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Take a Safety-First Approach to the New School Year

Prepare ahead of time to reduce risk

As another school year winds up, parents of school aged children may be filled with mixed emotions. Getting kids ready to head off to school can be hard, especially after spending family time on vacation or fun summer activities. On the other hand, parents may be looking forward to finding a few hours of peace during the school day.

Though the rate of school violence and crime have declined since 1992, it’s still important to be prepared and have a safety plan in place.

While we cannot prepare for every situation in life when we send our child into the care of others, there are a few things parents can do to improve safety while at school. Here are 10 important tips:

1. Contact Information
Make sure your child memorizes his or her full name and address, your full name and the best number to reach you. Growing up, my mom found and helped a crying child by the side of the road who got lost walking home from school. All the kid could remember was he “lived by the Piggly Wiggly store.”

2. Sharing
Encourage your child to talk to you about concerns, but also let him or her know it is okay to talk to a teacher or school safety officer. In public, it would be great, but unlikely, to find a police officer. A child could go into a store and ask a clerk for help to call you or 911, or possibly an adult member of a family with kids.

Happy group of kids at school

3. Role Play
Engage in age appropriate role playing that can help your child learn how to handle different situations that may come up. This could be as simple as navigating a scenario where your child lost his lunch money, or a more serious situation such as when it is appropriate to call 911. Practice possible ways of handling the problem, such as by telling the teacher or the cafeteria worker or by asking to call home. Also, role play what to do in a dangerous situation when the child does not have access to a cell phone. Even if a kid has a phone, batteries run dead or the phone gets forgotten at home. Safety is a discussion that should happen often as a child grows―but be gentle with the young ones. We want our kids to be cautious and aware, not frightened ahead of time.

4. Provide a Cell Phone
Consider providing your child with a cell phone as a safety device. Even young children can be given a non-smart phone without game playing capabilities, preprogrammed with contacts to call in an emergency, or to check in with you when they arrive at a pre-determined location. You can also get a phone with a tracking feature to see where your child has traveled. At home, designate a charging area, where the phone lives at night until it is packed up with school supplies in the morning.

5. Don’t Personalize Materials
Your child’s name should not appear anywhere visible, including the outside of a backpack, lunch bag or clothing. A stranger could see the personalization and call the child by name, building trust in a possibly dangerous situation.

6. Check in Daily
As part of the after-school routine, ask your child open ended questions instead of questions that will elicit a one-word answer. Examples include “What was the best part of your day today?” and “What was one thing that was not so great at school today?” If you find anything that concerns you, check in with the teacher for more details.

7. School Policies
Be familiar with your school’s emergency procedures, including lockdowns and active shooter scenarios. Make sure to keep your contact information and your child’s emergency contact form with the school is up to date.

8. Be Present
Avoid inserting yourself at school only when there is a crisis. Get involved with your child’s class, join the PTA or explore other school-based volunteer opportunities.  Not only will this allow you to get to know the school and its polices better, it shows you have a serious interest in your child’s success.

9. Encourage Positive Socialization
In our house, we requested each child participate in one or two extra-curricular activities per term, such as sports or arts activities. Not only is this an excellent way to make friends and feel positive about their school experience, it avoids growing up as a lone wolf.

10. Pay Attention
Look for changes in your child’s eating habits, sleeping habits and personality. Sometimes this is just a natural part of growing up, but it can also signal something that is troubling the child, such as being bullied or getting unwanted attention. If your child withdraws or has trouble sleeping, ask him or her why. Talk to the school guidance counselor about your concerns and how to better assess if these changes in behavior are signaling something wrong.

It is hard to think of a child being unsafe at school. The reality is, risks are heightened for kids everywhere, not just on school property. Be diligent about keeping track of where your kids are. If your child walks or rides the bus to school, review safety rules and have a set check-in time for him to call you when he gets home from school. Check out this American Red Cross article for additional information on getting to school safely or this infographic from the U.S. Center for Disease Control on preventing youth violence.

Families, community and school staff working together can create a less risky environment for kids at school, fostering what they are there for―learning.

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