According to a recent Washington Post analysis*, over 4.1 million children endured a school lockdown during the 2017-2018 school year. More than 1 million of these children were in elementary school, with over 220,000 in preschool and kindergarten.
The analysis further reveals that, on a typical school day last year, at least 16 campuses somewhere in the United States went into lockdown. Finally, it found that the number of students undergoing a lockdown last school year alone eclipsing the total populations of Maine, Rhode Island, Delaware, and Vermont combined. And these are just the reported incidents.
A necessary evil, these drills are simultaneously protecting our children while also creating terror in the students they aim to protect. As a mother of two young children, I thought I had time to prepare them for how to handle a drill. I never considered that they would start so young. I was wrong.
It was a normal afternoon when I picked up my son from preschool. He climbed into the car and, as I buckled him in, I noticed he was a little quieter than normal, obviously upset and anxious about something.
“We played a game today I didn’t like,” he said as we waited at a red light. I asked more questions, and slowly, as I drove, I listened to my son, his little voice wobbling, describe a strange game they played in the classroom. The teacher turned off the lights, and he hid behind his backpack. Hide and seek? I wondered. And then all of a sudden, it hit me. He had a lockdown drill.
The more questions I asked, the more details he gave me, and I was horrified. When the lockdown drill was announced, the teacher and her assistant swiftly turned off the lights and shepherded the children into the adjoining bathroom. They shut the door and told the children to sit on the cold tile of the bathroom floor.
However, my son wasn’t having it. The room was too small, the space too tight, his fear of germs, the dark, the sudden change in routine and the overstimulation just too much for him. He became upset. So they teachers quickly removed him from the bathroom, “to help calm him,” they told me later, and placed him outside the bathroom, alone in the room, while the rest of the class, teachers included, closed the bathroom door and remained hidden. He sat underneath a window, all alone, peeking out from behind his small backpack.
I was horrified. I was angry. I was heartbroken. But most of all, I was terrified.
I had carefully vetted this school and classroom. However, all the training and education in the world won’t help your child if they are alone underneath a window, unprotected. And even a well-trained teacher and administrator won’t help if your child is screaming in a corner or unable to hide.
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So I began to research and plan. I figured out how to prepare my child and how to keep him safe. The fact of the matter is, teachers, have a protocol to follow, and when our children don’t fit within the protocol, sometimes they go on without them. What the teachers did was not right. But in some ways, they did what they thought was best for my son at that moment. And they did what they thought they had to do to protect the rest of the children in the class. However, as a parent, any option where my son is not 100 percent safe is not an option. So I did everything I could to teach my son what to do, to help him figure out how to fit into their protocol, to keep himself safe.
Here are some tips and tricks that you can use to keep your children safe too.
Talk it out:
Talk to your child about what to expect and the overall sensory experience he/she will have. For example, the teacher will turn off all the lights so the room will be dark. Everyone will have to hide in the darkroom. Sometimes people hide under desks or tables, sometimes in bathrooms or closets. Sometimes people have to hide in tight quarters and maybe touching. Everyone must stay very, very quiet.
Create a lockdown bag:
Speak to your child’s teacher about preparing an emergency bag to hang next to the light switch. Include items inside such as a weighted lap pad, a blanket, vibrating toy, fidget with no noise or lights, candy such as lollipops or other quiet food reinforcers, and a comfort item. If your child has special medical needs or medication that must be taken during a specific time, speak with the administration about how this can be handled in the event of a long lockdown.
Discuss every possibility:
Talk to your child what to do if a lockdown occurs while he/she is alone in the bathroom, running an errand or getting a drink from the water fountain. They will not be able to enter the classroom if a lockdown occurs when they are outside the classroom.
Make an appointment:
Schedule a meeting with local police officers. This ensures that your child will be comfortable and confident of exiting the room or following directions if requested by an officer.
Talk to the administration
Ask about how substitutes and paraprofessionals are trained for lockdowns. Do they receive the same training as teachers? Many substitutes are not trained for lockdown drills at all.
Teach lessons at the child’s level:
Social stories are a perfect way to teach children new skills but are especially helpful when the skills being taught are overwhelming or frightening. I created the fully illustrated children’s book I Can Be A Superhero During A Lockdown to help my son after our own upsetting lockdown experience. Written in social story format, it is perfect for children of any ability, ages four and up, and teaches children three simple skills to help decrease stress and remain safe during a lockdown: Listen to your teacher, or the adult in charge; Be very quiet; Stay very still.
We can’t prevent the terrible things that are happening in our world, but we can prepare our children to be successful. Other ideas to encourage success are to offer your child a reward for every successful lockdown drill and encourage your child’s teacher to provide you with information regarding any fears or difficulties so you can address them at home. Once I learned that my son was worried about germs from sitting on the bathroom floor during a drill, I knew to pack a change of clothes and hand sanitizer in his backpack to encourage him to sit wherever he is told.
At the end of the day, it’s all about meeting your child where they are and creating a successful experience for them to ensure their safety. As a parent, success, and safety are all we ever want for our children. Here’s wishing both for you and your child.
* Rich, S., & Cox, J.W. (2018, December 26). What if Someone was Shooting. The Washington Post. Retrieved December 27, 2018, from WashingtonPost.com
This article was featured in Issue 88 – Knowledge is Power