What to Do When there is a School Lockdown

Ask Julie Smith, Communication, Education

Dear Julie,

With school starting up again I’m getting nervous about lockdowns. I have no idea what I would do if my kid’s school was on lockdown. Do you have any advice for how to handle this nightmare situation?

Signed, Worried Mama of 4

Dear Worried Mama,

School lockdowns are at the top of the list when it comes to parental nightmares, right after trying to get your teen to put down their phone. No one wants to think of their child being in danger, especially in a situation where the parent can’t get to the child. As parents, facing our own anxieties is great practice for helping our kids to the same. If you learn how to manage your anxiety about a stressful situation you will be better able to walk your kid through the steps.

Here are five tips for handling this specific stressful situation.

Do some prep work.

One of the best ways to handle anxiety is to know what’s going on. The more you know about what different terms such as “soft lockdown,” “hard lockdown,” and “partial lockdown” mean in your district, and how the district will communicate information, the better. Doing this research before there’s a problem can help tame your anxiety, and prevent you from panicking in the moment. If your child has a disability or other special needs that might make an emergency situation more stressful, make sure you’ve discussed these issues with school personnel and that they have a plan in place for evacuating or otherwise helping your child. Other ways to be prepared include keeping your child’s emergency contact and pick-up information up-to-date, following the sign-in procedures at your child’s school and talking to your child about staying safe by reviewing school procedures.


Stay calm and aware.

If you’re on Facebook, you’ve probably seen this sentence at least once, usually about a completely harmless situation.  “Grr, Mama Bear comes out when my baby is in trouble.” The tendency to become “mama- and papa-bear” when there is a perceived threat against your child is normal, but it’s not necessarily helpful. Taking a few deep breaths will help you calmly assess the situation. Remember, everyone is working to help your child.


 Be cooperative.

In an emergency, you probably will not have immediate access to your child. Don’t become part of the problem by going to the school, instead, wait until you receive further instructions about what to do and where to go to be reunited with your child. Often schools will designate a “safe zone” for parents. If your school has one, wait there but please avoid the school until you are given the green light.


 Monitor official channels.

Tune into local radio or TV for updates. Many schools and law enforcement agencies also have social media accounts to provide emergency updates and procedures. While you want to stay informed through official channels, depending on your anxiety level, you may want to avoid unofficial channels such as a neighborhood Facebook group. Seeing post after post about the emergency, with no new information added can increase your anxiety. Too often, assumptions are made about what is occurring without having the facts. Information shared over social media travels at light speed. Every like, tweet, comment or share adds to a growing sense of hysteria.


Don’t call/text your child.

The first instinct may be to reach out to your child. However, in lockdown, classrooms are darkened and silenced. A ring or beep can alert an assailant or intruder to the classroom. Instead, wait for your child to contact you or you have received further instructions from officials. Yes, it will be really, really hard, but it could keep your child out of harm’s way.


My wish is that you never have to face a school lockdown. That doesn’t mean that your fear and anxiety about the potential of the situation isn’t real. Some level of fear and anxiety is normal, but if you find yourself unable to move past fears about an unlikely situation, such as a school lockdown, please speak to a professional.

And, as always, if you have a friend, family member, educator or colleague that you feel would benefit from this information, I’d be incredibly grateful if you would pass it on.

With many x’s and o’s~ Julie