with other children. Talk about the positives that they experience at school. Ask for questions. 

It is always wise to begin with the “negative” and end with the “positive.” We tend to linger on what we heard last. We are not interested on the primary focus being fear of school. 

What can we all do? Take the actions of inquiring about your school and open the lines of communication at home. If you have a political position, take action. As a parent, it is painful to have this fear and to feel helpless. Taking action reduces a sense of helplessness.

 

Dr. Natalie Gelman is an Alameda-based therapist. Submit questions to drnataliegelman@gmail.com or through her website, www.drnataliegelman.com.