Turning on the news nowadays can be overwhelming – and it’s almost inescapable. COVID-19 dominates the media and the minds for many of us and has become the all-too-real “invisible boogeyman” for waves of children. Not too mention that our country has seen multiple school shootings where innocent children or teenagers are killed—either by a classmate or an unexplained gunman. It’s not wonder so many kids are now scared of school. And guess what, so are parents.
As a result of the endless and evolving concerns around the pandemic as well as the number of mass shootings and threats to schools, many have taken extra safety precautions to keep students, families and staff secure. These safety measures include things like rebuffed air circulation systems, increased cleaning, hand sanitizer stations, mask orders, hiring additional security guards, installing metal detectors in the buildings, requiring only see-through backpacks or purses, entrance security and search checkpoints and even holding lockdown/mass shooter drills. It doesn’t sound much like the school environment most adults remember. It doesn’t sound like an environment that nurture learning at all, but surely one that invokes anxiety in many.
Even though these precautions are in place for a good reason, they can be traumatizing and scary to young children who may not fully understand why they’re needed.
So, how can you help to preserve some innocence and normalcy in your kids’ childhood while having an honest conversation with them about school safety?
1. Keep Things Normal
Children thrive with routine. If you want to preserve childhood for your kids, do what you can to create a sense of normalcy as much as possible. This approach will help them to feel safe and secure, both at home and at school.
When children feel comfortable in their routine, they’re also more likely to open up about emotions they’re experiencing. Often, that includes things they might be scared or confused about. If they go to school and everything feels different, they need to know they can come home and depend on that normalcy. Think of their routine as a bit of a “safe haven,” and do what you can to keep it consistent.
Parent Hack: There is an enormous amount of media coverage on the pandemic and much of it is pretty intense. It’s an intense time. Try to avoid leaving the news running, even in the background, at home and consider limiting your own watching to times when your kids are not in the area or in earshot. Teaching kids about the news is important – but especially in times of crisis, the news tends to be overwhelming and traumatic for many children.
2. Encourage Conversation About Their Feelings
Some kids don’t have a problem opening up and sharing their feelings. For others, it isn’t always so easy.
If your child doesn’t want to talk about their feelings openly, try to prompt them with questions concerning how they feel when it comes to school. You don’t have to get specific. Besides, it’s better to let your child lead the conversation.
Once your child does open up, be sure to validate their feelings, too! If you want to preserve childhood, make sure your children know that their feelings are important.
If your child is scared of school be careful not to “quick fix” it with false assurances or telling them to “get over it” or move on. Validate the feelings. You can also talk about what is real and what isn’t, but start with letting them know that you heard how they are feeling.
And yes, it is also important to provide reassurance. Children look to their parents for comfort, guidance, and support. Assure them that their school is taking steps to be safer. And talk about the real precautionary measures that are being put into place for all of them.
Parent Hack: Tell your kids some of your own feelings and share with them what you do to help when you feel worried or confused. Don’t get too wordy – keep it simple. Sometimes hearing a parent share sets the stage and invites sharing of their own.
3. Talk About School Safety Precautions
One of the best ways to assuage your child’s concerns is to talk about some of the safety measures schools have put in place in response to COVID-19, school shootings and even bullying which many kids can relate too very quickly from experience or observation. Discuss with your children about how these efforts are intended to work. Talk about why they’re being used, and how they will help to protect them from harm.
When you’re trying to preserve childhood, it’s important to use age-appropriate language. That isn’t always easy. But, do what you can to find a way to explain the importance of these safety measures to your kids.
Parent Hack: Remember age appropriate doesn’t mean elusive or dishonest. Be honest and age appropriate.
Normal Childhood in Abnormal Times?
It’s not abnormal for your child to be scared or concerned if they start to see extra security measures in their school. Maybe the school is just being cautious. Or, perhaps they experienced something that prompted the additional safety measures. In that case, your child might need to talk with someone who can help them to understand better what’s going on.
One More Thing…
Children and grief counseling are going together more than ever nowadays, thanks to tragedies in schools. It’s an unfortunate reality, but this type of counseling can help kids who might be struggling.
If you’re having trouble trying to preserve childhood with a child who is already grieving, you don’t have to tackle it on your own. Feel free to contact me for more information or visit my page about children and grief counseling to learn more.