This is a heavy topic for today yet a friend of mine asked me to talk on this after one such drill at her child’s school. And unfortunately, it is a topic that parents must address.
Remember the times of tornado drills (of course, that depends on where you grew up), taking cover under your desk or in the hall, sitting cross-legged, bent forward, with your arms protecting your head…such a pain. Yet in today’s world, that is not all that children prepare for. Children now have lockdown drills to prepare for a possible school shooting or other such threat. An emotional challenge of these drills is that children are not preparing for a natural disaster beyond control such as a fire or tornado. Rather they are preparing for the terrorist acts perpetrated by another human being, possibly even a classmate. So how do you talk with your children about these drills?
- Remain calm: Lockdown drills can trigger fear and anxiety in parents, rightly so. Yet, it is important to not let this show to your child. Children are quite good at picking up on emotions and nonverbal cues. If they view adults, such as yourself or teachers, as anxious then they will believe that they should be anxious as well. So talk with your child in a calm and assured manner.
- Listen more than you talk: Ask your child how they felt, what the experience was like for them, what concerns they may have. By listening to your child, rather than talking to them, and asking open-ended questions you will get a better sense of their thoughts, feelings, and questions. Take your cues from your child. A lockdown drill may not be as concerning to them as it is to you.
- Discuss how practice helps keep us safe: Help your child identify all the ways we practice safety such as fire drills, looking both ways before crossing the street, holding the hand of an adult in a crowded place. Discuss that we practice so that we know exactly what to do in various situations, while emphasizing that the likelihood of something happening is quite small.
- Use age appropriate language: Children are concrete thinkers and don’t understand abstract concepts or euphemisms. Discuss with them that sometimes people get really angry and decide to hurt others. Talk with them about not hurting others and of wanting everyone to be safe.
- Encourage telling an adult: Talk with your child about the importance, no matter what, of telling an adult if they hear anyone (or for older children, see anything on social media) talking about hurting themselves or others. This helps build confidence that we can all contribute to keeping each other safe.
On a more positive note, according to the Center for Disease Control less than 1% of all homicides among school-aged children in the US happen on school grounds. Although even one such homicide is unacceptable, most students will never experience such an event. Nonetheless, all children must be prepared and there are certain anniversary days that you will hug your child a little tighter before you send them to school.