This article was adapted from the podcast episode Navigating Lockdowns from a Student and Parent Perspective with Dr. Becky Bailey, parent Nicole Mercer, and high school student Hannah Mercer. Read more about how to manage lockdowns in Dr. Becky Bailey’s article, Navigating Lockdowns: How to Reduce Anxiety and Restore Safety

As parents went back-to-school shopping this August, many encountered a new and terrifying sight: bulletproof backpacks. Sending children off to school in a world where a bulletproof backpack might be a wise precaution is chilling for any parent.

So, too are the news stories of school violence, including mass shootings. As you deal with your own feelings about the situation, you’re also tasked with explaining these events to your child. You have the added challenge of creating a sense of safety for children who sometimes feel unsafe at school, whether these feelings stem from lockdown drills or real lockdown scenarios.

Mom and Certified Instructor Nicole Mercer experienced two real lockdowns during her daughter Hannah’s first semester of high school. On one occasion, an individual was in the school parking lot with a gun. The situation was quickly resolved, but it was naturally a jarring experience for both Nicole and Hannah.

Nicole says, “My immediate reaction was: What do we do? Will she be safe? Are there police on scene? There was nowhere to get these answers. Waiting to hear was the most frightening part of the experience, but I started breathing and trying to calm myself so I could be helpful to Hannah.”

As a parent, you can help your children by remaining as calm as possible and attuning with their feelings and social emotional health. Here are five key steps you can take to support your children in navigating lockdowns.

#1 Get informed about the school’s policies and procedures.

In frightening situations, your child needs calm verbal and nonverbal communication from you. Your state dictates their state. Of course, this can be extremely difficult when you’re worried about the safety of your child.

Inform yourself about the school’s policies and procedures so that you have some idea of what will happen during drills and active situations. This reduces panic and allows you to communicate with your child from a place of confidence. 

Trust that those in charge have a plan, and your child will follow your lead. If you do hear of a situation at your child’s school, take a moment to calm yourself. Take deep breaths and remind yourself of the plan that’s in place. Calming yourself first will allow you to send helpful, reassuring communication to your child.

#2 Make sure you’re set up for communication from your child’s school.

To stay informed, you’ll need to be on the school’s listserv or signed up for any other type of communication the school sends. Some schools use apps like Remind to send alerts to parents in emergency situations.

If you’re unsure, talk to your child’s teacher or an administrator. Ask how they communicate with parents in case of emergency, and be sure you’re set up to receive crucial information.

#3 Create space for your kids to talk to you about the experience.

The day of a lockdown or active situation, create space for your child to talk about the experience and process it.

If they have a question that you can’t answer, let them know that you will get the answer for them. Reiterate that the adults at their school have a plan for when these things happen, and that you trust the adults in charge.
Navigating Lockdowns

Free Printable: Download the Guide to Navigating Lockdowns for reminders on how to establish safety and reduce anxiety before, during and after lockdown drills.

#4 Acknowledge their feelings.

Listen to your child and acknowledge their feelings. As a parent, your instinct is to rescue and reassure. If your child expresses anxiety after a lockdown drill, you might want to say, “Don’t worry. That will never happen here!”

Instead, express empathy with a statement like, “Yes. That must have felt scary.” It’s important to avoid negating your child’s feelings so they can process them.

#5 Connect.

Set aside time that day for conscious connection. Include eye contact, touch, presence, and playfulness if your child seems up for it. I Love You Rituals are a great way to share meaningful moments of connection.

Hugs, snuggles, laughing together, or enjoying shared activities like cooking dinner or going for a walk are also helpful ways to connect.

It feels like a scary time to be a parent or a student, but there are steps you can take to ease your child’s anxiety. Learn about policies and procedures so you can communicate confidently before, during and after lockdowns or active situations. On the day of the event, create extra time for your child to discuss feelings and connect with you. As a parent, you were their very first Safe Place, and you still are today.