When children feel safe at home they will generally feel safe at school and pass on that feeling to others. School safety starts at home with the development of accepting and resilient children. There is no precise formula for accomplishing this, but there are three key ingredients that increase the chances of success.
First, provide a safe and nurturing environment at home — create a loving and unthreatening place that also has structure. This means being firm but fair. Parents set the ground rules ahead of time and then follow through with reasonable consequences. It also means spending time with your kids in order to play, contemplate, observe and talk. This is how rapport and trust is built. Between the ages of 3 and 9 they still look up to you, and they generally don’t over-challenge you unless they feel unfairly treated.
Second, help children see their value and place in the family and community. Help them understand they are part of something larger, and that they (and their peers) have unique abilities and interests. Emphasizing strengths helps them feel valued. This can be developed beyond the house with special classes, scouts, teams, schools or clubs. For example, a student I knew was fascinated with rock collecting. As a student, he attended a lapidary club. He was the youngest member, and from there he started making jewelry with stones he found and polished, gaining the admiration of many adults and peers. He found value and was appreciated for what he learned and could make.
Third, walk the talk. Parents must lead by example. Kids are quick to notice discrepancies between what you say and what you do. If we expect our sons and daughters to develop good values, we must live by these values. If we don’t want our children to be mean, we too must be kind to others. If we don’t want them to be a bully or be bullied, we need to not bully family, friends or colleagues. But beyond not doing what’s wrong, we must also model what is right; how to be kind and compassionate, how to speak respectfully even in disagreement, how to consider the wants and needs and feelings of others, whether in person or online.
You can then expect that the school will build on this positive foundation by teaching students what friendship, compassion, respect and honesty look like.
This collaboration between home and school provides the optimal opportunity for success in creating an environment in both places where students feel safe, secure and happy.
One final thought. Years ago I visited a large, racially mixed school that had paired each student with a staff or faculty member. Each adult met with his/her one or two students at least monthly for lunch, break or right after school in a public place on campus to just talk and get to know each other’s issues and challenges as a student, cafeteria worker, teacher or administrator.
The school hummed. Staff and students seemed happy, and they greeted one another and visitors with “hello” or “good morning.” It was an amazing environment.
School officials stated that problems on campus subsided nearly 70% when the program was implemented. It demonstrated the power and possibilities when people begin to be advocates and supporters for one another, rather than competitors.
The program begins at home.
Robert Frank is the executive director of the Hillside School and Learning Center in La Cañada. He holds a master’s of science degree in special education and has more than 40 years of teaching experience. His column appears on the last Thursday of each month. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ROBERT FRANK is the executive director of the Hillside School and Learning Center in La Cañada. He holds a master’s of science degree in special education and has more than 40 years of teaching experience. His column appears on the last Thursday of each month. He can be reached at email@example.com.