Talking About School Safety with Children: A Guide for Educators


High-profile acts of violence like the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman shot and killed 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school, resonates with students and educators far beyond where the tragedy unfolds. After the Texas shooting, as with other such attacks, educators across the country were called upon to help students manage their fears and help them feel safe and ready to learn.

This work can be continuous and complex. In the coming year, for example, educators should also be aware that most states require lockdown drills or active fire drills in schools, and this can trigger fear or anxiety about school violence. Analysis of social media conversations covering over 100 K-12 schools by Everytown Research & Policy, a gun violence prevention advocacy group, and the Georgia Institute of Technology found that active fire drills are associated with increased depression (39%), stress, and moodiness. anxiety (42%) and physiological health problems (23%). percent) overall for children from the age of five through high school students, their parents and teachers.

How students understand and process these troubling events can also vary greatly depending on their level of development. Here is a list of age-appropriate steps educators can take to help children feel safe, protected, and comfortable with the feelings around school shootings and violence.

All levels

  • Emphasize that schools are safe. Review security procedures and guidelines so that students understand the measures in place to keep the school environment safe.
  • Help students understand the difference between possibility about something happening in their schools, and the probability what is happening in their school. The odds of any particular school being the victim of a school shooting in any given year are statistically very low.
  • Make sure students are comfortable reporting issues or potential behaviors that make them feel uncomfortable or at risk in their school. This may include:
    • To help students understand that there is an essential difference between talking (or taunting) about someone and informing adults.
    • Create an anonymous reporting system in your school or school district.
    • Help students identify at least one adult in their school or community who they would feel comfortable talking to if they have questions or feel stressed or threatened.
  • If schools are to hold a lockdown drill, students should be told about the drills in advance, and class checks must take place before and after an exercise. Experts advise drills should focus on basic lockdown procedures and not include the presence of a fake active shooter in drills.
  • Assist staff in looking for behavioral changes in individual students, after a high-profile violent event as well as before or after an active shooter exercise that could trigger feelings of distress or anxiety.
  • Since not all students want to talk about their feelings, educators should develop age-appropriate activities that help them bring out their feelings, such as drawing, writing or composing.

Elementary students

  • During times of stress, students may be afraid to go to school, have trouble sleeping, have difficulty concentrating, or exhibit aggressive behavior. Look for these types of behavior changes and engage in conversations to understand the source of this behavior change.
  • When discussing a violent event or concerns about active fire drills, elementary school students need basic, simplified information balanced with assurances about their safety.
  • Educators can ask open-ended questions to understand what children may or may not know or may have heard, such as “What did you hear? or “How do these exercises make you feel?” to help children talk about their feelings.
  • Give examples of school safety, such as the locking of exterior doors, efforts to watch children on the playground, and emergency drills practiced during the school day.
  • Emphasize that emergency drills help keep children safe. Even though exercises can be controversial because of the lasting trauma they can trigger, states often require them to help children feel supported and cared for.

College and high school students

  • At older ages, students are likely to have more questions about events like the Uvalde shooting.
  • Students may have strong and diverse opinions about the causes of violence in school and in society. Engage in a conversation that is open and inclusive of all perspectives.
  • Help students understand that information can vary widely between different news sources, the information they get from social media, and their peers. Help students distinguish facts from false or embellished information and help them verify sources of information.
  • Discuss the role students could play in keeping schools safe by following school safety guidelines, reporting strangers on campus, and reporting threats to school safety made by students or community members, communicating any personal safety concerns to school administrators, and accessing support for emotional distress. Needs.

SOURCES: American School Counselor Association, Common Sense Media, Mayo Clinic and National Association of School Psychologists.


Comments are closed.