Good Morning, Internet Friends!
If you are like me, you have your friends categorized into a mental Roladex (can we even still use that word or is it archaically unrelatable now?) of people you call when particular situations arise. The following are some of my situations:
- There’s a butter grease stain on my favorite white pants. Call Dede.
- I butchered my bangs again in a late night wine-induced “I think I am a hairstylist” session. Call Crystal.
- Something major embarrassing just happened in a crowd of people, and I need someone to tell me something even more embarrassing just happened to them. Call Heidi.
- I’m pretty sure there’s a major school event coming up that requires some preparation, but I lost the paper that came home telling me about it. Call Lindsey.
- There’s a parenting situation happening that involves a lot of feelings, I don’t know how to handle it, and I need some solid helpful advice. Call Amy.
That last one–my friend Amy? She’s a writer (check out her latest piece on USA Today), mother and advocate who listens to all my questions and stories with such warmth, acceptance and relatability. Together with her husband Jeffrey, a clinical psychologist with over 20 years of experience working with children and families, Amy makes an incredible source of wisdom and advice to support parents and friends. I’ve been lucky to hold Amy as my own secret powerful resource for years, only wishing I could package up her warmth and advice and share it with the world. And now that’s happening because Amy and Jeffrey have their first book publishing next year, a book filled with stories that explore six core needs that every child has and every parent can meet. All I can say is lucky world. And lucky us because, for the next six weeks, I’ll be sharing my friend Amy with you in a post each week discussing some of the big parenting questions we all share.
As the school year comes to a close, so does a lot of our anxiety about school issues. But for many who are preparing to send new students to school next year, this is when anxiety sets in. We’ve seen too many stories of school shootings on the news this year, and sadly, it’s a different era where security and safety for potential threats is part of everyday protocol for even the littlest of students. I’ll never forget last year, Dash’s first year of kindergarten, where shifts in security rules and district precautions following the Parkland shooting gave the beginning of the year a certain heaviness. No more walking our kids to their classrooms. The thought of lockdown drills for kids barely big enough to hold the weight of their backpacks felt so overwhelming, and I completely understand these feelings weighing heavy over the summer.
Cue “Call Amy.” I’m honored to have Amy answering this question this week and more on the heavy issues of parenting in the coming weeks.
My daughter is going into kindergarten next year and will have to take part in the school’s lockdown drills. She’s a really anxious kid, and I’m worried that the drills will terrify her. Also, the thought of having to prepare her for school shootings makes me feel overwhelmed, teary, and a little furious. What can I do to manage my own emotions and make the experience less scary for her, too?
— Anxious Mom
Oh, Anxious Mom. We’re so sorry. If it helps, your question makes us sad and a little furious, too. And the situation you’re describing is familiar to so many parents right now. While statistically rare, the reality of school gun violence in the US is real. And school systems are on the front lines, trying to prepare kids for emergencies while balancing the mental health and wellbeing of their students.
We would start by reaching out to your daughter’s school to tell them about her anxiety and ask for help. Her teacher may be able to tell you more about the drills and share tips about how to prepare her. As you reach out, remember that the school is trying to navigate a difficult situation as best they can. Try to listen to what they share with an open heart. Our two older boys were in first and fourth grade during Sandy Hook, and in the days following the tragedy we connected and mourned with their teachers, listening as they shared their own fear and heartbreak. Especially in times of stress, we cannot forget how much we need each other.
The drills may be less scary for your daughter if you prepare her for them ahead of time. You could begin by asking if she has ever had to cover or hide in a classroom for pretend, or if she knows why she might have to do this. If she does not know and doesn’t use words like, “a bad person might shoot me,” consider carefully before giving her that information. It’s heavy knowledge to carry, and when she’s very little, not knowing is likely a gift. A simple statement like, “It’s important to learn how to be safe” may be enough. Tell her that sometimes at school she’s going to practice being safe, and when she’s practicing, she should listen quietly and follow her teacher’s instructions.
You can also equip her to face frightening situations by giving her some words and actions to remember when she’s scared. We’ve taught our youngest that once he’s in a quiet place, he can cross his arms in front of his body and grab onto his shoulders to hug tight, feeling the squeeze. We tell him that God is like a mommy or a daddy, with arms of love stretching out to hold him. Even when we’re not there, God’s love is always pressing in all around him, just like that hug.
You could tell your daughter that your love for her stretches out wide from your arms to reach her wherever she is, even when you’re apart. Have her touch her head, her feet, her arms, her belly. As she does, place your hands over hers and tell her that she is covered and surrounded by love, all the time. If she is ever scared or feeling alone, she can wrap her arms around herself and squeeze tight to remember that love is right there with her. Love will never, ever leave her on her own. And that love is all around her teacher, her friends, and you, too. Love will hold all of you together until you’re
For some kids, the physical sensation they get from wrapping their arms around themselves in a squeeze can provide sensory stimulation and relief when they’re scared. The Butterfly Hug is a particularly therapeutic hug method to teach. Also, giving your daughter something to set her mind on in times of fear (I am not alone, Love is here with me) is a better strategy than telling her not to be scared, because brain science tells us that the more we tell ourselves not to think about something, the more we get stuck in that very place.
About 95% of schools in the US participate in lockdown drills, and research shows that lockdown drills can be effective, especially when they are done calmly and without a named threat. Realistic active shooter drills, or drills that act out a response to an attacker on school grounds, are a particular sort of lockdown drill. As we researched your question, we could not find evidence that realistic active shooter drills make our children safer. But there is good evidence to suggest that they can cause psychological harm.
We’ve found action to be an antidote to fear and a channel for fury. For the sake of your daughter and the other children who will be subject to the drills, find out more about the type of drills your school is planning, and consider requesting that all drills follow these guidelines from the National Association of School Psychologists and the National Association of School Resource Officers. Among other recommendations, they state that participation in active shooters drills should be optional and require parental consent.
Being scared and learning to manage fear is a healthy part of child development, and your daughter is going to have to experience scary things in her childhood. But our children need us to try to protect them from overtly terrifying experiences. If your daughter has an anxiety disorder or a history with gun violence, and your school has moved beyond lockdowns to more realistic active shooter exercises, consider keeping her home on the day of the drill. She will still need to learn to stay quiet and follow her teacher if there is an emergency at school, but for kids in these situations, participation can be traumatizing.
Finally, fear and fury can move us to action, but they can also steal joy. Allow yourself to enter into beautiful moments with your daughter wholeheartedly. Tell her to ask for a hug anytime she needs one, and offer them freely. When you’re snuggling her close, remind her that love will always, forever hold you together — no matter what.
If you have a parenting question or issue you’d like Amy and Jeffrey to tackle, feel free to leave it in the comments. You can also sign up for their newsletter where they share more questions, answers and encouragement for any parent seeking more connection with their kids.