This morning on the way to drop off my first grader at school, he nonchalantly started telling me what he was going to do if a “bandit” came into the school and he was using the bathroom. He told me that he would climb up on top of the toilet so that he wouldn’t be seen. I asked him how he knew that he should do that, and he told me all about the “Armed Intruder Drills” that his elementary school practices. He acted like it was no big deal. I was in elementary school in the 80s, and Armed Intruder drills were no where on the horizon. Unfortunately, I’ve counted at least 31 school shootings since 2000, so this is a sad reality of growing up in this century.
While I know that drills like this are for preparedness at school, there are other circumstances that hit closer to home, literally. We recently had a situation in our neighborhood where a couple in a white van attempted to abduct a young girl. While it turned out to be a misunderstanding, it instigated a conversation with my children to be cautious of strangers that approach them. We discussed this difficult situation pretty much the same reassuring way as the “bandit” conversation.
Give them the information they can handle. In both of these discussions, we were very calm in how we talking about them. My son initiated the first conversation about the armed intruder, but I was able to keep myself composed despite the fact that I was freaking out inside. My husband and I decided that we would do our best to give them the information that they could handle that would he helpful to make them prepared for such a situation.
Help them recognize the “helpers” in scary situations. Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood used to advise children that when in scary situations, they should look for the helpers. “There are always helpers,” he reassured. We talked about how important it is to find the helpers in these or other scary situations. I encouraged them to find a teacher, neighbor, or police officer among others. When I was a child, my sister and I got separated from our parents at a shopping mall. Fortunately we had each other, but we were able to figure out that if we went to one of the check outs, we would be able to find a helper to find our parents.
Reassure them that these situations are not likely. While these situations are certainly possible, they are not guaranteed. We helped them understand that these scary situations are probably not going to occur, but if they do, we want to have some strategies to make the best decisions about how to respond.
Help them know how to be brave. Bravery is often a learned behavior. My children are not thrill seekers by nature, but we have many reminders on a regular basis that bravery is important. When a scary situation occurs, I want my children to hear my voice echoing in their ears encouraging them to, “Be Brave.”
Knowledge is power. By initiating some of these difficult conversations with our children, they can have have some exit strategies planned. We trust and pray that our children will never experience a “bandit,” but we know that we can’t protect them from all the bad things that may come their way. Gently sharing the reality that we so desperately (and lovingly) try to protect them from and, at the same time, reminding them of the goodness in others is the balance we try to strike. Our goals are that our children can look for the helpers, and eventually become helpers.