What to do When Your (or Your Child’s) School is in Lockdown in Halton
Receiving a notice from your child's school that an emergency protocol is unfolding is probably one of the most terrifying experiences. Communication from schools is often minimal in light of active investigations as they prioritize your child's safety. Social media tends to be the default method of communication and this can be helpful in the sharing of information, but can also ignite further anxieties about the "what ifs" when details are not validated.
In some cases, safety protocols are enforced due to dangers located in the community but not necessarily safety risks that are within the school buildings. When there is an imminent risk within a school, and protocols are elevated to "lockdowns" the impact can be intense in the moment, as well as afterwards.
In the best of circumstances, safety protocols are lifted and law enforcement is successful at eliminating the risk; students are deemed safe and sent home. What's next? Parents and caregivers understand the fear and anxiety that comes from not knowing what is happening within their child's school. It is important to be aware of the potential impact of these types of events on students. Below are a few tips to help caregivers and students to cope as best as they can under such circumstances.
During the safety protocol—Students:
Students should respond according to the direction of their teachers at all times.
Avoid using social media or sharing your location (verbally/written/photos) within the school.
Try to avoid speculating what might be the cause of the active protocol unless this is confirmed by a teacher or administration staff.
Be sure to fully understand the type of safety protocol that has been put into action. HOLD AND SECURE protocols are different from LOCKDOWN protocols. Knowing the difference may help you to remain as calm as possible.
Avoid attending the school property. This can create increased safety risks within the area and can cause a distraction to law enforcement officers.
If you are in communication with your child who is actively engaged in a safety protocol at their school, avoid sharing any details that you receive from your child as this may heighten the anxiety of others and may not be validated at that point in time.
Parents should remain calm when communicating with their children to the best of their capacity. This is challenging to say the least, but this will help to set the tone for how your child may cope and manage what they are feeling in the moment. Encourage them to listen to and follow the instructions of their teachers and assure them that staff members are in control and will advise them accordingly.
All schools engage in safety protocol drills throughout the year. If you are in contact, encourage your child to remember the steps from their drills and focus on what they remember in those rehearsals.
After the safety protocol:
Parents may have questions about how they can support their children after events have unfolded in schools. Whether you child was directly impacted by an event within their school, or whether they witnessed an event broadcasted over a news outlet, feelings of fear, confusion, worry and sadness can surface.
Begin by asking your child about any thoughts or feelings they may have related to the event. Their experience will be quite different from yours. If you felt terrified and helpless, the same could be true for them, but not necessarily.
Validate any feelings that they may have. "It makes perfect sense why you would feel this way..." "What would help you right now...?" Be curious and ask questions rather than making assumptions.
Ask them to scale the intensity of their emotions so that you can begin to gauge how much they are being impacted. You can ask the same question again later, and the next day. This will help you and them to understand whether the impact is increasing or decreasing.
Prioritize their story first. Let them talk about how they felt and what they were thinking before discussing any challenging emotions that surfaced for you while the safety protocol was in action.
Assure them that they did all the right things if they were able to follow all the directions of the teachers.
Be physically available to them even if they are not requesting it. If your child enjoys being close, offer more physical contact through hugs. Follow their cues.
Do not offer information that you cannot validate. Hearing from Tom, who heard from Cathy, who told Sam is not the type of information your child needs. If your child is sharing the same type of information, try to validate this information together and reinforce the need to rely on credible sources. Law Enforcement and School Boards are often the best sources, however in light of investigations they may only be able to offer minimal details.
In the absence of any direction from the school, encourage your child to return back to their regular activities and attending school the very next day.
If you are worried about the safety of your child, speak to someone at the school to confirm any further safety risks. If you are still not satisfied, consider speaking with any positive supports that you have around you to determine whether you are struggling to manage your own feelings.
If your child continues to show signs of changed behaviour or they are identifying that they are struggling to manage their emotions, or the way their body is responding (feeling tense, difficulty sleeping, change in appetite) consider seeking professional support with a therapist who specializes in working with children and youth.
Do not assure them that it will never happen again. Unfortunately there is no way of knowing this but your child can be encouraged that they are well informed on the process of how to respond under the circumstances.
Liz Khalighi is Registered Social Service Worker and Psychotherapist who works with Children, Youth, and Families. Her Private Practice is located in Milton, ON.