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What is the best way to protect our kids from school shootings? How can we keep them emotionally safe in the face of news about kids getting killed at school and about bomb and shooting threats at schools? How can we explain to them about lockdown drills?

I remember being a child in the 1950’s when we had “duck and cover” drills to hide under our desks in case of a nuclear attack. Even at a young age, I knew that going under my desk if someone dropped a big bomb that could wipe out my whole town was not going to work! From a child’s perspective, if you are doing something that your adults are upset about and that everyone thinks is ineffective, no wonder it causes anxiety!

Today, our fears are somewhat different – but the issues are very similar. How do we prepare for the unthinkable? How do we and our children enjoy our lives in the face of the constant threat of potential violence?

The following thoughts are from the discussion we had yesterday during our Turning Problems Into Practices Coaching Conference Call. The recording is at the bottom of this post.

The field of how best to prepare for an “active shooter” emergency is rapidly evolving. Rather than making specific recommendations about what kind of “active shooter” plan is best for a given place, Kidpower recommends that parents and educators advocate for their schools to develop and implement effective safety plans for many kinds of emergencies, including this one. Instead of worrying, here are actions we can take:

1. Find out what kinds of emergency plans your school and school district have in place. Gavin de Becker, long-time Kidpower Advisor and best-selling author of The Gift of Fear and Protecting the Gift, recommends these Safety Questions for Your Child’s School.

2. Insist that your school gets professional help in assessing the risks and developing emergency plans that will work.  For school shooting emergencies, issues might include increasing the security at the perimeter of the campus or securing children and teachers in classrooms or other locations. Experts can help to make sure that the infrastructure of the school and training of the staff makes implementation effective. Lockdowns that require that children hide in a closet that is too small – or that teachers try to hide children in classrooms that cannot be locked from the inside – are worse than useless. These are the kinds of infrastructure problems that need to be identified and addressed.

One excellent resource for how to assess your school’s emergency plan and to evaluate options was this study from the National Association of School Psychologists and the National Association of School Resource Officers with input from Safe and Sound: A Sandy Hook Initiative and the ALICE Training Institute: Best Practices for Schools in Active Shooter and Other Armed Assailant Drills.

3. Train the teachers, schoolyard supervisors, and other adult leaders so that they are prepared to take charge in an emergency. Rehearse the plan without the children in order to make sure that it will actually work and that everyone understands how to assess a situation quickly and how to respond to different kinds of dangers. Many experts now recommend “options-based” training rather than automatic lockdowns.

4. Prepare children in ways that are appropriate for their ages and abilities. Most experts do not recommend lockdown drills for younger children. Whether their school has lockdown drills or not, what kids need to know is,  “If someone is acting dangerously or there is some other emergency, do what the adult in charge tells you to do quickly and quietly. If your adult is not there, run away from someone who is acting dangerously and go to a safer place.” As they get older, kids can learn and practice self-defense strategies, including running away, hiding in a secure place, and fighting to escape.

5. Stay calm and in charge during drills or actual emergencies. Remember that how adult leaders act is going to make a huge difference for their children’s physical and emotional safety. If kids believe that their adults know what to do, they are more likely to feel safer no matter what is happening. We can explain lockdown drills by saying simply, “We are going to practice how to stay safe in case someone starts to act dangerously here at school.”

6. Keep a sense of perspective and help children to do the same. Despite the news, school shootings are rare events. According to the National Association of School Psychologists, in the US only 1 in 2.5 million children has been killed by an “active shooter” at school, and only 1% of school related homicides happen because of this kind of shooting. It is important to prepare because the consequences are so horrible and because effective preparation makes this kind of attack less likely, but it is also important not to overreact or to live in fear. Remember that the most dangerous thing most of us do almost every day is to get into a car!

Being mentally prepared can help to increase your peace of mind – and also to be ready to act in an emergency. This article addresses the most common questions we hear at Kidpower:  Tragic Shootings: How Can We Prepare Ourselves and Our Loved Ones From Violent Attacks?

7. Protect kids’ emotional safety.  Threats or news of violence, or descriptions of an experience of a violent attack, can be traumatic for kids. Protect kids from the news. Avoid discussing the upsetting details of violent attacks. Just as we can have fire drills without discussing what happens when your body is burned, we can have other kinds of safety drills without going into the details of what happens when people are shot and killed. Here are three articles that many people have found to be very useful: Helping Children to Regain Their Emotional Safety After A TragedySafety Comes From Inside Ourselves: Protecting Emotional Safety After a Terrorist Attack; and What if Someone Starts Shooting Kids at My School? – A Heartbreaking Question No Child Should Ever Have to Ask.

Here is the recording of our discussion:

During our November 18, 2015 Kidpower Problems Into Practices Conference Call about school shootings and lockdown drills, we discussed the following questions:

How can we advocate with our schools to ensure that effective emergency plans are in place in case of a school shooting?

How can we talk about lockdown drills, school shootings,and other violence with children in ways that will empower them rather than leaving them feeling scared and upset?

How do we talk about these issues with very young children?

How can we address fears – our own and our children’s – about school shootings?

How can we help children regain their emotional safety after a tragedy?






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Published: November 19, 2015   |   Last Updated: November 19, 2015

Kidpower Founder and Executive Irene van der Zande is a master at teaching safety through stories and practices and at inspiring others to do the same. Her child protection and personal safety expertise has been featured by USA Today, CNN, Today Moms, the LA Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Publications include: cartoon-illustrated Kidpower Safety Comics and Kidpower Teaching Books curriculum; Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe; the Relationship Safety Skills Handbook for Teens and Adults; Earliest Teachable Moment: Personal Safety for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers; The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People, and the Amazon Best Seller Doing Right by Our Kids: Protecting Child Safety at All Levels.