by Irene van der Sande, Executive Director and Founder of KidPower
In October 1999, a few months after the tragic school shooting at Columbine High School, a six-year-old asked me during our Kidpower classroom workshop, “What if someone starts shooting kids at our school?”
Along with all the adults in the room, my heart sank at hearing this question that NO child should ever have to ask!
I started by saying in a calm, matter-of-fact voice, “Although this is very scary, this almost never happens.”
That was true then. Alas,”this almost never happens” has no longer been true in the US for many years.
Every time “THIS happens”, we hear from terrified parents asking, “How can I protect MY child?”
At Kidpower, our mission is to provide individuals with knowledge and skills they can use right away to take charge of their own emotional and physical safety and to protect their children and other vulnerable people in their care.
In response to the growing number of horrific heartbreaking shootings, including last Tuesday at Robb Hill Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, we are offering a special free workshop for parents, educators, and other caring adults next Thursday, June 2, called, School Shootings: How do we protect our kids? We will learn and practice skills including:
- what to say and do to protect our children’s emotional safety
- how to make safety plans with our schools, and
- how to prepare children to take action if an emergency arises.
You can learn more about the following four actions you can take to protect children’s emotional safety in our article, still relevant after 10 years since the Newtown tragedy it mentions:
“What If Someone Starts Shooting Kids At My School?”
- Shield children as best you can from overwhelming and upsetting news
- Acknowledge children’s feelings without burdening them with your own
- Answer questions in reassuring, age-appropriate ways
- Give extra love and attention.
The following seven steps described in our article, School Shootings: How to Protect Kids in the Face of Armed School Violence, can help adults and children to feel less helpless and more prepared:
- Is Your School Prepared – and Are You?
- Be a Safe, Calm Person to Talk To
- Make Sure it is Safe to Tell At School
- What Adults Can Say to Children About What Happens to People’s Minds and Bodies in an Emergency
- Violence in Schools and Elsewhere: What Adults Can Say To Children About Getting Away, Getting Hurt, and Getting Help
- What Adults Can Say to Children About Kids Having Weapons At School
- Work on the Underlying Issues
Acting out what to do for different kinds of emergencies can help to prepare children and adults alike to take quick action when needed. Just like fire drills, if a school safety drill if someone is acting unsafely is done in a calm and matter-of-fact way, this can help to reduce anxiety. In our Kidpower workshops, we coach children to be successful in practicing how to handle different kinds of safety problems with people, depending on what issues these families, schools, and youth organizations are dealing with at that time.
In the first grade classroom mentioned above, the children’s anxiety about not knowing what to do was so high that I decided to lead a special practice for them right away. I sent the teachers and parents out of the two doors of the classroom to be “Safety” for the kids to go to outside. Then I said, “Pretend that I am starting to act dangerously. Stand up, go quickly outside, and ask your grownups for help.” (We don’t want to put scary pictures in kids’ minds that are not already there, so I stood there calmly, not acting scary but just asking the children to imagine that I was about to do something unsafe.)
Immediately, 30 children streamed out of the room and into their arms of their parents and teachers, who stood waiting and said earnestly, “I will help you!” And then, everyone then came back inside, sat down feeling much calmer. Then we went on with our workshop – and had fun learning how to take charge of our safety instead of feeling afraid.
Like countless others, I feel deep grief at the many upsetting and scary things happening in our world.
This blog post shares how I channel my grief into focusing on what I CAN do, instead of what I cannot: Profound Sadness – And the Powers We DO Have!
I hope to see you in our workshop next week.
Please write to me with your thoughts and questions.
With deep appreciation for your commitment to safety,
Irene van der Zande
Executive Director and Founder KidPower