Recently, the high school near my home had a “code red lockdown” which is every bit as scary as it sounds: a code red means that there is an immediate threat to the school and its occupants and that all people will be moved to safe areas and the interior doors will be locked. No one is to leave or enter during this time. In this case, a bomb threat had been called in to the school but other times it might be an active shooter situation. Even though these events are somewhat rare (although we all know, not rare enough and I’m certainly not downplaying the devastation and tragic outcomes of the ones that have happened) being put through a code red lockdown is scary for everyone involved. The emotional effects may take a while to get over.
The week the lockdown happened, almost every client I have at that school (and the neighboring middle school) brought it up at their sessions. They were scared, even though they’d been through it before, knew that it likely wasn’t a real threat, and they all had opinions about how it could have been handled better or differently. Sadly, this is their life now and because of my age, I can’t really relate to it in the same manner. I’ve been locked down in drills when I was teaching in the schools but I’ve never experienced the fear of an actual code red lockdown as a student or teacher. The drills were scary enough for me: that they have to go through this truly hurts my heart.
How can adults help kids through this type of repeated exposure to something frightening? The answers are different depending on age-range. With younger kids, find out what they really know about school shootings and reassure them that it really is rare. Don’t have the news on constantly – for your sake or theirs!!!! I also love the idea of explaining that there are more good people in the world than bad ones…the news just tends to always show bad things. Like Mr. Rogers says “Look for the helpers.” There are good people everywhere.
If your kids are older, ask them how they feel about the lockdown drills and the events they see on the news. Discuss what happens/happened during any actual lockdowns and what they were thinking or doing during it. Ask them if they know of any threats that have been made verbally, anonymous notes, or on social media. These threats can’t be ignored so please let them know that they should tell you or a school faculty or staff member. You can watch the news with them and see what they say – this is a good time to do more listening than talking. You’ll learn more about your child’s perspective that way.
With regard to gun ownership or usage, this is a decision that you make for your family but it should go without saying that if you have guns in the home, they should be secured and your kid should be taught gun safety at an appropriate age. If they go to a party and there is a gun there, they should leave immediately. We can’t protect ourselves from every threat in this world but we can help our children by providing reassurance, a safe place to discuss their feelings, and expectations of behavior that help remove them from a potentially dangerous situation. In the meantime, every time I hear a lot of sirens, I say a little prayer that it’s not a school situation.