Mass shootings are a terrible reality. Whiles it’s painful to imagine your child being exposed to that kind of threat, parents, teachers and school administrators can and should work together to help prepare students for a potential active shooter situation. In most schools, this includes lockdown procedures, which can be scary for kids even when it’s announced ahead of time and they know it’s safe. A little at-home preparation can help. Here are some tips to initiate the conversation with your child.
- Set your tone. Thinking about an armed intruder at your child’s school is likely to stir up strong emotions. That’s why it’s important to manage your own anxiety before talking with your child about active shooter drills. Maintain a calm and reassuring attitude, be aware of your body language and keep the conversation age-appropriate. You want your kids to feel confident that the adults in their life are in charge and taking steps to protect them.
- Ask questions. Approach your child with questions as a way to determine what he already knows about active shooter drills, the level of detail you should share, and the kind of support he needs. Find out how he feels about lockdown drills. And give him plenty of opportunity to ask questions, too.
- Explain the drill and its purpose. Keep it simple for younger children in preschool and kindergarten by talking about why it’s important to practice safety at school and what they should expect during the drill. Tell them what they will do during the drill and reinforce that it’s important to listen to their teacher and follow directions. For older children who understand that lockdown procedures protect them from dangerous people, it may help to draw comparisons to tornado and fire drills. Even though it’s unlikely they’ll encounter any of these threats at school, it’s important to prepare them for different situations.
- Continue the conversation. Active shooter drills are likely to be a regular part of every school year. Similarly, talking with your child about the drills will need to be an ongoing conversation, especially because his understanding will evolve over time. Make it clear that he can always come to you with questions or just to talk about how he’s feeling.
It may be tempting to shelter your kids from everything scary and bad in the world, but it’s definitely not realistic. You can, however, help them feel safe. Keep in mind that some children will have a more difficult time with active shooter drills than others. If this is the case with your child, don’t hesitate to ask your pediatrician or a mental health professional for support. And if you have concerns about the actual drills, reach out to your child’s teacher or a school administrator.
Dr. David Lowenstein is a Columbus, Ohio-based psychologist with more than 35 years of experience. He conducts individual, family, and group therapy sessions in his German Village office and also via telehealth. Dr. Lowenstein is also available for expert forensic testimony, and for educational workshops and presentations. He is frequently called upon as an expert source for print, radio, and broadcast media. Contact Dr. Lowenstein at Lowenstein & Associates, 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.