Posted by Michael Hixson on December 19, 2013
No doubt that in this day and age-- and for anyone who watches the news at all-- your child’s safety at school is a topic that’s regularly on your mind. Unless you’ve chosen to homeschool, you must acknowledge that you are automatically placing trust in teachers and school staff regarding the safety of your child on school grounds. However, you do still have a role in your child’s safety at school. There are strategies you can use to help ensure your child is as safe as possible.
You are your child’s first teacher and best advocate. These roles do not end once schooling begins. Be informed about your child’s school. Read every classroom and school newsletter, flyer, and note. Regularly attend the school’s PTA meetings, parent advisory board meetings, school improvement team meetings, and any other meetings where parents can be involved. These meetings --while they may not sound like the most fun-- are the best way to understand and stay informed about the happenings and inner-workings of the school. Another way to stay informed and be knowledgeable about school happenings is to be involved in the school. Volunteer in your child’s class and at school events. Attend the parent- teacher conferences, book fairs, carnivals, and family nights. This helps you to become an active and valued part of the school community. It also allows you to build a strong relationship with your child’s teacher, as well as school staff and administration. Let’s face it, human nature dictates that the better they know you, the more likely they are to keep an extra good eye on your child. And the more informed and involved you are in your child’s school, the safer your child is likely to be and feel.
If you’re informed and involved at your child’s school, you know that there are certain classroom and school-wide rules and procedures in place to keep the students safe. School is vastly different from home in that these professionals are working with large (sometimes very large) groups of children at almost all times. Behaviors that may perfectly acceptable and non-problematic in the smaller home setting can become unsafe in large groups of children, especially elementary age children. Know and follow these rules and procedures. Ensure that your child knows and follows these rules and procedures. Discuss them routinely with your child, especially at the start of each school year and after holiday breaks.
Nowadays, schools have safety drills for seemingly everything: fire drills, tornado drills, lockdown drills, and intruder drills. It might be easy to perceive them as fluff, or as practicing for something that will probably never happen at your school. Do not allow yourself to be lulled into such complacency. School safety drills are much like home or auto insurance --you have them, hoping you’ll never need them. But if you do need to use them, you are so grateful that you do have them. Talk to your child about these drills. Emphasize the importance of listening and following the teacher’s directions during drills. Stress that they are for practice --they are nothing to worry about. Rather, the drills make sure that your child, your child’s class, and the teachers all know what to do if there is an emergency.
Bullying is verbal and/or physical behavior that is intended to embarrass, belittle, demean, influence, intimidate, or hurt another individual. Bullying is not a childhood rite of passage. It is not necessary for “putting hair on your chest” or “developing character.” Bullying is an abusive behavior that emotionally and physically traumatizes the victims. Do not practice or tolerate bullying within your home, your family, or your circle of family friends. Talk to your child about bullying, and state in no uncertain terms that it is unacceptable at home and at school. If your child shares that they are being bullied or you suspect that bullying is occurring, talk with your child about it. Find out the who, when, where, why, and how of what has been happening between your child and the other child(ren). Develop, discuss, and practice respectful, non-violent strategies for your child to deal with the bullying on the spot when it happens. However, do not leave it there; talk to your child’s teacher about what your child is telling you. Is this what the teacher is seeing? Is there another side to the story? Will the teacher observe, investigate, and then share what they learn about the situation? Give the teacher the opportunity to work with you to address the situation in a reasonable amount of time. However, if the teacher refuses to address it or take it seriously, you should then take the next step and discuss your concerns with school administration.
Admittedly, you can’t be at school every minute with your child. And, there are some safety situations for which you and your child cannot prepare. However, these simple strategies will help maximize awareness and safety, making you and your child more aware of rules, procedures, and practice drills, more informed about and involved in school events (which is always a good thing), and more connected and invested in your school and each other. You will always be your child’s most important teacher and advocate.