The recent tragedy experienced by students, teachers and families in the Parkland area got me thinking about the ways we teach kids to be safe and how these important conversations can escalate their anxiety. Kids and teens need to know that they are safe and protected. Sadly, we can’t guarantee that, but we can let them know that having conversations about how to be safe and knowing what to do in case of an emergency can help them know how to react if there’s a dangerous situation.
I suggest you start by asking your children what they know about being safe and build from there. Schools have strong safety plans and perform regular drills, and teachers also have safety protocols in place in case of an emergency, but you also want to make sure that they are familiar with the “family protocol”: who to call in case of an emergency and what to do if they are separate from their family when the emergency occurs. You also may want to go over the "do’s and don’ts" and define some rules about how to deal with stressful situations and strangers in case of an emergency. It’s important to establish guidelines for how to act under stress, but avoid panic and scary statements that can escalate your child’s anxiety and avoidance of the conversation. Talking about safety will help clarify information and your child will feel that she’s prepared. Planning tends to alleviate some anxiety in children, so does having open conversations about the subject, and allowing them to express their fears and concerns. Take the time to listen and validate their feelings, answer their questions and help them feel safe by talking about the changes that are already taking place in schools. Although we can’t predict emergencies, knowing that we are part of a family and a community that supports us makes a difference, knowing that we have a plan and can have open conversations makes a difference, knowing that our parents and teachers care makes a difference.
The past few weeks have been devastating for our South Florida communities and have escalated anxiety in children and parents. Lots of conversations are taking place around safety in schools, violence, aggression, gun control, mental health, and other topics that kids and teens might find scary or overwhelming. Allow opportunities to discuss those topics if they want to do so and be supportive if they want to take some action. Don’t push them to talk if they don’t want to and remain open if they reach out to you. Let them know that you’re there to support them and protect them.
Below you will find a list of signs of anxiety in kids and teens. Untreated anxiety can lead to depression and other disorders. Therapy can help some of those symptoms and teach kids and teens ways to deal with them in effective and healthy ways.