What to Do If School Active Shooter Drills Are Causing Your Child Anxiety

What's reassuring for parents can stress kids

School lockers with a gun overlayed on top

You remember the drill. The alarm sounded. You grabbed your heaviest text book (that was The History of World Civilizations), and headed out into the hallway to sit against the wall for the tornado drill. Your open book covered your head and neck.

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But for today’s students, school safety drills are often geared towards ‘what to do’ in the event of an armed intruder.

On one hand, these drills can be reassuring for parents, notes psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD. But they can also create anxiety, which is often caused by a heightened degree of awareness.

“We knew there were bullies, or maybe some other tough customers in schools in the past,” Dr. Bea says. “But the events of Columbine created a brand new sense of uncertainty for us. With repetition, that sense of uncertainty grew. And because nothing escapes the media’s attention these days, people have this greater awareness. That means there’s a tendency for us to overestimate the risk.”

So even though we know that schools are still generally safe, we also know that things can (and do) happen.

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How to best manage the anxiety (yours + theirs)

When a school shooting happens, it gets the attention of both parents and kids and it can drive anxiety. And every time we see a tragic school incident unfold on the news, Dr. Bea says it’s natural for parents to have a reflex reaction.

Our brains don’t like uncertainty, especially when we don’t feel like we have control.

Learning how to be present with what’s happening right now can help us stay out of the worrisome thoughts in our heads, Dr. Bea says.

And if it’s your kids who are very stressed and worried about the safety drills? Dr. Bea suggests it may help to have them talk to a professional about it since worry affects children differently than adults.

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Remember: We should talk to our kids about their fears. But it’s important to try not to impose our own fears upon how they’re feeling.

Keep the lines of communication open with your school officials too

When tragic situations unfold in the news, it’s helpful for parents to remember that such incidents also grab the attention of school administrators.

If you have concerns, Dr. Bea recommends talking to the school administrators. Find out what the plan is.

“Because if you find out that the people who are protecting your kids at school are as concerned as you are ― and are taking active steps to help, some of your tension goes down,” Dr. Bea explains. “We call that ‘sharing the worry.'”

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