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Houston doctor warns of traumatizing effects active shooter drills have on young kids

"We want schools to be prepared," said Dr. Laurel Williams. "But how we involve children is something that we really need to very carefully consider."

HOUSTON — As kids settle in to the routine another school year brings, a big question for parents: Do you know when your child's school will hold it's lockdown drill?  

The National Association of School Psychologists reminds us of the traumatizing effects of an active shooter drill. 

In Texas, under state education 37.108, each public school district must provide for mandatory school drills to prepare students and employees to respond to an emergency. A majority of districts will have at least one lockdown drill each semester, elementary schools included. 

But the lead psychiatrist for Texas Children's Hospital and the Baylor College of Medicine says the training can lead some kids to develop an anxiety disorder. 

"I think the best approach is to be honest within the limits of a young person's age," said Dr. Laurel Williams. 

Dr. Williams, who helps kids navigate mental illness, says some anxiety disorders can be brought on by things like lockdown drills. While there is no research to show the implications emergency drills may have on the minds of young children, a 2016 Facebook post from mother Stacey Feeley highlights the concern.

Credit: Facebook

Feeley told CBS Pittsburgh that initially she thought her daughter standing on top of the toilet seat was funny, but then she realized her three-year old daughter was demonstrating what she was taught to do if she got stuck in the school bathroom during a lockdown.  The social media post about her toddler's loss of innocence went viral.

"Because what children can’t do is they can’t distinguish between something that’s happening right now and something that might happen in the future," said Williams.

The National Association for School Psychologists says for little kids, brief explanations with simple examples work best when talking about any type of safety drill. For children who are 8 years old or under, the drill should not include props or noises or role-playing with character assignments like 'bad guy' or 'scary man.'


"So I think that we want to put this in the same conversation we put things like stranger danger," said Williams. "We teach kids about stranger danger, but we don’t necessarily go into specific, long, detailed information."

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Parents also need to know they can have a conversation with their child's teacher or principal to find out when a lockdown drill will happen, so the family can decide if the child should participate.

"We want schools to be prepared," said Williams." I have a child in school, so I absolutely want a school to be thinking about how they make the school be safe, but how we involve children is something that we really need to very carefully consider."


The National Child Traumatic Stress Network

The Texas School Safety Center

The A.L.I.C.E. Training Institute



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