Updated at 10:15 p.m. June 18
This time it almost hit too close to home.
It is critically important that children feel physically and emotionally safe. This is not an easy task, especially after last week's close encounter with an armed man on the grounds of Tamaques School in Westfield. I can only imagine how anxious many parents are right now. I wonder how are the children feeling and what are they thinking?
It is crucial that you have an important conversation about school safety and lockdown drills with your children as you help pack their bags for their summer adventures.
Too often the news flashes on your kids’ technology, stating: “Another shooting happening in blank city” and “School blank is in lockdown, waiting for more information.”
Our country is mourning over the senseless loss of lives in another shooting, at a school, synagogue or church, and the latest — a public municipal building. The world has changed drastically in the last six years since the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
More than 228,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since Columbine in 1999, according to The Washington Post. The wave of terror extends beyond the death toll to the 4.1 million during the 2017-18 school year who hid under desks, barricaded behind doors or squatted on a toilet seat during lockdown drills in schools throughout the country.
Millions of school children are being instructed to arm themselves with rocks, books and bats, waiting to jump on the potential shooter during school drills, not knowing if it’s a drill or the real thing until it is over.
As parents, you need to have direct conversations about how they are feeling about school safety. Get CURIOUS about how they have experienced school safety drills, known as LOCKDOWN drills, this academic year. This will help you better understand what they experience regularly at school and how they feel about it. It is likely that these emotions, such as those of fear and hopelessness, will be brought with them on their summer travels.
But I understand that you are busy, stressed and it is uncomfortable to have certain conversations.
10 Reasons NOT to Talk to Your Kids:
Don’t talk to your kids about the fact that they are feeling scared to death in school, in the movie theater, in synagogue and even at camp if:
- You don’t want to remind your child that you trust them to listen to the adults who are taking care of them.
- You don’t want your kid to share with you their experiences of school lockdown drills.
- You don’t want to clearly state that you have confidence in the program they are attending to keep them safe.
- You don’t want to illustrate that you have faith in them that if your child is in stressful or even scary situations, that they have the inner strength to endure and even thrive.
- You don’t want to demonstrate that you are a strong, calm parent not driven by anxiety who is available physically and emotionally to help their child.
- You want your child to bring their worries about feeling safe to other people – counselors and other staff.
- You don’t want to utilize this opportunity to teach your child how mindfulness techniques such as breathing exercises can help them manage their anxiety.
- You don’t want to discuss your FAMILY’s Emergency Plan. (You do have a plan – such as designating an agreed upon person who everyone in family can call in an emergency – general email to use if phones are down and even a general meeting place if needed.)
- You don’t want to reinforce your child to make conscious decisions and to trust their gut. If something doesn’t feel good or safe – trust your instincts.
- You don’t want to remind your child that, although it is important to respect another person’s privacy, there are times when it is necessary to break confidences and share your concern with the adults in charge.
Remember, your goal isn’t to raise your child’s anxiety but to create a space for them to talk to you about anything. Don’t freak out if they share frightening stories of their experiences of the emergency school drills. Remind them that they are safe, that millions of kids go to school, camps, summer programs and are safe.
Make a commitment that you will educate yourself about the various lockdown drills and learn about the school's protocols this summer.
If your child expresses anxiety or fear, remember this is to be expected in today’s climate. Anxiety isn’t a negative thing by itself – it is what one does with their experience of anxiety. Anxiety is the result of an overactive mind, telling yourself scary stories. Encourage your child to develop a mindful practice of using deep breathing and other self-soothing skills to lessen or eliminate anxiety.
To learn more about how to talk to your child in this climate of gun violence please read “LOCKDOWN: Talking To Your Kids About School Violence.” My conversation starters will help you and your child have meaningful conversations.
Nancy Kislin, LCSW, Marriage and Family Therapist, child and adolescent psychotherapist and author of “LOCKDOWN: Talking To Your Kids About School Violence,” maintains a private psychotherapy practice in Chatham, New Jersey. Go to Lockdownbook.com to learn more.