5 Ways to Help Kids Feel Safe in an Unsafe World
The recent school shooting has shaken our society, community, and individual homes. Violence, especially seemingly random shootings, affects everyone’s sense of security, and the stress and worry of parents resulting from this security is felt by their children. Even small children who may not understand the circumstances and consequences surrounding guns and violence worry as their parents’ stress and concern with their safety increases.
In an ever-changing world without guarantees, children naturally feel anxious and stressed. In fact, a recent study found decreased academic performance, including lower test scores, when children experience traumatic events such as shootings. Since children often cannot verbalize their feelings, behavior is often indicative of the psychological strain they experience. Experts alert us that children exhibit more sleep and behavior issues following traumatic events due to their increased anxiety and sadness. If you notice behavioral or psychological changes in your child, such as increased stomach aches, nightmares, and difficulty falling asleep, this may be emblematic of a frightened child. Reassurance or dismissal of their feelings will not increase their sense of security; however, practicing these five strategies will help your children feel more protected and safer in an unsafe world.
1. Structure and routine increases security in children. When kids can predict their day-to-day family routine, they develop a sense of security that lacks for children who suffer chaotic homes. Maintain consistent bedtimes, mealtimes, and rules to maximize your child’s feeling of safety.
2. Remind your children that you are in charge and control the media entering your home. Kids need to know their parents are in control and love them enough to set boundaries. Be alert to the media entering your home and ensure its age appropriateness. Children act out when they are unable to manage their emotions. It’s parents’ responsibility to reinforce boundaries and manage their own emotions so children will feel safe.
3. When scary events occur at school or home, remind your child of the people looking out for them and make a family plan. When children hear about gun violence, they become scared because they don’t know what to do. Reminding your child that there are people in charge of keeping them safe at school and home helps them feel more secure. Additionally, develop a plan with your child to practice at home in the event of unexpected circumstances so every member of the family knows what to do. These plans can be practiced in the event of a storm, fire, or any other emergency your child worries about. When families prepare and discuss these emergency plans, it decreases anxiety. These conversations allow your child to feel safer at home; kids respond better when offered a plan of action.
4. Remind your children of times they’ve exhibited braveness and made smart safety choices. Reinforce your child’s capacity for making smart choices by reminding them of patterns you’ve recognized in which they carried out smart decisions. Examples include always wearing their bicycle helmet when riding a bike or buckling their seatbelt in the car. When did your child make a wise choice when crossing streets or alerted your attention to something wrong or a careless driver? Explaining the everyday habits your child has developed that will keep them and others safe instills confidence in their ability to make smart choices, thus increasing their sense of security.
5. Talk to your child about seeing a counselor when fear and anxiety linger. Most children who experience a traumatic event do not simply recover quickly. Just as adults, children need to process emotions. Art and play therapy help young children work through scary events. School shootings, severe storms, and loss of loved ones affect children deeply, and parents can help by listening and seeking professional help with their child.
Children should never need to worry about being unprotected in unsafe situations, but it has become an unfortunate part of everyday life for many. Maintaining awareness of behavioral and psychological changes in your child is the first step to intervening in your child’s life and instilling feelings of safety. Restoring their sense of security and safety in your home and community assures your child they can mature, play, and use their imagination to explore, be curious and learn about the world in a safe and secure atmosphere.