For the first time ever, my son approached me and said he was afraid to go to school. We are having a hard time settling back down after the bomb threat that evacuated the middle school. What can we do?
AF and AA
Dear AF and AA,
What an important and timely question. Yours was not the only Island Middle School family to be afraid. Your son was a victim here and it will take time for his sense of safety to return. Remind him that the adults at school are doing what is necessary to keep him safe.
The adults in charge are also determining a response that will allow for an equilibrium to be reestablished in the greater community.
The use of “we” in your question is appropriate because the impact of the middle school evacuation was community-wide. Threats toward our children are scary. It is very easy for us as parents to react strongly and to want to eliminate the cause of the distress. To answer this question a bit further, I’d like to use a family metaphor because in many ways all Island children are our collective children.
When a family member engages in a behavior that is reckless, thoughtless, or worse, the “family community” can also be impacted.
How would a family respond if one of its members really crossed a line? First, it would be important that the impact of the behavior was not minimized. With the behavior of a child, it is the parent’s responsibility to determine natural and meaningful consequences.
As parents we have to then get over the urge to berate or punish (or banish) the child and rather, think about how to work with him or her to help them understand the severity of their behavior and how to deal effectively with consequences.
Much like parents, schools need to intervene in a way that honors both the “family” of parents and students in the district while at the same time enforces reasonable consequences for the individual “child.”
The goal needs to be helping the family deal with the effects of the bad behavior in addition to forgiving the child as he or she learns from their mistake and makes amends. And though this process may seem slow or not at all visible to the outside eye, a great deal of effort is going into this.
A family’s and community’s strength comes in part from its resilience — the ability to get back up when faced with an adverse situation and to continue on toward shared goals and commitments.
Right now the community, or the larger “family” in this metaphor, needs to continue toward its greater shared goal of educating all of its children, even one who temporarily steps way out of line. The Island has many strengths. This challenge will resolve effectively with the community’s resilience intact.
Cindy Goodwin is the director of Mercer Island Youth and Family Services. The advice offered by YFS is intended for informational purposes only and to guide you in seeking further resources if needed. The answers to questions are not intended to replace or substitute for any professional, psychological, financial, medical, legal or other professional advice. If you have a question you would like to ask Cindy to answer in this column, or if you need additional professional resources, email firstname.lastname@example.org.