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This article is downloadable as a one-page Kidpower Safety Tips Handout.

Compared with many other risks we face, mass shootings are still relatively rare. Yet, their increased frequency and visibility is causing a lot of fear and anxiety. No matter how low the risk of being in a mass shooting is, the fear itself can affect our well-being and quality of life. Protect and empower yourself, your family, and others in your care with skills and strategies that can help reduce fear and increase the chances of being safe in the unlikely event of a mass shooting:

1. WAIT! Work on making and practicing safety plans when you’re rested and calm, not overwhelmed with fear. People learn best, communicate more clearly, and make wiser choices when they feel well-rested and calm.

2. Take charge of your media consumption. Teach youth to take charge of theirs. Live-streaming or recording real- world violence can serve a purpose, such as to document abuse of power. But, watching it can also cause trauma. Hearing and reading about it a lot can build anxiety. Taking it all in does not make you or those you love any safer.

3. Emphasize prevention, de-escalation, and avoidance skills. While it is important to practice ’emergency’ skills like physical self-defense, lock-downs, and ‘stop, drop, and roll,’ most of us will never need to use them. Spend much more time practicing ‘everyday’ skills we can use all the time to help prevent trouble from growing into an emergency.

4. Practice skills for taking charge of safety ‘Everyday.’ Awareness stops most problems before they start. Leaving trouble early while acting calm and respectful supports safety. Setting, respecting, and upholding boundaries helps create healthy, safe relationships. Getting help effectively shows strong safety leadership, not weakness.

5. Talk less about danger. Be safe in your imagination. Acknowledge risk without getting stuck in stories of despair. Practice safety skills without dwelling on the disasters that could happen if the skills don’t work or if we fail to use them. When scary thoughts come up, transform them by imagining yourself taking charge and getting to safety.

6. Learn and practice the safety plan at your school/business. Participate fully in the drills – not just for shootings, but also for the more likely emergencies, like fires, earthquakes, tornadoes, or other safety risks common to your area.

7. Practice speaking up about safety to those with power to act. Adults, not kids, are responsible for ensuring physical and emotional safety in a school. Practice speaking up about safety respectfully and calmly. Practice persisting until safety problems are addressed. Avoid doing this by email; make voice connection a priority.

8. Practice overcoming the “Bystander Effect.” Fear, disbelief, failure to understand what’s actually happening, or uncertainty about what to do can stop people from taking action when they notice a problem. Even just one person taking leadership can overcome the Bystander Effect in a group. Practice yelling and giving clear directions, like “You in the black shirt, call 911!” to other bystanders. Practice persisting to get help from busy or reluctant adults.

9. Discuss and practice when/how people ‘break rules’ to be safe. We might hit or kick someone who is trying to harm us if we have no other way to escape. We might lie and say, “I’ll do whatever you want, just put the gun down” in an emergency. A kid might interrupt instead of waiting if they have a safety problem or might leave class to go get help without checking with the adult in charge if that adult is not able to give permission or is acting dangerous.

10. Practice making anonymous reports to be safe. Help kids see the benefit of talking first to an adult they trust, then making an anonymous report using that adult’s phone. Practice ways to block your number. Practice saying, “I don’t feel safe giving you my name.” Practice finding real-world help for problems in social media/gaming/online.

11. Help strengthen a positive social climate in your community. Mass attacks have been stopped in the planning stage when people shared information with authorities. Research shows that youth in schools are more likely to speak up when social climates are positive and supportive, not punitive. Positive social climates support learning, too.

12. Actively support the social-emotional health of all youth. Mass shooters are predominantly male. We have more to do to learn why, but we do know that mass shooters are not thriving, and that to thrive all youth need a sense of belonging and connection where they can express fear, insecurity, and vulnerability without shame or ridicule.

13. Strengthen adult/youth attachment. Peer friendships matter for kids, but research suggests a healthy attachment with at least one caring adult matters a lot more. Kids without many friends can thrive with just one caring adult. Kids with lots of friends but no strong adult attachment are vulnerable. Attachment with a caring adult is protective.

For more information about Kidpower’s resources for teaching these Kidpower Social Safety Skills and concepts, please visit our online Library (free community membership) and our RelationSafe™ Bookstore.

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Published: May 21, 2018   |   Last Updated: May 21, 2018

Erika Leonard manages our California center, trains and mentors instructors, and is a Kidpower Senior Program Leader.