How to Navigate the Fears of School Violence

We were all appalled by the latest incident of school violence when 17 students and school staff were murdered at the Parkland School in Florida last month.

diane sitting on steps with three kids

I think I can speak for most of us.

No one knows exactly how to change our world so this never happens again. We want a solution – or maybe several solutions – and we continue to hope and pray it won’t happen again.

How impressive were the amazing responses from the students from Parkland School who were passionately seeking the adults to step up, find the solutions and to please not forget to keep working to find them.

Meanwhile, what about the children who go to school every day and probably wonder and worry about their own safety?

As parents, teachers and caregivers how can we help our children feel safe as well as BE safe?

Some suggestions:

  • Make sure you check in with your children to see what they are thinking and feeling. These can be short and simple questions to invite children to share if they want to. “Hey, what do you think about what happened in Florida? How does it make you feel? Remember you can always talk to me about what you are thinking and feeling. I love you and want to know what you are thinking and feeling.”
  • Remember your job is not to make everything all better. The fact is you cannot do that. You can join, connect, promise what you can, and reassure them that you will be a steadfast part of their lives, even in difficult, frightening times.
  • Sit down and help your children create safety plans that are specific and realistic. These are some things they can do if there is a crisis: look for the adults to take care of them, listen for directions, and know how to get out of your school if that is what the directions are. Invite your children to make suggestions. [Note: only do this kind of planning if it seems to be empowering your children rather than making them feel more afraid.]
  • Talk to kids about how very unlikely it is for this kind of violence to happen in their school. Remind them whenever any violence like a school shooting happens, there are constant news reports with an overwhelming amount of visuals that adults may need to see. However, these visual can create the impression these events are a pervasive fact of life. The fact is there are about 50.7 million students attending public elementary and secondary schools and another approximately 5 million students in private schools. There are close to 98,200 public schools, including about 6,700 charter schools. While each violent event is horrific, at the same time, the vast majority of students in our country are safe and not facing the kind of violence shown in the news.
  • a group of people with their heads together looking sadYou can make sure that your school has specific policies and strategies in place that you feel are adequate to ensure the safety of all students and staff. If you don’t feel your school has done its job, find ways to have your voice heard. Contact your school in writing, through tweets, emails, attend school board and other meetings, and use social media and letters to the editors of local papers to voice your concerns. And keep the pressure up!
  • Contact your local, state and national governmental representatives to voice your concerns, make suggestions and be clear that you are watching to see whether they are taking real and serious action.
  • Tell your children all the ways you are working to ensure their safety. Invite them to join you. Help them write letters or contact public officials from their school and in the political sphere. Show them that they have power to influence change.

The violence that happened in Florida must be addressed, and real changes need to be made to keep our children safe. We need to unite as parents and caregivers to insist that these changes are made. And we need to help our children feel safe then give them ways to claim their power to influence change.

Invitation to Reflect

  1. Have you checked with your children to discuss their thoughts and feelings about school safety and the concerns they may have about school violence? How can you have these discussions without increasing any of their anxieties?
  2. How are you feeling about the safety of your children? How can you care for yourself and process with other adults, so your children do not feel your anxiety which could contribute to increased anxiety in your children?
  3. What are specific ways to ensure your schools have taken meaningful action to have the processes and strategies in place to prevent and respond effectively should there ever be an incident with someone attempting to hurt children?

Diane Wagenhals, Director of Lakeside Global Institute