School lockdowns have become unfortunately common in the United States these days. In this article, I address lockdowns in schools, specifically: how best to prepare for, stay safe during, and cope with any effects that a school lockdown has on you or your child. This article can serve as a starting point to help keep both you and your children safe by being prepared for both drills and actual threats. To do this, I will cover how to proceed as a student or a parent/guardian when a school goes into lockdown as well as provide tips and suggestions for how to prepare ahead of time.

The information I provide here is intended to be helpful for families to make sense of lockdowns and to provide some resources to help cope with the stress that can come with these events: the tips and resources I provide are not intended to override or interfere with any safety plans or decisions made by school staff or law enforcement. In my research on school lockdowns, I found several useful resources from New York State’s Education Department. If you are interested in learning more about school regulations on lockdowns or other related information, I have included these links at the end of this article for you to read.

Before we get started, it is important to note that there are several different types of emergency responses that schools do drills on. In this article, I focus on evacuations and lockdowns, for a full list, see resource #1, below.

Tips for Students) How to Respond During a Lockdown

First, it is important to note what an announcement is asking you to do:

  1. If you are being asked to Evacuate
    1. It is important to be with your classroom and teacher (if you cannot get to them, find another teacher who is nearby).
    2. Be near a teacher and pay attention to their instructions on where to go
    3. Make sure you can be seen by your teacher when they are taking attendance, so you are not missed.
    4. Don’t let yourself be distracted by your phone: do your best to be present and listen to your teachers and to what is going on around you
  2. If you are being asked to go into Lockdown
    1. It is important to be with your teacher and classroom. If you are separated and cannot get to them, find a nearby classroom and let the teacher of that classroom know that you are there
    2. Stay in your classroom and listen to any instructions the teacher gives you
    3. If your teacher takes attendance, do your best to be seen or respond to them if it is safe to do so.
    4. Silence your phone. Do not use it to call anyone or play games that make noise or bright flashing lights
    5. Even if you think everything is safe, do not try to leave your classroom to go to the bathroom or leave the building

Tips for Parents/Guardians) How to Respond During a Lockdown

  1. If you hear that your child is in a lockdown scenario, it is very natural to have a strong emotional reaction and to want to make sure your child is safe.
  2. The best thing to do for you and your child is to not act out these strong emotions, but to find ways to calm yourself down and trust the school and law enforcement’s process
    1. If you are feeling panicked, anxious, or angry, box breathing is a useful technique to calm your nervous system down by controlling your breath. This is a simple technique where you inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath in for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, and hold your breath out for 4 seconds, and repeat. If you would like to see a demonstration of this, I made a short video on Instagram where I guide you through this process.
  3. Avoid calling or texting your child. This is important for several reasons. The first is that having a phone alert go off during a lockdown may be unsafe for the people in the lockdown. Second, it is important that your child is paying attention to their surroundings and not focusing on their phone – depending on the situation, a teacher may have asked students to stay off of their phones or to keep them on silent. Third, if the school gets too many calls or texts going to it at once, cell towers can get jammed up and no communication can get through – even if you did try to contact, it may not come through on your child’s phone for hours.
  4. Listen/check for official communications from the school or law enforcement via email or news outlets. Be cautious about believing any rumors you hear through social media, as they may not be trustworthy.

Tips and suggestions to be prepared ahead of time

  1. Talk with your child(ren) about how they respond during drills and ask if they have any questions about what to do, or if they have lots of anxiety about the process. If they are especially anxious or have difficulty following procedures, it is important to be proactive and make a plan for how to lessen this anxiety or make it easier to follow directions.
  2. If you have any questions about procedures or plans, talk with school staff about this or attend a school board meeting to get clarity on the process.
  3. Have you read all of this and feel that more help would be beneficial to you or your family? Counseling may be a useful tool for you and your family to navigate the stresses of lockdowns and how to respond to them. If you are feeling that it would be helpful to talk with a professional about your fears and anxieties, the counselors at Capital EAP – such as myself – are here to help you through this difficult situation. If you would like to set up an appointment, please call our office at 518-465-3813.


By, Christopher Shepherd, Capital EAP Counselor