“What if Someone Starts Shooting Kids at My School?”…

Last Saturday, I got a note from a mother who wrote, “My six-year-old daughter just asked me, ‘What if someone starts shooting kids at my school? What should I do? It breaks my heart that my child even has to think about something this horrible! What can I possibly say or do that will help her?”

Countless parents and teachers are now having to answer frightening questions like this from their children.

I wrote to this mother, “First of all, in a very reassuring and matter-of-fact voice, tell your daughter, ‘That’s a very scary idea. I know you might be hearing a lot about this lately, but it almost never happens!’”

This answer is a good start but it is not enough. Because it does happen. Shootings happen more often in neighborhoods that are struggling with violence. But kids and their adults get killed even in peaceful little communities like Newtown, Connecticut and Aurora, Colorado. As adults, we are acutely aware that, if it can happen there, it can happen anywhere.

So I recommended that this mother tell her little girl what she most needs to know, in a very warm voice, being careful not to sound or look upset herself, and say, “Lots of people are working hard to make sure that this kind of problem doesn’t happen here. I will do everything in my power to keep you safe!”

Because kids need to know what to do without having to think about the scary details of what this might mean, I recommended that this mother explain, “If someone is acting dangerously, the safest thing to do is to get away from that person and to get to safety where there are grownups who can help you. If your teachers tell you what to do, you follow their directions, quickly and quietly. If someone is being dangerous and you don’t know what to do, you run away from that person and get to safety. This plan will keep you safe most of the time, even if someone is acting dangerously.”

Children take their cues from adults. If we act calm and in control, they are likely to follow our lead. In London during the air raids, people were crowded into shelters while bombs were falling. Studies showed that kids in shelters where the air raid wardens acted terrified became traumatized themselves. Kid in shelters where the air raid wardens led everyone in singing and cheering when they could hear their pilots fighting back were far less likely to show signs of trauma. The kids were in just as much physical danger in both situations. But they had far less emotional damage when their adult leaders acted hopeful and powerful instead of helpless and in despair.

Acting out what to do for different kinds of emergencies can help to prepare children and adults alike to take quick action if they need to. Just like fire drills, if a dangerous person safety drill is done in a calm and matter-of-fact way, this can help to reduce anxiety. In our Kidpower workshops, we coach children to be successful in practicing how to handle different kinds of safety problems, depending on what issues these families, schools, and youth organizations are dealing with at that time.

In one first grade classroom after a highly publicized school shooting, the children’s anxiety about not knowing what to do was so high that I decided to lead a practice for them right away. I sent the teachers and parents out of the two doors of the classroom to be “Safety” for the kids to go to outside. Then I said, “Pretend that I am starting to act dangerously. Stand up, go quickly outside, and ask your grownups for help.” (We don’t want to put scary pictures in kids’ minds that are not already there, so I stood there calmly, not acting scary but just asking the children to imagine that I was about to do something unsafe).

Immediately, 30 children streamed out of the room and into their arms of their parents and teachers, who stood waiting and said earnestly, “I will help you!” And then, everyone then came back inside, sat down feeling much calmer, and we went on with our workshop!

But what about today – what are the best steps we can take right now, when anxiety is at its peak to help our kids through this. First of all, we need to take action to protect them from emotional trauma. Here are four recommendations from The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults:

  1. Shield younger children as best we can. Turn off the news. Protect them from overhearing ourselves and other adults talking about this.
  2. Give kids support for their feelings without burdening them with ours. Listen rather than talk. Think carefully before taking children to memorials or vigils where adults are actively grieving.
  3. Answer kid’s questions in a reassuring, truthful, age-appropriate way. Ask them what they have heard and if they have any questions. Only give them the information they really need to hear. If kids are feeling bad about a tragedy, give them positive actions they can take to help make the world a better place.
  4. Give children and teens extra attention and love. Do fun things together. Watch for signs of stress. Ask calmly, “Is there anything you have been wondering or worrying about that you haven’t told me?” Get professional help if a child continues to feel very anxious.

Our new article, Advice for Parents About Newtown Tragedy, provides more information about how to protect children as well as access to other free resources on our www.kidpower.org website.

As caring adults, we all need to work together to find ways to make our schools safer and prepare our teachers in the event of sudden violence. While the larger social issues that can lead to this kind of violence are being discussed, we adults need to make plans to make our schools safer places right now. A number of experts have pointed out that we have invested a lot of money over the years to make our schools safe from fire, with flame-proof building materials, fire alarms, and sprinkler systems. And the result is that no one has died in a fire in a school in recent years.

We need to make plans to make it harder for a dangerous person to get into a school and easier for adults to protect kids just in case it still happens. There needs to be a quick warning system that all adults know how to use. Classrooms need windows and doors that teachers can quickly lock and cover.

Effective plans will be realistic and will empower adults with training so they can make quick decisions by thinking problems through ahead of time. In an active shooting emergency, the safest plan depends on where the attack is coming from, where the kids are at that moment, and the set-up of the school. Sometimes the safest answer is to get into the room, lock the doors, close the windows, crouch down, and hide. Sometimes the safest plan is to run away and get to a place away from the person shooting.

We need to keep our perspective and make rational plans rather than react out of panic. The reality is that life is not risk free. The challenge is to find the right balance between security and living our lives. Our job as caring adults is to prepare for potential dangers as best we can, live our lives as joyfully as possible, and teach our children to do the same!

Child Health & Safety News Roundup: 12-10-2012 to 12-16-2012

Welcome to Pediatric Safety’s weekly “Child Health & Safety News Roundup”- a recap of the past week’s child health and safety news headlines from around the world.

Each day we use Twitter to communicate relevant and timely health and safety information to the parents, medical professionals and other caregivers who follow us. Occasionally we may miss something, but we think overall we’re doing a pretty good job of keeping you informed. But for our friends and colleagues who are not on Twitter (or who are but may have missed something), we offer you a recap of the past week’s top 10 news-worthy events.

PedSafe Headline of the Week:

Safe Holiday Tech Gadgets – 5 Things Every Parent Should Do:  Fantastic article on how to keep your child’s high-tech holidays safe   http://ow.ly/g1E8r

8 Amazing Achievements From My Special Needs Child’s 8th Year

As the year draws to a close it’s a great time to appreciate the achievements your child has accomplished during the past twelve months, no matter how small they may seem to others. It’s also a good time to regroup and look to the future – break a large goal into smaller steps and praise each step (or stumble) along the way.

8 amazing achievements from my special needs child’s 8th year of life:

  1. She is finally sleeping through the night. Not every night, and not even most nights, but once or twice a week I am actually able to get a full night of rest…unless one of her brothers has an issue, or an illness, or a nightmare….meanwhile, I need to shop for some extra strength under eye concealer.
  2. For the first time, she read me a book. And she even read the actual words that were on the page!
  3. She can “get air” – she can jump and get both feet off the ground.  This means she can now skip and play jump rope. It’s such a small thing to most other little girls, yet she worked long and hard to get there.
  4. She knows her name, address and my cell phone number. She even knows how to use our house phone to call out, as I discovered when I checked my voice mail!
  5. She now gets most of her nutrition from actual food, and only some of it from non-toxic items like erasers and moldable dough.
  6. She can pick out her own clothes and get dressed by  herself. Not that she wants to, or that she does it regularly, but she has the ability.
  7. She sat still for an entire dental visit and even allowed them to polish her teeth – HUGE! I remember a therapist working with her as an infant, trying to teach me how to desensitize her mouth so she could feed from a bottle and avoid a feeding tube.
  8. She is usually the one with the doctor’s appointments, scrapes and boo-boos but the other day when her brother got hurt at school she went to the office with him, sat next to him and held his hand.

I’m A Mom And I’m Pissed Off…(About Child Safety)

I’m a mom and I’m pissed off. Not a bit concerned. Not even angry. I’m pissed off as in, ‘I have a flame thrower and I’m not afraid to use it’ pissed off. Why? Because child safety is about as big a mom issue as you can get, and yet children keep drowning and no one is talking about it. We all know ‘stop, drop and roll’, but did you know that drowning kills more children in the U.S. every year than fire and gun accidents combined? If that didn’t get your attention, how about drowning kills as many 1-4 year olds as fire, transportation accidents and accidental suffocation/strangulation combined. When it comes to how to keep children safe, if we don’t start talking about water safety, we simply aren’t keeping our children safe.

It will take you two minutes to read this blog. It only takes two minutes to drown, two inches of water to drown, and in that time two children will drown, because one child drowns every minute. IF we had accurate statistics (and don’t get me started on that), I could state without qualifiers that drowning is as big a killer of children as malaria, one of the ‘top three’ killers according to the World Health Organization (WHO). But noooo, 59% of WHO members don’t even report drowning deaths. As a mom, can you imagine your child’s life being considered so insignificant that it doesn’t even count? That pisses me off.

Don’t worry though, I have enough statistics to (hopefully) make you as pissed off as I am.

  • Children under 5 have the highest drowning mortality rates worldwide *
  • Drowning is responsible for killing more children ages 1-4 in the U.S. than any other cause except birth defects. Two is the most dangerous year.
  • For every child that drowns in the U.S., another five almost drown and more than 50% of those children require further care. Permanent brain damage starts to occur within one minute.

Drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death for children ages 1-14 in virtually every high-income country, but it is truly a global epidemic and a global mom issue.

  • 96% of drowning deaths occur in low and middle-income countries.
  • Most children drown before age 4. 2 is the most dangerous year.
  • In Asia, where 2/3 of the world’s children live, drowning is responsible for almost one out of every five deaths from all causes for children ages 1-18.

As for the total number of children who drown every year? Officially it’s around 409,000, but we know that 59% of WHO countries don’t capture drowning deaths, so most experts estimate the number is at least double or triple that.

The great news? Drowning is preventable.

So what can you do?

First and foremost, teach your child about water safety. The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents to begin swimming lessons for kids as young as one. But don’t just stop at swim lessons, talk to them about water safety at all ages. Make it positive, repetitive and age-appropriate. You don’t want to scare them, you want to teach them, just like you teach your children to wash their hands and cross the street safely. SafeKids has some great advice.

Second, make your environment safe. The CDC has some great tips.

Third, get pissed off. Let’s make this a mom issue, because keeping children safe is what we do. If I’ve convinced you, just drop me a note at rebecca@rebeccawearrobinson.com or leave a comment. Let’s start talking about it.

Here’s some of the sites where I got my stats if you want to read more: CDC SwimSafe.org and WHO Fact Sheet

* (except in Canada and New Zealand where it’s adult males)

Make Your Home Healthy for Winter

With all the time spent inside during the winter, it pays to make your home a healthy sanctuary. All it takes is a handful of small changes to help protect yourself and your family against viruses and toxins, as well as boost immunity and well-being, says Dr. Frank Lipman, director of the Eleven-Eleven Wellness Center in New York City. Here’s how:

1. Winter Worry: Indoor Air Pollution

Smart solution: Houseplants

Indoor air pollution is a bigger worry in winter months because very little fresh air is coming in – meaning that chemicals released by everything from cleaning products to dry cleaning bags stay inside your home. “Plus, families are more likely to use fireplaces and candles, which both release pollutants into the air,” says Dr. Philip Landrigan, director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. When your immune system is distracted by these toxins, it’s less likely to fend off cold and flu viruses that come your way. The good news is: “Just one small plant can help remove pollution from 100 square feet of space,” according to Dr. Lipman. Spider plants, English ivy and Boston ferns are some of the best air-filtering houseplants.

2. Winter Worry: Musty Smells

Smart solution: Oranges

Without fresh air circulating in your house, you may be tempted to buy an air freshener or spray a deodorizer. “But they can emit harmful chemicals called particulates,” warns Dr. Landrigan. Give your house a pleasant citrusy scent by baking orange peels at 300 F for about 15 to 20 minutes, then cracking open the oven door to let the aroma spread throughout the house.

3. Winter Worry: Bacteria and Viruses

Smart solution: Slippers

You know it’s important to wash your hands. But for another source of germs, just look down….to your feet! A University of Arizona study found nine species of bacteria on people’s shoes, which can easily transfer them to tile floors and carpeting. What’s more, boot and shoe soles can track chemicals (like those from road de-icers) into your house as well! To keep your home healthy, keep a pair of slippers in a basket by the front door for each family member. Not only will they be comfier, but your house will be a lot easier to keep clean too.

4. Winter Worry: Dry Air

Smart solution: Humidifiers

Low humidity in your home can dry out nasal passages, causing cracks. Any germs and viruses that do get into your house can get stuck in the cracks, making transmission much more likely, according to research at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. A humidifier can help, so it’s smart to set humidifiers up for the entire sneezin’ season rather than waiting until you get a cold.  Just keep in mind that you must empty the humidifier of water daily and dry it out before refilling, as well as do a more thorough cleaning every three days so it doesn’t spread mold or bacteria.

5. Winter Worry: Carbon Monoxide

Smart solution: Carbon monoxide detectors

This colorless, odorless gas given off by furnaces, propane stoves and portable generators sends 15,000 Americans to the emergency room every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, the CDC notes that the most accidental carbon monoxide poisonings occur in January. So if you haven’t already, install a carbon monoxide detector on each floor of your home. Be sure to include the basement, because that’s where most heating systems are and a problem can be detected there first. However, don’t place it within 15 feet of a heating system or gas-burning appliance because it may emit a small amount of carbon-monoxide on startup. And just as with your smoke detector, be sure to change the batteries every six months, suggests Landrigan.

6. Winter Worry: The Blues

Smart solution: New Lightbulbs

Lack of sunlight can trigger seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression that tends to occur in winter. Your body’s levels of melatonin, a hormone produced during darkness, may increase, causing such symptoms of depression as sleep problems, lethargy and anxiety. Fortunately, there’s an easy preventive measure you can take for that: replace your regular bulbs (or at least those in rooms where you spend a lot of time) with full-spectrum ones that mimic natural sunlight, suggests Lipman. You can pick them up at most hardware stores.

Child Health & Safety News Roundup: 12-03-2012 to 12-09-2012

Welcome to Pediatric Safety’s weekly “Child Health & Safety News Roundup”- a recap of the past week’s child health and safety news headlines from around the world.

Each day we use Twitter to communicate relevant and timely health and safety information to the parents, medical professionals and other caregivers who follow us. Occasionally we may miss something, but we think overall we’re doing a pretty good job of keeping you informed. But for our friends and colleagues who are not on Twitter (or who are but may have missed something), we offer you a recap of the past week’s top 10 news-worthy events.

PedSafe Headline of the Week:

Your Day-by-day Flu Guide – help your family survive this seasonal rite of passage  http://t.co/fLRi4mms