Dear Dr. Michelle:
As parents of a 10-year-old we are very anxious about the shootings that keep taking place in schools. We are glad it’s Summer because we don’t want our son at school because we are afraid of what could happen. How do we handle this anxiety and fear? How do we gear up for Fall and feel good about him going back to school?
Your anxiety is quite understandable given the number of incidents that have occurred. These are difficult times and unthinkable events are happening across our communities that are leaving people feeling afraid and uncertain.
The reality is that there is nothing we can do that will guarantee our safety. We do not have that type of control over our environment, what others could do, and what our children might encounter and experience.
While we cannot control a crisis we might face, we can manage our fears and anxiety by becoming educated about safety protocols and by being prepared for emergences should they occur.
Managing Your Own Anxiety
Regarding your son’s school experience, you can start to manage your anxiety by becoming educated about the school’s safety protocols. If reading about their protocols on the school website is not enough to bring you comfort, request a face-to-face meeting with school personnel and ask them to review their security and safety measures. Make sure that at minimum, the school has policies for all doors to remain locked and that they require ID for outside entrance.
Do not hesitate to ask the school to show you what and how they conduct their safety drills with students by asking them to walk you through the drill so that you can experience firsthand how your son is being prepared. If you are not satisfied with the school’s safety protocols share your feedback and consider other schooling options in your area.
Home schooling is an option to consider but be sure this decision is not made lightly. Weigh your family’s ability to successfully navigate home schooling and avoid choosing this option if the only reason to do so is to manage your own fear and anxiety. Home schooling requires a high level of commitment of caregiver time and investment. When weighing the potential of home schooling, consider the specific needs and capabilities of your family, your child’s learning style, caregiver teaching skills, child's social needs, and the ability to connect and participate with a home school community.
Another way to control your anxiety is to exercise control over your parent-child relationship. Commit to recognizing every day as a gift. Come up with a daily ritual every morning and night whereby you communicate your love and appreciation to your son. While a strong relationship will not avoid an emergency from occurring, it can help to create a strong parent-child bond which will not only lower parental anxiety, but it can create higher likelihood that your son will feel more comfortable talking to you if he is experiencing personal concerns about safety.
Establishing Safety Protocols
There are safety protocols that a family can establish to be prepared for emergencies, important steps to take for adults as well as for children.
Technology can be our friend when it comes to emergencies. If your son does not already have a cell phone, consider supplying him one so that he can get a hold of you whenever he needs and vice versus. If you believe your son is too young for a phone, consider options that do not offer internet services.
For those who have a phone, make sure all immediate and extended family member phone numbers are stored on the phone and include other emergency phone numbers, such as to a local hospital, a religious connection if applicable, the local police station and fire department. Make sure children know how to dial 911 and when to use that option. Install a phone finder on family member phones so that you can locate each other when a call is not possible.
Because emergencies might not be able to be managed electronically, be sure all family members have memorized the home address and important phone numbers. Have family members commit to always telling somebody where they are going and who they will be with.
Have your family identify a meeting place to find each other if it becomes impossible to meet up at the family home. Choose a neighbor that your child can get to by foot in case of an emergency that would require family members to leave the house – just make sure your neighbor knows and gives permission for to be an emergency location.
Familiarize your family with the location of emergency rooms, fire departments and police stations. Ask for a tour of these facilities and get your child involved in the experience so that they are not intimidated to turn to such facilities if need be. Choose a police station that is a good community partner that you know your child can trust.
As you continue to navigate your anxiety, develop a personal mantra whereby you remind yourself that you cannot control the world around you, but you can control the decisions you make, how to prepare for an emergency and the relationships you build and nourish. Focus on the things you can control and choose to exercise that control.
Be sure that as you navigate your own anxiety, so as not to pass your anxiety and fears onto your son. Let him have his own experiences and avoid your son adopting your feelings so that he does not become paralyzed or scared to go to school. To help avoid this trickle effect, keep his exposure to the news at a minimum if viewed at all. Do not talk about your own anxiety and fears around your son, rather have those conversations in private. Do not make this a large issue for your son unless he is directly expressing fears and concerns. If he is, remind him how he is prepared for emergencies and how important it is that your family live your life to the fullest and not allow your fears to dictate your decisions and actions. As you say this out loud, you will begin to believe it for yourself and your son will feel your confidence, which will ultimately build his own.
Dear Dr. Michelle blog posts are informational in nature. The posts are not meant to take the place of consulting your physician, mental health professional, or other qualified health providers regarding your well-being or the well-being of others. Submitting a question does not establish a client/therapist relationship.