By Dr. Adam Aronson
As parents we work hard to keep our children safe at home. We try to provide healthy foods and a nurturing environment. We keep poisons out of reach, regularly change the batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and monitor what they see on TV and in the movies. While these measures help to ensure our children grow up healthy at home – they spend a large portion of their childhood at school. Keeping them safe and healthy during the school day can be a daunting task requiring forethought and planning.
1. Calming Nerves: Even before the first day of school, there are measures that parents can take to ease their child’s transition to the new school year. Many children are uneasy about going off to a new school or working with new classmates and teachers. Making the teacher aware of a child’s anxieties allows them to make efforts to make everyone feel comfortable. Reminding your child that other children are also uneasy can provide them some comfort, as can arranging for playdates with new classmates prior to the start of the school year.
2. Review Safety Rules: Many children travel to and from school on a school bus. For younger children it is important for parents to review basic safety rules. Make sure your child understands the importance of waiting for the bus to stop before approaching – and to remain seated throughout the trip. When getting off the bus he/she should cross only if the red lights are flashing and remain at least 10 feet in front of the bus. Some older children ride bikes to school. Make sure your child wears a helmet at all times, knows appropriate hand signals and respects traffic lights and stop signs. For teens driving themselves by car – the risk of accident and injury can be reduced greatly by limiting the number of teen passengers and making sure there is no use of cell phones either for calls or texting.
3. Know the School’s Medical Services: Most illnesses and injuries that arise during school are minor and can be cared for by the school nurse – but there is a wide variety of health services offered so it is so it is important for families to be familiar with the level of staffing and procedures at their child’s school. Some schools have a full-time certified school nurse who can handle acute health problems and administer medications. In some districts the school nurse may not work full time or student health may be staffed by medical assistants rather than certified nurses. Most issues are minor (headaches, scrapes, or bumps) which can be managed by the school nurse and the child often returns to class. Other problems can be more serious and the child may need to have a parent or family member come and pick them up – so it is critical for the school to have up to date contact info for multiple family members or close friends.
4. Talk to Your Kids About Bullying: Too many sad stories have come to light regarding bulling –either physical or emotional – that has led to dramatic consequences, sometimes even to the point of a teenager committing suicide. The term “cyberbullying” has become all too familiar. Parents need to be alert for signs of being a victim – from noting frequent or unusual patterns of bruising to sometimes subtle changes in behavior or academic performance and school avoidance. Parents should encourage him/her to look the bully in the eye, stand tall and stay calm, and to simply walk away from a difficult situation. Kids should respond confidently and with a firm tone of voice while looking the harasser in the eye. Teach effective and appropriate responses include statements such as “I do not like what you are doing” or “Please DO NOT talk to me that way.” Rehearse scenarios.
Your child to should be taught when and how to ask for help from school staff. Encourage them to make friends with other children and find activities that interest them. Children with loyal friends and regular activities are less likely to be singled out by aggressors. Parents should monitor their child’s social media and texting interactions to identify concerns before dangerous situations arise. It is extremely important for families to speak out strongly on their child’s behalf to the teachers and school principal. Sometimes parents are reluctant to intervene either because they want to avoid embarrassing their child – or with the belief that their kid should learn how to deal with difficult situations on their own. Other parents confront either the bully or the bully’s parents. These approaches have been found to be much less effective. Children deserve a safe school environment and it is critical that both parents and school staff become involved.
As parents we devote so much time and effort to keeping our children safe. So much of their childhood and adolescence is spent at school – and so it is important for our efforts as parent to encompass these issues as well.