How to Help Your Students Cope With Safety Threats in the Community or World

A teacher at the front of their classroom holding papers and a pencil looking at a student who is speaking

When there are nationwide or global warnings about the potential for violence, it affects all of us. Beyond the practical matter of following the advice of experts—local police, school and campus safety professionals, and administrators—there is another layer of safeguarding we all need: paying attention to—and getting support for—the understandable emotions that can come up at these times. 

We are sharing these tips to help you support your students through any stress or anxiety they may be feeling. But this is advice anyone can use, so we hope you will follow any of these tips that could help you feel calmer and safer in tough times. 

Watch for Signs of Stress and Anxiety 

See if any of your students:

  • Appear to be having a hard time concentrating
  • Show up to class late or leave early
  • Seem distracted or distressed
  • Behave in ways that are not typical for them, such as being unusually quiet or acting out

Check In and Connect With Them

One of the most impactful ways you can protect your students’ mental health is simple: check in, make a connection, and show concern. Connecting can be as simple as asking, “How are you? I’ve noticed you seem to be having a hard time focusing,” or offering to listen or hold space for them without the pressure to respond. If they opt to disclose something about the stress they are experiencing, you could offer the tips below.

Encourage Them to Stay Away From Stressful Content

Gathering information to help your students make choices about their safety is wise, and it should come from the experts: local police, caregivers, and trusted authorities, including school and campus safety professionals. 

Suggest that they avoid constant exposure to the news with these tips: 

  • Temporarily delete or pause notifications from apps that may contain disturbing content without reliable information.
  • Block harmful content. 
  • Temporarily restrict, mute, or unfollow friends who are sharing stressful content. 

If screens help your students take a break from their worries, suggest choosing apps that make them feel connected to others or that offer uplifting or peaceful content.

You can also share these seven tips for protecting your mental health when using social media

Encourage Them to Ground Themselves

Ways to do it:

  • Use your senses and practice mindfulness: 
    • Notice things you can see, hear, smell, and feel: “I see my classmates taking notes; I hear the traffic through the open window; I smell the lotion on my hands; I feel the fabric of my jeans.”
    • Take a warm bath or shower and pay attention to how the water feels, or hold a cup of warm tea in your hands and drink it slowly in a favorite spot.
  • Physical movement: Dance to your favorite playlist or do a few stretches to release the tension in your body. 
  • Create a playlist of songs or sounds that help you relax and feel safe.
  • Share simple breathing exercises with them. 

Looking for more ways to get centered? Check out JED’s extensive self-care video library

Help Students Recognize When They Need More Help

Affirm that anxiety and fear in moments like this are expected, but if it’s taking up considerable energy and space for your students, affecting them physically, or getting in the way of schoolwork, it may be helpful for them to talk to a professional who can listen to their concerns and offer additional coping skills and treatment if needed. As a general rule, it may be helpful to consider a referral if they report thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that:

  • Feel too intense or overwhelming
  • Last longer than two weeks
  • Get worse over time

Refer students to this guide to finding affordable mental health care

If You Feel They Need Immediate Help: 

  • Refer them to a school or campus counselor
  • Let them know they can call or text 988 or text HOME to 741-741 to have a confidential conversation with a trained mental health counselor at any time of day. 
  • Call 911 if there is immediate danger of harm or a medical emergency.

For more tips for supporting your students’ mental health, check out JED’s guides for educators:

High School Educator Guide for Supporting Students

Faculty Guide for Supporting Student Mental Health

The Coaches’ Guide to Supporting High School Athlete Mental Health