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Illustration: Lauren Rebbeck

My Kids Are Fearful of Active Shooter Drills

Active shooter drills have become commonplace in schools. But what do you do if your child starts expressing fears about going to school? Our expert weighs in.

Since the start of the school year, my kids’ school has been holding active shooter drills. I hate that this is the new norm, but as an adult, I understand the necessity. Recently, my two youngest started expressing fears about going to school. How do I help them understand the need for these drills, while still making them feel safe going to school?

Dr. Katie Godfrey, licensed marriage and family therapist, child and family team coordinator at The Catalyst Center, shares the following tips for parents:

Sadly, active shooter drills appear to be commonplace in our schools today and as a result, some children feel they are not safe at school. It’s important that parents know how to discuss safety with their children in a way that is not fear-mongering or unnecessarily raising anxiety. Here are some tips:

  1. Ask if there are any other reasons they are afraid to go to school, just to make sure that the reason is really because of the drills. For example, are they being bullied? Are they scared their teachers don’t like them?
  2. Agree with their concerns: Yes, these drills are scary! It is normal to feel afraid when you think about someone hurting other people. Then confidently explain to them that you trust the school and the teachers to keep them safe. Mention their favorite teachers by name, saying “I know how much Ms. Miller cares about you and I know she will do everything she can to keep you safe.”
  3. Have the children brainstorm everything the school does to keep them safe. For example, there are rules about running in the classroom. Why? To make sure no one gets hurt. Children wash their hands after using the bathroom. Why? So that we don’t spread illness. There are fire drills and tornado drills. Why? To make sure people know what to do in an emergency. The same is true for active shooter drills. They help people know what to do in an emergency. It will help solidify their feelings of safety when they see all of the ways the school helps keep them safe.
  4. Ask your kids what they need to feel safe. Maybe they need to be reassured that the school will call you if there are any issues. Maybe they’d like a note from you in their lunches, or maybe they just need you to listen. Encouraging them to share their feelings with you gives them a sense of security. Oftentimes, children simply want to be seen and heard.

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