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Do your kids worry about school safety drills? This Kidcast helps start the conversation.

Kristine Sorensen
October15/ 2019

This time of year, many school children are taking part in safety drills that include what to do if there’s an intruder or violence at their school.  It’s not a subject anyone likes to bring up with children of any age, but it’s a reality kids face today.  Kristine Sorensen talks with parenting expert Dr. Deborah Gilboa, also known as Dr. G, about how to have this difficult conversation and why it’s so important.

Here’s their edited interview:

Kristine Sorensen: Dr. G, you say there are two main reasons why parents tend to avoid bringing up this subject. What’s the first?

Dr. G: The first is that we so don’t want our kids to have to feel these things or think about these things. We think the less they think about it, the better. So, we tend to not want to bring it up when it’s not a pressing issue. The problem is that our kids feel stuck. They feel like we’re not somebody they can talk to about this. So, we have to give our kids the opportunity to process their feelings, thoughts and questions about this with their most trusted adult, and that’s us parents.

Kristine: I can definitely relate to that. What’s the second reason?

Dr. G: We’re afraid of those questions they’re going to ask us – things that we don’t have answers to: “Why would somebody do this?” “Could this happen at my school?” We’re terrified of those facts, and so we shy away from what we’re afraid of. The problem is that not asking our kids puts them in a spot of thinking, “This is a forbidden topic. I don’t want to make my parent upset. We shouldn’t discuss it.”

Instead, discuss it and let your child ask questions. It is completely valid to say to your child, “I don’t know, but you’re learning what you can do to be safe.” That’s how the world is, just like with a fire drill.

Kristine: What do you say when your child says, “Could this happen at my school?”

Dr. G: You can say, “There’s a small possibility that it could. I really believe that it won’t, but I’m really glad you’re learning what you can do so that you can be in charge of your safety. What did you learn?  Who would you listen to?  What would you do?”

Kristine: Could you take this a step further, as a family or a community, to try to do something to stop school violence?

Dr. G: Absolutely. If you can, take that next step and be proactive. Say to your child, “I want to help in whatever way makes sense to you and your values and to fight this fear.” You’re showing your kids that it’s not about cowering and being afraid. It’s about noticing something that you feel is wrong and stepping up in a way that makes sense to you to try and fight that wrong.

Kristine Sorensen

I am proud to work at KDKA-TV -- anchoring the news, hosting Pittsburgh Today Live and doing special reports. I am married to KDKA reporter Marty Griffin and we have 3 children. I first moved to Pittsburgh in 1999 but I’ve lived in Dallas, Johnson City, Tenn., Chicago, Williamsburg, Va., Milwaukee and Winter Park, Fla. Pittsburgh is now the place I call home.

  • Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan Reply
    6 months ago

    When my son was in fifth grade son he hopped off the bus and told me “During a lockdown drill, our teacher told us we all had to hide behind his desk. He keeps his desk in the corner so you can’t see it from the door. We hide behind it in lines, front row, middle row, back row. But my friend was last and we realized we couldn’t fit any more kids back there. I stared at him and thought about what would happen if it was a real shooter. Would he be shot? I thought maybe I should give up my space for him. Should I, Mom?” he asked me.
    I didn’t know how to answer any of his questions.
    A year later, my third grader told me he couldn’t sleep.
    “My desk is right by the lockdown poster,” he said. “I’m scared thinking about when it will really happen.”

    One of the milestones of childhood is when a child learns how to play make-believe. How to pretend they are an astronaut, an explorer, a parent. Sometimes children have trouble distinguishing pretend from what’s real.
    And now, we are forcing kids to pretend there is a shooter in their school, coming to kill them.
    Lockdown drills force children to experience a similar level of stress and trauma as if they were in a real lockdown situation.
    Some people argue lockdown drills are just like fire drills. But they are not.
    School fires are incredibly rare. Kids in modern schools don’t die in fires. Why? Because of preventative safety measures. We don’t ask school children to fight fires themselves. We don’t tell children “Sorry, we aren’t willing to take action to prevent fires, so practice experiencing one in your classroom.”
    Lockdown drills are squeezing into hiding places and seeing there’s no room for your friend and wondering if you should give up your spot or let him die.
    Why do we tell our children, “practice hiding so you don’t get shot?”
    I kept my kids out of the lockdown drills this year. It took work. I sent emails, had phone calls with building principals, and coordinated schedules. I took one child to school late for five days, and sat with another in the parking lot during the drill.
    I was lucky to have the freedom to keep my kids out of these drills. I was also lucky the principals were forthcoming with the drill dates and times.
    So many people say “it’s so awful kids have to do these drills.”
    But they don’t have to.
    There are parents out there that don’t have the means to keep their kids out of drills. But every parent can do things that can make schools safer.
    Call your local, state, and federal officials. Ask them to support universal background checks. Talk to your friends and family about securing guns away from children.
    Drills will not save your child’s life. Demanding changes to our culture and to our laws will.

  • Melanie Austin, MD Reply
    5 months ago

    The AAP has been publishing articles for at least a year that all these type of drills do is increase the epidemic amounts of anxiety seen in elementary aged kids. If we really want to help kids and help them feel safe. We need to become communities that ask difficult questions of our kids friends parents, neighbors, and even family. “Do you have a gun? How is it stored? And how can we do better to make this a safer community for all our kids?”

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