There are so many details for parents when preparing to send their kids off to school: supplying those long lists of school supplies, figuring out transportation, making sure kids have outfits and shoes that will make them feel they will fit in socially, packing a nutritious lunch. That’s a lot of responsibility for parents!
Helping your child feel safe makes everything else easier for him or her
There is one more item that will make heading off to school a much better experience for your children that I suspect very few parents have on their “back to school” lists: a Personal Safety Plan for each child.
I first learned about Safety Plans from my friend and colleague, Dr. Sandra Bloom, creator of the Sanctuary Model and author of a powerful trilogy of books: Creating Sanctuary, Destroying Sanctuary and Restoring Sanctuary as well as hundreds of inspirational and educational articles [Check out the website http://sanctuaryweb.com/Publications/ListofPublications.aspx ]
Dr. Bloom describes the neurobiological reasons for all of us to think about and then create a list of those things that help us to feel safe when we are feeling anxious, fearful or threatened; basically our brains don’t work as well under these circumstances because we are not in a mental place where we can think clearly. By having a pre-planned specific list of those ways we can create safety for ourselves in stressful moments, we don’t have to rely on the thinking part of our brains to help us feel safe.
For children, the first days and even weeks of school can produce a great deal of stress and anxiety mixed in with their feelings of excitement and anticipation. If children can head off to school with their own written list of the ways they can create personal safety, they are better prepared to consciously deal with those feelings of stress and anxiety.
Basically a Personal Safety Plan…
… is a list of those things someone can do to increase a sense of safety. These are both internal and external actions, where children (and adults) can list the ways they mentally focus on promoting a sense of self-confidence and personal power and the specific things they can do in their environment that increase their sense of being safe.
Parents can sit with their children and explain the overall concept that they have the power to promote their own safety and then can help their children generate their own lists, writing them on 3 x 5 cards to tuck away in their book bags or binders.
Some examples items for Internal Safety Plans:
- Picture a safe and peaceful spot you really like
- Create several mental affirmations about your circumstances and personal powers: “I am not in danger.” “I am safe. Feeling excited is not the same as being in danger.” “I have the power to care for myself.”
- Look out the window or close your eyes for a few seconds and imagine something that makes you happy and relaxed.
- Think about all the people you love and who love you, fill your heart with gratitude
- Pray for or send loving thoughts to each of them
- Sing songs in your head that make you feel relaxed; focus on remembering each word
Some of the following ideas that could be included in an External Safety Plan might be harder to activate in some classroom settings so be creative. Some examples include:
- Sit near a door or wherever you feel safest in a room
- Notice people around you who seem safe, like friends and teachers
- Note where the exits are
- Relax your body one body part at a time by focusing on each part and releasing tension there
- Take deep breaths
- Doodle, draw sketches of things that help you feel safe
- Sip some cold water
- Softly tap your fingers or feet in a rhythmic way, going from one side of your body to the other
- Talk with friends about ways you can help each other to feel safe
By helping your children create and then use their Personal Safety Plans, you can send them off to school with one of the most important tools to help make the first few days and weeks (and actually the whole year!) a bigger success: a pre-designed strategy for feeling and being safe.
And parents can benefit from creating their own Personal Safety Plans as well. We all can benefit from being intentional about promoting personal safety.
Invitation to Reflect
- Can you remember heading off to school and how nervous you felt? How much safer would you have felt if you had a Safety Plan to take with you?
- What are some of the specific things each of your children would benefit from putting on his or her safety plan based on that child’s unique needs and temperament?
- Think about ways to reinforce the idea that your child needs and deserves to feel safe and can have the power to claim that safety.
- Check in regularly with your child to see if you need to update his or her safety plan
Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network