Back-to-School: Fostering a Sense of Safety during Uncertain Times
Cook Children's Family Therapist Brittany Kirk shares how parents and caregivers can reassure their children as school safety becomes a major topic in our everyday lives.
By Brittany Kirk, Cook Children's Family Therapist
As we settle into a new school year, many parents and caregivers may find themselves unsettled about the need for increased security measures in our schools. Given recent gun violence events in Texas and across our nation, school administrators have placed safety at the forefront of their concerns. With this concern, however, also comes heightened and unwanted stress, worry, and anxiety for parents, caregivers, students, and teachers. Recognizing and addressing these emotions can be fundamental in helping our children develop a sense of peace and reassurance for a successful school year.
Before adults begin having conversations with children, it is important for them to process their own thoughts and emotions around the given topic. This is best practice for any conversation, not just those involving difficult topics like school tragedies.
When caregivers take time to process and discuss their own feelings, it better equips them to manage personal expressions and reactions as well as model desired behaviors for their children. As a parent or caregiver, this small step can have a big impact on the outcome of a child’s thoughts, expressions, and approaches to processing difficult situations.
Limiting exposure to information in the news and media is another key component of curbing anxiety and stress. We live in a digital age where, inevitably, we are inclined to receive information through various platforms and outlets. Generally, the primary adults in a child’s life are the first line of defense for what a child hears, sees, and does.
By limiting exposure to harsh content in the news and media, you are helping safeguard and filter information that may or may not have negative implications for your child. If and when your child does have exposure to undesirable items in the media, discuss what was seen or heard, talk through questions and concerns, and validate these feelings. Repeat this process, consistently following up with your child, until a felt sense of safety is established. These actions will show children that their concerns are important and they matter.
Finally, share with your children the importance of "trusting their gut" and speaking up when something doesn’t feel or seem right. Express to them: "If you see something, say something." Teachers, administrators, and school personnel cannot physically have eyes everywhere at all times. Students see and hear things among their peers that school personnel may never know about.
Encourage your child to speak up if they feel uneasy or have a concern. Oftentimes, students are afraid of the negative social attention this could bring, but their instincts and initiatives to act on something that doesn’t "seem right" could be very impactful in preventing a crisis situation or even saving a life.
All of these suggestions can and will look differently depending on the age of your child. So it’s important to take a developmentally appropriate approach when talking with your kids. Also, these conversations can be time-consuming and prompt further discussion. Allow plenty of time for such discussions with your child so they don't feel rushed or dismissed.
It is a good sign if your child is expressive and requests more of your time. This means you are fostering and holding a space for them to come to you with big issues and big feelings, and that is something well worth your while. These are small investments that can make a huge difference now and in the future.
Reminders to help facilitate conversations with our kids:
- Recognize: Name the emotion, talk about it, and deal with it.
- Reflect: Think about and work through your own feelings around a given topic. Then develop a plan for a discussion with your child.
- Review: Be a buffer and filter the content your child may see or hear through media platforms.
- Respond & Reassure: Hold space for your child to share his or her thoughts and have a developmentally appropriate conversation by responding appropriately to his or her needs. Provide reassurance to foster a felt sense of safety and security.
About Cook Children's
Cook Children’s Health Care System embraces an inspiring Promise – to improve the health of every child through the prevention and treatment of illness, disease and injury. Based in Fort Worth, Texas, we’re proud of our long and rich tradition of serving our community. Our not-for-profit organization is comprised of nine companies, including our Medical Center, Physician Network, Home Health company, Northeast Hospital, Pediatric Surgery Center, Health Plan, Health Services Inc., Child Study Center and Health Foundation. With more than 60 primary, specialty and urgent care locations throughout Texas, families can access our top-ranked specialty programs and network of services to meet the unique needs of their child. For 100 years, we’ve worked to improve the health of children from across our primary service area of Denton, Hood, Johnson, Parker, Tarrant and Wise counties. We combine the art of caring with leading technology and extraordinary collaboration to provide exceptional care for every child. This has earned Cook Children’s a strong, far-reaching reputation with patients traveling from around the country and the globe to receive life-saving pediatric care. For more information, visit cookchildrens.org.