How to Keep Your Students Feeling Safe and Calm During Lockdown Drills

Girl with backpack holding her mother hand and going to school Today’s students are growing up in a time and place where active shooter lockdown drills are as commonplace as parent-teacher conferences and ice cream socials. While the need for such rehearsals is a reality of today’s society, we must be aware that such drills may be stressful on our students.

No matter the age of your students, there are steps you can take to help them feel calm during lockdown drills. Your goal should be to help your students understand that the practices are meant to give everyone confidence in how to act in the event of a life-threatening event, and not create a culture of fear and impending calamity. Read on to learn how to keep your students feeling safe and calm during your school’s lockdown drills.

5 Ways to Keep Students Calm During Lockdown Drills

  1. Talk to Students. The best way to mitigate fear is to get ahead of the anxiety. On your first day of school, when you discuss your classroom policies, protocols, and what students should expect from the school year, talk to them about the lockdown drills. Help them to understand that, just like fire drills, practice sessions are intended to help teachers, students, and staff run through the safety actions they should take in the unlikely event of a school emergency. Helping students to understand that the drills represent a safety practice, and do not suggest an imminent threat, will help them go into each practice event with a rational mindset.
  2. Speak Openly and Honestly with Students About the Purpose for the Lockdown Drills. Hiding the truth will only create more anxiety for students. Talk to them openly and explain in age-appropriate language why your school practices lockdowns. Answer questions and help assuage students’ fears as best you can. The more they don’t know, the more they will worry.
  3. Describe the Lockdown Procedures Visually. Some children’s minds encode information better in the form of pictures. To help alleviate panic and help students remember the steps they should take when they hear the cue to enter lockdown mode, share your school’s step-by-step procedures using pictures.
  4. Teach Students Calming Techniques. Students should not only practice the logistical steps needed during a lockdown (e.g., hide inside a classroom, lock doors, turn off lights), but they should also practice calming techniques. Even for those students for whom the practice sessions do not elicit feelings of fear, encouraging them to breathe slowly and deeply will reinforce the behavior if an actual emergency takes place, which will help calm students when it matters most.
  5. Provide Special Accommodations for Students When Needed. When practicing lockdown drills, some students with special needs may need personalized accommodations, such as advance notice and additional time to mentally or physically prepare. Work with your administration to provide such accommodations. Giving them the support they need during practice sessions will help them to feel more confident in the event of a real emergency.

If you have concerns regarding the procedures that your school takes when practicing lockdown drills, talk to your school leadership. They need and value your open and honest feedback relative to how your students are feeling during the practice sessions. The purpose of lockdown drills is to help students feel safe—not afraid. By working together with your school leadership, you can craft procedures to give all involved the instruction they need to keep them safe, without causing unnecessary anxiety.

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