How to Talk to Your Child About a School Lockdown

Shutterstock photo
When talking about school lockdown drills, create a distraction-free zone and block out time to hear your child's concerns.

Lockdown drills are as common as fire drills now, but how do you explain the purpose of a lockdown drill to your child, especially an elementary-age student who still radiates innocence? We can't expect teachers to have all the answers, but as parents, it can be hard to know how to start the conversation and explain the purpose of lockdown drills. Read on for guidance on how to talk to your children about school lockdowns and what they mean.

Use developmentally appropriate language. Remember that a small child does not have the developmental skills to handle large chunks of information and information that is not concrete, says Beatrice Moise, parenting coach and board certified cognitive specialist at Southeast Psych in Charlotte. Keep the language simple and your message short.

"While a high schooler might be able to conceptualize danger in a global capacity, younger children are not capable of making such inference. As a parent, you can still get your point across to a young child while not creating fear," she says.

For younger children, have them repeat back to you what they think you are saying to know how much of the information was received. With older children you can have a conversation to gauge their understanding and what are their current fears are regarding the issue. Middle schoolers are capable of more and can understand more. Allow them to show you their level of maturity through conversation. 

It is entirely OK to allow children to lead the conversation. Sometimes this is the best way to determine how much is a concern, Moise says. 

"Allow your children to ask questions and be open to questions that you may not have the answers to, let them know you will research it and get back to them, but do not lie or make false statements. Lockdowns happen so that everyone can be prepared to handle it, and the only way to prepare is by practicing."

Safety first. The number one point you want to bring across is safety. The conversation should primarily be about knowing what to do, in case something happens. Assure children that they are safe at school. Let them know that the teachers and staff are well prepared to handle these situations.

Be sure children understand that safety is the one and only priority and that a lockdown drill is not any different than any other drill, with the outcome being keeping everyone safe. Help children understand that the way we keep people safe is by being prepared and knowing what to do if a situation ever arises, Moise says. 

Remain calm. When you are having a conversation with your child about safety, it is essential to remain calm and not insert your fears and bias into the conversation, Moise says. "Children can respond well to information that may be difficult to talk about if it is adequately presented. Your child can feel the stress that a parent might be experiencing and this can make the conversation harder, and the message not being received correctly."

Overcoming fear. When it comes to describing scary situations Moise recommends parents partner with the school and ask what language or words they are using to describe these drills.

"If the school is calling it drill and you are saying an active shooter, this creates a discrepancy between home and school, and it will make the child feel uncertain and unsafe," she says. "It is an unfortunate reality that we are currently facing. Being honest with kids and letting them know that you are also fearful and how you handle it is by getting information and becoming more knowledgeable."