Sending a child to school for the first time can be a nerve-racking experience for any parent. Now, in addition to normal concerns such as bullying and separation anxiety, parents are worried about school safety. With active-shooter situations on the rise, teachers and students must regularly participate in lockdown drills. And while these drills are intended to prepare the students for an unlikely disaster, they could make some children anxious.
It’s important to know how to talk to your children about active shooter/lockdown drills. Given the delicate nature of the topic, you’ll want to discuss the issue in a way that provides an appropriate amount of information while also easing any concerns your child may have. Here are a few things to consider:
Know the school’s procedures. Not all schools handle lockdown drills the same way. It’s important to understand what takes place so you can answer your child’s questions. You may also want to ask the school for advance notice of scheduled drills. If your child is naturally hesitant about discussing frightening topics, you could monitor his or her mood and, if necessary, talk about it.
Check your reactions. Children are incredibly intuitive. Just as you would teach your child how to cross the street without inciting fear and trepidation about cars, it’s important to stay calm and rational when discussing a lockdown drill. In a society that is often hyper-focused on safety, it helps to instill in your child a healthy relationship between fear and risk. Children who are afraid to go to school because they fear a potential active shooter incident, for instance, will probably not be productive and may carry their anxieties into other areas of life. Instead, create an environment where your child is comfortable talking with you about lockdowns and other tough topics.
Be prepared to answer questions. Kids love to ask questions. When you answer, be sure to use age-appropriate language and remind your child that safety is the school’s top priority. Just as there are rules on the playground to keep children safe, there are rules during a lockdown drill. If your child presses for more information, tailor your response to his or her maturity level. Younger children do not need specifics. Simply explain that sometimes people make poor choices and that the school wants to protect the students and teachers. Always encourage your child to be a good listener and a good helper during the drills.
While no parent likes the thought of their child participating in lockdown drills, most would agree it’s best to be prepared. So stay calm, answer questions appropriately and do your best to reduce your child’s anxiety.
David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.