If you have never experienced a real lockdown, my second grader will tell you all about it.
First, they lock all of the doors to the school including the classroom doors. Then they turn off the lights and ask the kids to be silent and hide in the dark. In our daughter’s case, the lockdown lasted for 40 minutes. I wonder … what does it do to the 8-year-old mind to hide together in silence and darkness for nearly an hour? Amelia said that she was trying to pray, but her little hands were in fists because she was so mad at the man who was coming to get them. She was ready to fight. Other kids in her class cried.
Lockdown drills have quickly become a reality for our children. For us, the real lockdown went into effect when a police chase led to a suspect abandoning his car and running through the elementary school grounds. Schools are right to prepare for such events, and by all accounts, the lockdown was successful. The suspect was apprehended, and everyone was safe.
While our schools focus on the physical — locking doors, turning off the lights, hiding the children and staff — it is up to us as parents to help with the emotional and spiritual fallout of what has become a reality of life.
What can we do? What can we say?
First, it’s important to be present physically. Hug your kids. Hold their hands. Teach them about the power of healing touch. There will be time to talk about it, but when they are afraid, every parent knows the power of holding kids close. Even big kids. My fifth-grader didn’t experience the lockdown in the same way as my youngest (he was in the lunchroom at the time), but he needed many more hugs after school that day.
Next, we can equip our kids with something to say or think about during the lockdown itself. I reminded both my kids of their guardian angels and how they can talk to their angels when they are afraid. They liked the prayer, “Angel of God, protect me now.” And we talked about St. Michael this Archangel who we can call upon for protection in scary times.
We can also remind our kids that we believe in the Communion of Saints. All of our ancestors are with us, both living and dead, and our faith teaches us to call upon the angels and saints in prayer and conversation. My kids have three grandparents up in heaven that they can and do call upon for help. “Grandma Beth, pray for us!” “Grandpa Ruben and Grandpa Dick, pray for us!”
Eventually, we all come to the realization that there is genuine evil in this world. As kids get older, and their innocence fades in light of this harsh reality, they turn to their parents or the adults in their life to try and make sense of it all. It is important to acknowledge that evil exists. Even Star Wars teaches us that there is a dark side in our world (and in each of us). Acknowledging evil is a first step. But we must go further and teach our kids that good always wins. Good always wins. And here is where our faith sustains us. The promise of our faith in Christ is that even death cannot hold us, because light and life always break through. The crucifixion and death on the cross are not the end of the story. Good always wins. Easter comes after Lent, Christ rises from the dead and new life begins again. The promise of our own resurrection is what keeps our hope alive, even in our darkest days.
When we are separated physically from our kids, we remind them nothing, and I mean nothing, can separate us from the love of God. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39).
Finally, it’s important to pay attention to our kids. Most of the time, we parents can sense if something is off. Are they experiencing stomachaches or headaches more often? Are they quieter than usual or acting out in aggression? It may be time to talk to a school counselor or child psychologist. It can also be helpful talk to your school about how they address the emotional side of lockdown drills.
It is heartbreaking to have to talk to our kids about safety and security and evil in the world. Yet it is up to us to give them the tools to face this reality. Now is the time to teach our kids to lean on their faith.
Heidi Busse is OSV's parish content manager.