“Did you hear about Florida?”
That’s how my husband told me about the most recent mass shooting in our country. Florida, Las Vegas, Burlington, Virginia Tech, San Bernardino, Houston, Sandy Hook Elementary: the list of mass shooting sites is growing. The list of lives lost is worse.
As a new mom, these shootings have taken on a new meaning for me. We can stay away from public events, parties and national monuments—but how can we keep our children from school? In Florida, a teenager shot down his former classmates. At Sandy Hook, a young man gunned down innocent children. How in the world do you protect your children against that?
It’s time to stop kidding ourselves.
We all have the “it can’t happen to me” mentality to some extent. That is, we worry about what could happen, but we don’t actually believe that it will.
When my husband and I first moved to Seattle, we wanted to go see a movie. We had two theaters in mind, a theater five miles away or a theater 20 miles away. We chose the theater outside the city limits just because we liked the seats more. That’s it. That night, the other theater had a shooting. A tiny preference saved us from being involved in a shooting. I share this not to scare you, Mama, because it’s not safe to live with our heads in the sand.
In the event of a mass shooting, we need to know what to do. Worse, if your kids are ever caught up in a violent event, they need to be able to protect themselves. Here are some important lessons you can teach your child about what to do in an active shooter situation.
1. Share the gravity of mass shootings.
Don’t beat around the bush. You need to share the gravity of the situation so your child can take preparation seriously. At the same time, try to contain your own fears. Children are more susceptible to fear. You set the stage for how your child will react in an active shooter situation.
If your child is afraid, try not to dismiss his fears, but listen and follow up with a plan. If you’re looking for ideas, check out, I’m Not Scared, I’m Prepared. This book is cute, filled with colorful, friendly pictures, but delicately depicts how your children should react to a “dangerous someone.”
2: Teach your kids this slogan: “Run, hide, fight.”
“Don’t talk to strangers.” “Stop, drop and roll.” “Only you can prevent forest fires.” We still remember these slogans from our childhood. When you teach your child how to prepare for a mass shooting, use, “Run, hide, fight.” This mantra is great for children.
However, keep in mind that for you, it may not be a step-by-step process. You may have to switch up the order in a real-life situation. Fighting for your life, according to the FBI, should always be the last resort. However, in some situations, hiding may be your first response rather than running.
The next three tips revolve around the Run, Hide, Fight concept. I’ll explain the gist of it, but I highly suggest you do your own research and come up with an action plan to share with your children. Back to “Run.”
Forget your belongings and run to the nearest exit, as long as that’s not toward the shooter. Once you’re out of danger, report the shooting. When you run, try to use a zig-zag pattern to make yourself a more difficult target. (Think when Lightning McQueen shouts, “Serpentine, serpentine!” from CARS .) Zig-zagging isn’t the most natural pattern, so this video tutorial might be helpful.
Once again, use your judgment. If zig-zagging is going to slow you down and the shooter isn’t paying attention to you, forget it. Run as fast as you can to the exit. If you’re in a wide open space and you’re being shot at, zig-zagging can save your life. Repeat this concept to your kiddos. If you want to help your child prepare, you can practice zig-zagging in a game, like tag or dodgeball.
If the shooter is at the entrance of a building, you may not be able to get out safely. So, hide quickly. Aim for an enclosed room with locks if at all possible, but try to avoid bathrooms since they are easily accessible. Quickly and quietly barricade the door and grab anything that could be a useful weapon. Make sure your child is hidden or out of sight.
It’s absolutely critical that you remain silent. Silence your phone (and your child!) until you are sure the danger has passed. Whatever you do, don’t assume that you can play dead. In previous mass shootings, the attacker has been known to shoot injured victims again. You can prepare your child for this step beforehand with the came concepts in hide-and-seek—just emphasize silence and finding cover quickly.
The idea of fighting an active shooter isn’t a pleasant one. I’ve had nightmares about this scenario: I’m protecting my baby, attacking the enemy and suddenly my limbs are weak and I’m as slow as a turtle.
The truth is, most of us are not combat ready. Not only are we untrained, but we’ve literally been taught our entire lives that violence is intolerable. Suddenly, in the most dangerous, stressful situation of our lives, we’re expected to attack our shooter. It’s a scary prospect. Once again, preparation is the key to survival.
Be prepared to fight for your life. Focus on incapacitation; go for the groin, knees, hands—whatever keeps him from shooting you. If this is out of your comfort zone (and it’s definitely out of mine!), you can check out the Counter article at ALICE Training Institute. They provide extensive information about how to intelligently defend yourself and protect your child from an active shooter.
6: Acknowledge the freeze—and prepare for it.
You’ve heard of the “fight or flight” response to danger. Unfortunately, there’s a third reaction: freeze. Almost everyone freezes when they see danger, even for a second. In order to adequately protect your child from an active shooter, you need to acknowledge the freeze and prepare.
After you freeze, you have the opportunity for “cognitive reappraisal.” That is, the advanced, logical part of your brain remembers your emergency plan and forces you to act. But the thing is, cognitive reappraisal only works if you practice and plan beforehand. The same applies to your child. He will be much more likely to respond quickly to an emergency situation with lots of practice.
7. Be aware of suspicious behavior—and tell a grown-up.
There’s a good phrase to remember. “People aren’t suspicious—their behavior can be.” Don’t stereotype people based on assumptions that are usually more often wrong than right. Rather, look for erratic behavior. Here are a few examples:
- Running where it’s not appropriate
- Off-season clothing
- Non-appropriate clothing (you’re at a formal dinner and someone walks in wearing camo)
- Evasive behavior (not engaging in conversation or keeping to the shadows)
- Nervous behavior (Sweating, rapid eye movement, licking lips, erratic hand movements)
If your child sees this kind of behavior, tell that to tell a grown-up immediately. Also, kids should also recognize these other following suspicious behaviors if they see them in their school: Report anyone that is not a teacher or police officer at school that does not have a name badge or pass and do NOT open any door that is locked to the outside. Ultimately, teach your kids that if they see something, they must say something.
8. Be aware of your surroundings.
Have you ever gone to the theater and searched endlessly for the bathroom, only to see that you walked right past it when you bought your ticket? How about emergency exits? Can you remember the location of emergency exits at your local WalMart, just off the top of your head? We’re often not paying attention to our surroundings. We have a thousand other things we need to concentrate on (like not losing our kid, for one).
Unfortunately, this puts us at a disadvantage with an active shooter. Unless the active shooter just went nuts one day, they tend to plan for weeks, if not months. They’ll know the area. If you don’t know where the emergency exits are, then you can bet the shooter does. Make it a point to be aware of your surroundings, even if you’re just noting the fire exits.
Encourage your child to become more aware of his surroundings by playing a form of “I Spy.” You can ask about the layout of the room, how many exits they can find or where the best hiding spot is.
I’m not scared. I’m prepared.
Mama, I hope you never have to protect your child from an active shooter. However, I want you to feel confident that if that situation ever came your way, you could do what you needed to do. You’ve taken a huge step by even reading this article.
Now, make the leap and share these techniques with your children. Put together a game-plan for what you would do if you truly needed to protect your child from an active shooter. Take control and be safe!