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Child Safety


  Helping Our Children Feel Empowered in the Face of Armed Violence in Schools


Recently a six-year-old girl in a workshop at a private school asked me, “What if someone comes to our school and starts shooting everybody?” Along with all of the other adults in the room, I looked into her little face and felt ill that she even had to wonder about it.

The issue of armed violence in schools is heart-breaking and urgently on our minds right now. The threat of violence looms over all our children no matter where they live or what their family situation is. It is important to address the concerns of our children as gun violence is occurring more frequently and is ever-present in the media. Although nothing works all of the time, the following suggestions can help our children to feel less helpless and more prepared most of the time.


  Be a Safe Person to Talk To


Children of any age need to know that we are willing to listen to their fears and that we will treat them with respect when they come to us with their problems. We need to find a balance between listening and supporting without burdening our children with our own fears. Because of our own anxieties, it’s tempting to minimize. It’s also hard not to overreact. We want our children to tell us if ANYONE is making them uncomfortable about ANYTHING. They need us to listen as calmly and matter-of-factly as possible. Having our children in the habit of talking to us will help us to judge whether or not a situation is potentially dangerous.

  Make Sure it is Safe to Tell At School


It is our job as adults to take charge of the environments in which our children spend time as best we can. Make sure that your school has a plan for dealing with armed violence just like any other emergency. Make sure that adults are trained in how to deal with a child who makes a report about another child. One girl who was in a very exclusive school in a quiet neighborhood heard a boy bragging about his gun. When she told the principal, the gun was found and the boy was suspended. However, the principal handled the situation in a way which caused the girl to be identified and then he put her back into the classroom. The boy’s friends threatened to kill her. The trauma she went through could have been prevented if the school officials had understood how important it was to protect the girl’s identity.

  What We Can Say to Our Children About What Happens to Our Minds in an Emergency


We can tell our children that any time we have an emergency--like a car wreck, an earthquake, a flood, a tornado, or somebody being dangerous-- our first feeling will most likely be disbelief. We will probably think, “It's not true. It’s impossible! This can't be!” The sooner we can get over our disbelief and see what is actually happening, the sooner we can start to protect ourselves.

Next, we will probably feel full of energy, which comes from a chemical our bodies make called adrenaline. This much energy gives us lots of power, but can make it hard to think clearly. Our bodies might go into a panic and want to run or freeze or start fighting, whether it makes sense or not. If we practice the best way to handle different emergencies, we won't have to think because our bodies will just know what to do. Doing role plays about emergencies can also help us to practice thinking clearly even when we feel full of energy from adrenaline.


  What We Can Say to Our Children About Kids Having Weapons At School


We can tell our children that sometimes kids like to joke or brag about having or using guns or bombs or about hurting animals or people. Most of the time, they are just pretending, but once in a while, they are not. If someone is talking like this, this person might have big problems. Young people need to know how to get away from anyone who makes them uncomfortable without saying what they think. This might mean that they have to lie to stay safe and say, “Of course I won’t tell.” or even, “Yes, I think that's cool.” They might have to agree with the person who is being weird or scary, even with a big insult like saying, “Yes, you’re right, my mom is a creep (or worse).”

It is urgent that, if someone is acting in a way which could be dangerous, children go an adult they trust and say something like, “This is about my safety and about the safety of others here at our school. I need you to promise to protect me from other people knowing that I am the one who is telling you this. I want you to call my parents (or another safe adult) right away so they can be with me.”

If children don’t feel safe with any adult at school, it is important that they tell their parents or another safe adult as soon as they can. The school needs to know if there is possible danger. In some situations it may be necessary to make a telephone call to the school anonymously--which means not telling your name--to someone in charge, like the principal. Anonymous telephone calls or notes will only be taken seriously if there are as many specifics as possible included in the message.

Most children want to know what to do if the worst happens. It is less upsetting to imagine a plan than to keep imagining disaster. We can say something like, “If you see someone with a gun or a knife, or hear popping noises like firecrackers when you weren’t expecting to, go away from the person or the noise as quickly and quietly as you can. Try to get out of the building as far from the danger as possible. If you can’t get out, look for a place to hide which covers up all of you. As soon as you safely can, find an adult you trust to go to for help." All children should know how to call 911; their full name, address, and telephone number; and how to use different types of telephones.


  Whether and How to Practice


If your children are really worried about somebody shooting at school, or any other kind of emergency, practicing can help them manage that worry. In the private school workshop that I mentioned at the beginning, when the little girl asked her question, the anxiety in the room was huge. All of the children, and their teachers and parents, were looking at me, needing an answer.

I said, “Television makes it seem as if scary things like this are happening all the time. But this isn’t true. Most of us will live long happy lives and never have to worry about somebody starting to shoot people at school. But it is good to know what to do in an emergency. Most of the time, the safest thing you can do is leave quickly and quietly when someone is acting violent. Just get up and get out. Suppose that I started acting dangerous. Look around and see if you know how to get out of this room....now, all of you, very quietly leave the room.”

Thirty children found one of the three exits and silently streamed outside. Then they came back and we went on with our workshop


  Think about the Underlying Issues


In order to create long-term change, each of us needs to find our own ways of helping to address the underlying issues that lead to violence. Important actions can include:
Establishing school policies which make violence, threats and harassment against the rules with clearly defined consequences.
Providing education and policies to stop prejudice, bullying, and harassment.
Mentoring a troubled child;
Monitoring and being aware of the ways in which television, video games, music, the Internet and movies normalize violence for our children.
Educating school personnel, law enforcement officials, and parents about warning signals.
Making sure that school counseling is available to families whose children show signals of problems as early in their lives as possible.
Helping young people learn conflict resolution, self protection, boundary-setting, and confidence skills through organizing and supporting programs such as KIDPOWER

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