How do containment exercises affect children?

Schonfeld, a pediatrician and director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, was shocked to hear about the levity. It was just after 9/11, and he reminded his daughter, then a college student, that such exercises were serious and should be treated as such.

“‘Dad, I know this is serious. That’s why I was joking,'” he recalled her telling him.

She then spoke of the fear that permeated the closet and the growing sense of panic. The students knew it was a drill, but the thought of the worst-case scenario and the reality of why they were all there overwhelmed them.

The massacre that killed 19 students and two teachers at a school in Uvalde, Texas this week shocked the nation, but such shootings are becoming more common, Schonfeld said. In addition to the loss and stress of Covid-19, children today are growing up with news about students being killed in schools and exercises to prepare them for the possibility that such violence could occur on their campus.
“Even though they weren’t in Texas, I think kids have more anxiety and worries related to school shootings,” clinical psychologist Robin Gurwitch said. “How can we best support students before, during and after? »

Children are often aware on some level of the violence happening in the country, said Gurwitch, a professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical Center and a senior adviser for the Terrorism and Disaster Program at the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress. Network. And even the best lockdown exercises can stir up fear and anxiety in them, Schonfeld added.

They face a threat to their assumed world, or an event that reshapes the assumptions they make about the world from a young age, he said. They may also be subject to secondary stress, which can arise when the trauma they observe affects them, said Charles Figley, director of Tulane University’s Trauma Institute.

Lockdown drills aren’t always in the works for an active shooter; they can be for any threat of danger, but they’re not necessarily conducted the same way across the country and can negatively impact students when done poorly, said Jaclyn Schildkraut, associate professor in the Department of Criminal Justice from the State University. from New York to Oswego, whose research focuses on school and mass shootings.

Not All Exercises Are Created Equal

There are some benefits to preparing for a potential disaster, Schonfeld said.

We want to know that some level of protocol is in place to maintain calm and as much safety as possible in the event of a lockdown, just like if there was a fire, earthquake or tornado, he said. he declares.

But there are ways to conduct them that are better for students’ mental well-being, Schildkraut said.

The exercises should come as no surprise. Ideally, parents are informed and students will know that the procedure is a drill and there is no current danger, Gurwitch said.

“There can be a certain calm knowing that this is what I’m supposed to do,” she added. “I don’t think my school is going to catch fire because we have a fire drill, but I know what to do if it were to happen.”

In the age of active shooters, a new mantra has emerged: “Run”.  To hide.  Fight.'
Exercises should also never be sensationalized with fake blood and gunshots or people portraying perpetrators, Schonfeld said. These drills, called active fire or high-intensity drills, offer no benefit to students and can be unnecessarily overwhelming, he said.

“We don’t raise the temperature and we put smoke in the hallway to simulate a real fire,” he said.

Schildkraut trains schools in exercises and collects data on the impact they have on students. And preparation that teaches them to seek safety can relieve some level of anxiety, she said.

However, training can go too far, Schonfeld said. Preparation that tells children they must intervene in a violent situation can put them in an impossible situation and then leave them with feelings of guilt and shame following an actual attack, he added.

How can we help children

Helping children overcome their fears of possible school violence isn’t easy, but making an effort to do so can start simple, Gurwitch said.

First, adults need to start a conversation. It can be difficult to bring up scary topics, but avoiding them can leave children feeling like they have nowhere to go to ask questions, which is essential for them to feel safer. security.

Children of different ages likely have different levels of consciousness, and it’s important to consider their developmental stage when discussing violence and containment exercises, Gurwitch said. You can start by asking what they already know.

Mass Shootings: How to Calm Anxiety and Fear in You and Your Loved Ones

As caregivers, we want to reassure children that nothing bad will ever happen to them, but avoid doing so or downplay their fears, Schonfeld said.

We can reassure them that the adults in their lives are doing everything they can to keep them safe and show them the actions your family, school and community could take, Gurwitch added.

It’s also important to share and model the coping skills you use, such as breathing, distraction, meditation, and conversations with loved ones. Make sure your kids know that different things work for different people, but you’re there to help them find what works best for them.

Reports of violence and preparations for its possibility in a place where students go almost every day can be stressful, and it’s no surprise that these feelings of fear, grief, or anxiety are heightened. The way these feelings show up may not be the same for all children – there may be headaches, behavioral changes or absences from school – so be sure to keep the conversation open and n Don’t be afraid to seek help from a mental health professional, said Figley of the Tulane Institute.

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