Mary Dixon: Time now for our series Kids Ask, where kids ask their parents probing questions, and we explore the answers together. For today’s question, a 6-year-old asks her mom why her school does lockdown drills. It’s become a normal part of school life, but disheartening for parents to talk about. WBEZ’s Susie An has the story.
Susie An: Think back to when you were in school. Your teacher is in the middle of a lesson when suddenly… the fire alarm goes off and kids start goofing off as they file out the door. It’s been a part of school life for decades. But something else that’s become normal for this generation of kids, but unfamiliar to their parents are lockdown drills. It’s a requirement for Illinois schools, and 6-year-old Edie had her first this fall.
Edie: We did a lockdown drill. We go to the bathroom and we turn off the light, and we lock the door.
Susie An: Edie is a sweet, soft spoken first grader. The metal detectors and bag checks every morning at her Chicago public school didn’t phase her since she was familiar with the process at the airport. But staying quiet in a bathroom with her classmates was a new one, and she had this question for her mom Betty Tran.
Edie: I asked her why do we do safety drills.
Betty Tran: And mommy said well, we do safety drills in case a bad person gets into school just to make sure you’re safe and everyone else is safe.
Susie An: Edie understood the answer, but it led to yet another question.
Betty Tran: I think you said, well, what if the robber has to go to the bathroom. We’re all in the bathroom?
Susie An: Tran assured Edie she’d be safe, and so far Edie hasn’t asked for more details. Tran says her daughter remains unaware of the violent events that have kept safety drills a requirement in schools.
Betty Tran: A part of me is very sad that it’s part of the, sort of, day to day. Obviously I think it’s very necessary but at the same time the fact that it is, is a little bit disheartening. I think as a parent and as a community, we’re trying to figure out the best way to address this.
Susie An: It’s a topic many families are tackling, especially with younger kids. My preschooler and 3rd grader both do safety drills, but my 4-year-old Gael doesn’t really understand why.
Susie An: Do you know why you have to do the safety drill?
Gael: It means lockdown.
Susie An: Do you know why you had to do that?
Susie An: Why?
Gael: I’m not saying anything.
Susie An: Oh, okay.
Susie An: My 3rd grader Oggie has been doing safety drills for years, and he says they do it in case quote “someone comes into the school.” He’s unbothered by the process.
Oggie: We get in the closet and we have to be like, quiet for about few minutes. It’s pretty packed.
Susie An: Patricia Faldani says that’s exactly the wide range of reactions you’ll get from kids about safety drills. She’s a school social worker for the Elmwood Park school district.
Patti Faldani: Parents know their kids best and some kids are going to be more anxious about it, and some kids are going to be more excited about it. And so you’re going to have to gauge your conversation with your child.
Susie An: Faldani says drills can be triggering for some students, and it’s best practice for schools not to make them realistic. Parents can also watch for any changes in behavior at home. She says if parents are feeling nervous about the drills, it might help to get details on how the school conducts them. Faldani says it’s tough when kids ask about violent events they hear on the news or from others. It can be a balancing act of not introducing too much scary information at one time.
Patti Faldani: Kids are going to naturally have questions and as much as we try to shield them from that, we can’t always shield them from that. And if you can keep the information basic and general, and "you’re right it is sad, and that’s why we’re doing things to make sure that we stay safe” that can definitely help.
Susie An: She says it’s best to find out what the child already knows and then answer questions based on that. Validate their feelings.
Patti Faldani: We’re just living in a very different world and it’s a terrible thing that we have to do this as adults to talk to children about this, but it is very necessary because we don’t want them frightened.
Susie An: For now, Betty Tran is grateful that the scary stuff in Edie’s life are things like big roller coasters at Six Flags.
Edie: I don’t like The Demon.
Betty Tran: We started on The Demon.
Edie: It has a big loopty loop.
Susie An: Oh yeah, that's a scary one.
Edie: And 4 corkscrews.
Susie An: Tran says she’ll be ready for whatever questions Edie has next. Susie An. WBEZ news.
WBEZ transcripts are generated by an automatic speech recognition service. We do our best to edit for misspellings and typos, but mistakes do come through.