How to Help Kids (and You) Make Sense of School Lockdown Drills

By law, every school in Washington needs to be prepared. But what do you say when your child is practicing for something unthinkable?
As published on Seattletimes.com

By Jillian O'Connor
Seattle Times news producer

The notices come home from school a couple of times a year: Lockdown drill. Tomorrow morning. Talk to your child.

But your baby and all the other small kids in the classroom will be rehearsing for...what? The possibility that an active shooter will be roaming the school? How is this OK?

How will you help them practice for this? What can you say? It’s not like you’ll tell a first-grader about the Newtown shootings and then be done with the issue. How can you help a grade-schooler make sense of the need to protect against this kind of evil?

Start by telling them the truth, within limits, says one expert.

"When I’m working with parents, I encourage them never to lie to their kids," said Carolyn Logsdon, a psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker at Pacific Medical Centers Northgate. "But in general, don’t tell, them, well, OK, this will never happen or everything is going to be OK, because you really don’t know that."

"But what you can do is tell them, OK, we have these drills at school, and you want to gear it to the child’s age and developmental level."

For example: "Sometimes bad people will do bad things, and if something like that happened in your school, the teachers at the school are going to do their best to keep you safe, and part of keeping you safe is to practice these drills."

Tell them that the teacher’s job is to keep them safe by ushering them out of sight from the hallway, said Logsdon, and point out the comforting aspects of the experience, stressing that the child won’t be alone, but with classmates and the teacher when they all move to another part of the locked room. "You don’t want to overly concern them, but you also want to let them know the purpose of this is to keep you safe. You do what your teacher tells you to do."

Another point to remember is that often grownups are putting their own spin on the situation. "A lot of time it’s the adults who are freaked out," said Logsdon, noting that kids are often pretty relaxed about the drills.

"Most kids, especially young ones, they’re just going to accept what’s happening to them because they already know they don’t have much control over their environment or lives or anything."

"Kids are very accepting as long as the adults around don’t freak out."

Carolyn D. Logsdon, PhD, LICSW

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