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It's time for "the talk"

Someone told me the other day that I was fortunate to not have to worry about school shootings since we home school. I jokingly responded by telling them it almost happens more often than one would think and that they would have to meet my kids.

After that, the subject turned a bit more serious. They were correct in that I am spared that one element of school life but my work often brings me right to the center of it all.

As we have finally arrived at that magical back-to-school time, I am reminded of my own childhood. I remember the sites and smells, feelings and emotions of returning to school. I was always excited to see my friends from across town that had been too far to visit all summer. I loved the smell of new gym shoes and the feel of new clothing. I even look back fondly on the weird smell bologna leaves in a metal lunchbox.

One thing I do not remember is school shooter drills. That is because we did not have them. We did not need such a thing.

In today’s world, drills like this have become commonplace and in some cases have replaced the tornado drill in priority!

Now, over the next week or two, many of us will be dressing our kids in their new duds and walking them to the bus stop with a hint of horror in the back of our minds… will it happen today?

Believe it or not, it is possible that your child has the same fear.

Experts remind us constantly that in this digital day in age of 24 hour news, there is a chance your kids have already become familiar with the concept that someone could enter their school and kill them or their classmates. In many schools that hold shooter drills, the knowledge becomes even more real and sometimes can drastically affect your child depending on what is conveyed during the drill itself.

While you are checking through that list of crayons and Kleenex, tape and paper, having a talk with your kids now could become your most important preparation for back to school. With the help of SaveTheChildren, here are some tips for this year’s back-to-school:

1. Start the conversation. It may never seem like the right time to start a discussion about school shootings with your child. But, not talking about it can lead to feelings of worry and confusion while also opening the door to misinformation.

2. Emphasize safety. Start by asking your child what they already know about school shootings. Allow them to express their concerns and ask questions. Reassure them and be honest – don’t lie to them. Address any inaccurate concerns that they may have (e.g., school shootings happen frequently; children are not safe at school). Don’t go into graphic details, put the emphasis on safety, and help them identify the plans in place to protect them in all types of emergencies.

3. Reiterate that it’s normal to be scared. Everyone feels afraid when they’re in danger. Fear is how our bodies alert us and prepare us for action in times of danger. Help children understand that their natural reactions are normal.

4. Look for leaders. Remind your child that adults – teachers, leaders and first responders – are working every day to keep them safe at school. The emergency drills that they may practice in the classroom are an example of this. Children are more likely to have the confidence to make a safe decision in an actual emergency situation when they’ve practiced. Lockdown and shooter drills should be developed and implemented by a multidisciplinary safety team and informed by a mental health professional. Make sure the complexity of the drills your school is holding and how they are taught are age-appropriate.

5. Watch for signs of trauma. It’s normal for children to be a little anxious about school shootings and emergency drills. If children appear extremely fearful, angry or withdrawn during or following an exercise, seek professional help. Involve mental health professionals in the development and implementation of drills and exercises.

One last thought. Stay involved in your child’s relationships. This is usually not appreciated by your child, but believe me, knowing who your children are with and who is influencing their decisions will save your child in the long run.

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