As a parent living in the United States, it's normal to be afraid to send your child to school. While the odds of your kid experiencing a school shooting are small, they seem to increase every year. More and more frequently we hear "I never thought it would happen to us at our school" and those of us watching the news feel a very real chill go down our spines. But is being prepared for the unimaginable helping our kids? Perhaps the only way we’ll start to know for sure is by asking kids to explain how they feel about lockdown drills.
When I was a young student the only drill we practiced in school were fire drills. No one ever took them seriously, to be sure, and we all enjoyed a break from our lessons and the chance to go outside and talk to our friends for a while. The horrific shooting at Columbine happened when I was about 13 years old, and it was a very far way from where we lived, so I suppose our school administrators didn’t think it could ever happen to us. It was seen as more of a "one time thing" than a sign of a systemic problem with gun violence in this country.
Fast forward 20 years and I’m reading about children in preschool and kindergarten having to participate lockdown drills and all I can think is there has to be another way. Some kids might not understand why these drills exist, or even think they’re fun, but others will certainly be traumatized by what one pre-K teacher described as "rehearsing for death." So I asked a few moms to share their own children’s thoughts on lockdown drills, and here’s how their kids responded:
“I asked my 10-year-old about it and she just knows them as any other drill, so they don't bother her in the least. It's now part of her regular drills like a tornado drill was when I was a kid (which they don't do anymore).”
Ari (Grade 8, age 13): "They’re important so that we know what to do if there’s an emergency. If we don’t have them then we won’t know how to handle the real situation. We have two to three a year and we have 10 fire drills."
Ada (grade 6, age 11): "I think they’re good... I don’t know? Helpful. It gets people prepared for if a stranger comes into the building. I think it’s a bit scary to think about, especially thinking about someone being there with weapons of some sort."
G (kindergarten, age 5): "They’re fun. I like lockdown drills and fire drills cause you get to run around outside!”
“We just had an incident in our middle school last week and spoke to our daughter, Ryan, about this. She did not know what a lockdown drill was, so we asked around it and she told us they do ‘Grinch drills.’ They have to go hide behind the bookcase from the Grinch and the teacher locks the door and covers the window with black paper. Ryan thinks it is fun and it is a game to see how quiet they can be. She is in 1st grade.”
“I asked my daughters and couldn't get a quote because they went on and on. They brought up a lot of concerns about the what-ifs, the questions they asked their teachers that the teachers couldn't answer, things the other kids did during the drill, things about the drill that didn't make sense... So yeah, basically my kids have a lot to say and I don't know where they get that from.”
Miles (grade 3): "They're pretty much fine to me. They're the best type of drill for me because all the rest of them have a siren that goes off. I don't care that we do them too much, because we either evacuate or barricade. Before a drill we talk about what's going on, like who is going to help with the barricade or how we are going to evacuate.”
“My daughter (Gigi) is 3 and in the preschool program at the public elementary school. She has no clue what’s going on. When the teacher turns off the lights and they assume their positions, she apparently starts making ghost noises. ‘Ooooooooooooh! It’s spoooooooooky! There are ghooooooosts!’ I’m glad she doesn’t get it yet.”
“My son (6) is in kindergarten and he asks me everyday if they will have a drill at school. They do about one drill a month, and he is definitely feeling anxious about them. He told me the lockdown, or intruder drill as he called it, was boring because they had to sit quietly in a locked room until the principal checked to make sure every door was locked. He said they were in there awhile. I try to reassure him that practicing the drills is supposed to make it less scary, but he still seems to think about the drills all the time. I so badly wish it wasn’t something to worry about.”
“My son, you can call him Julian, is 8 and in 3rd grade. I've asked him casually a few times about what he thinks. He really doesn't think much differently about lockdown drills than he does fire drills or tornado drills. To him, it is something abstract that probably won't ever happen, as he has not been given the horrible, concrete information about the horrors that have actually happened. He knows it is, ‘If a bad guy gets in the school, or whatever,’ but that's all he knows or thinks. He isn't affected by them at all, thankfully, and thinks me asking him about them is dumb.”
“My 9-year-old, Iris, says they make her feel, ‘safe, kinda.’ (And then she mumbled something about ‘with my teacher’).
“My kindergartener asked me if I could stay at school with him in case there was a drill. Or maybe a ‘real drill,’ he said. He said they made him nervous. On the Tuesday following Parkland, his school practiced all three drills all in one day. I think it had an effect on him. And, more specifically, he said to me (the next day): ‘Mom, I want you stay at school with me in case we have a drill. Or in case there's a *real* drill,’ meaning the real thing. He just doesn't yet have the words to say exactly what they're practicing for; he just knows it's bad and/or scary.”
“My daughter, 6 (1st grader), said their teacher (last year in kindergarten) had them stay still like a doll, and ‘cuddle up’ with a friend. She didn’t tell me explicitly that it made her nervous, but she talked about bad guys for a long time after that. They haven’t done a drill since Parkland, but I told her about it (just that a bad guy came and people got hurt), and for days and days she drew pictures of a robber coming into a house and a policewoman catching him.”
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.