Suicide is an increasingly critical issue facing students today. Sandy Hook Promise (SandyHookPromise.org) shares that since 2007, the national number of hospital visits for suicidal thoughts and attempts has nearly doubled – from 580,000 to 1.2 million among children ages 5-18. Data from the 2017 Youth Behavior Survey show consistent numbers over the past 20 years for those who have thoughts about, attempted and completed suicide even with all the prevention activities happening. Prevention efforts with earlier ages is key! Many of these self-harm incidents are related to a young person being socially isolated with few positive healthy relationships in their life. Due to COVID-19, social isolation has increased drastically, therefore additional emphasis needs to be directed at connecting ALL students to positive peer relationships and safe virtual communication.
Best Practices and Implications for Professional Practice
Maintaining a safe environment is part of any school’s mission. In the early years, it is essential to provide a safe and caring environment for students whether that is virtual or in-person.
Feeling safe allows the brain to move out of the freeze, fight, flight response and feeling cared for allows regulation of the emotional systems. Various promotion and prevention efforts can then support maintaining that environment, such as making sure virtual environments do not allow cyber-bullying and in-person environments focus on the expectation of being kind to one another.
Best practices for PreK-4ᵗʰ grade include the following:
• Staff education and resources for the promotion of mental health and wellness.
• Parent education and resources for child and adolescent behavioral health risk and protective factors.
• Student education and resources incorporating social, emotional, mental health and wellness education in school curricula.
• Positive relationships are built with teacher and between students.
• Develop a sense of emotional self-control and social competence within students.
• Direct instruction of how to address bullying both in-person and online.
• In Illinois, AnnMarie’s Law (Public Act 99-0443) requires all districts to adopt a suicide prevention policy and procedures. ISBE and stakeholders adopted Illinois Association of School Board’s PRESS policy 7:290, Suicide and Depression Awareness and Prevention, pursuant to 105 ILCS 5/2-3.163, amended by P.A. 99-443 as a model policy. Any school or district who requests a copy will receive it free, regardless of membership status.
To request a copy of the model youth suicide awareness and prevention policy, please email the Illinois Association of School Boards with the subject line of Suicide Awareness & Prevention Policy Request. IASB wishes to thank and acknowledge the IASB PRESS Advisory Board who reviewed the sample policy. For more information, please visit the Illinois Association of School Boards Suicide and Depression Awareness and Prevention Policy page. ISBE and the stakeholder group and others created a Illinois Youth Suicide Prevention Toolkit. This Toolkit is organized into three Modules: 1) Prevention, 2) Intervention, and 3) Postvention.
Instructional practices can include ways to:
• Provide a safe, positive, and welcoming school and classroom environment.
• Review Being Kind, Telling vs Tattling and Trusted Adult instructional strategies.
• Understand what feelings are (definitions).
• Understand/recognize and express their own feelings and the feelings of others.
• Teach how to ask for help for themselves and others.
• Make sure all students are connected to a trusting adult.
• Make sure all students have safe and positive peer connections.
Safe2Help Illinois Website Resources:
• Kids Resources Videos:
o Building Self Confidence
o Tattling vs Telling
o Caring and Sharing
o Stop Bullying
o Staying Safe
• National Child Traumatic Stress Network Use the National Child Traumatic Stress
Network’s (NCTSN) “Creating, Supporting and Sustaining Trauma-Informed Schools: A System
Framework,” to consider how schools can adapt or transform their practices by using a
trauma-informed approach to help children feel safe, supported, and ready to learn. It provides
trauma-informed school strategies during COVID-19.
• Isolated Students May Struggle to Stay Mentally Healthy Teachers can build strong relationships
with and between students to help them get through this very challenging time.
Safe2Help Illinois Toolkit 27
• Illinois Youth Suicide Prevention Toolkit This toolkit is an ISBE resources for Administrators,
Counselors, Teachers, and Staff.
• Preventing Youth Suicide: Tips for Parents and Educators Parents, teachers, and friends are in a
key position to pick up on warning signs and get help. Most important is to never take these
warning signs lightly or promise to keep them secret. When all adults and students in the school
community are committed to making suicide prevention a priority-and are empowered to take the
correct actions- youth can be helped before they engage in behavior with irreversible consequences.
• ISBE Bullying Prevention Resources
• Cyberbullying: What Teachers and Schools Can Do A teacher can be a powerful force in promoting a
climate of respect. Education and being on the lookout for signs that cyberbullying is taking
place, will help a teacher be the trusted adult a student turns to for help.
• Illinois Attorney General’s Internet Safety Website This webpage helps educators prepare
students by fulfilling requirements under the Illinois School Code for annual, age-appropriate
internet safety instruction to students in grades 3-12 (105 ILCS 5/27-
13.3. This page includes suggestions.
Sample Classroom Strategies
IL SEL Standards:
• Goal 1: Develop self-awareness and self-management skills to achieve school and life
• Goal 2: Use social-awareness and interpersonal skills to establish and maintain positive
• Goal 3: Demonstrate decision-making skills and responsible behaviors in personal, school, and
These activities can be used to address the Illinois SEL Standards.
a. Develop and maintain a safe and supportive (bully-free) environment in the classroom and school
b. Encourage children to engage in healthy, cooperative interactions, and discourage bullying
behaviors intended to hurt and exclude targeted classmates.
Safe2Help Illinois Toolkit
c. Talk with young children about bullying. Dealing with bullying directly and openly lets
everyone know that bullying is an important concern, that it will not be tolerated, and that
everyone needs to work together to stop and prevent it.
d. Engage children in activities to develop the social skills they need to help stop and prevent
bullying, including being kind, empathetic, assertive, and problem- solving.
e. Use literature to highlight cooperation, kindness, and friendship. Discuss characters’ feelings
when they are on the receiving end of someone being mean to them.
f. Take advantage of teachable moments and intervene immediately and effectively whenever children
engage in pre-bullying and bullying behaviors. Intervention is most effective when it includes all
children: children who bully, children who are victims, and children who are bystanders to
g. Engage parents in bullying prevention initiatives by helping them talk to their children about
bullying and teaching their children social skills for preventing bullying.
a. See Pre-K-Kindergarten Activities and adjust for grade level skills
b. Discuss stories being read in class and identify various perspectives of the characters.
c. Role play scenarios:
o How to Make New Friends
o How to respond to someone bullying you
o How to respond to someone bullying someone else
d. Develop a T-Chart of What Is and What Is Not considered bullying.
a. See Pre-K-2 Activities (above) and adjust for grade level competencies.
b. Have an Anti-Bullying (Cyber or In-Person) poster contest.
c. Implement inclusionary programs such as Sandy Hook’s Start with Hello to reduce social
d. Implement conflict resolution programs such as Peer Mediators to allow student engagement and
involvement in developing norms of behavior and behavioral responses.
e. Write a classroom newsletter highlighting Acts of Kindness seen throughout the school or online.