Can it Make Sense to a First-Grader?

Tue, April 17, 2007

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Is there such a thing as too much precaution?

Yesterday’s shootings at Virginia Tech have me wondering how much is enough, as well as how we can keep needed precautions from scaring our young children.

The school PunditGirl now attends has a receptionist on duty at the front door all during the school day, but parents and visitors pretty much come and go as they please — for reading time, lunch duty, parent meetings, etc.

It’s a nice thing — it’s cozy and familial. But I’ve often felt some unease with the possibility of evil gaining access to the school because of that neighborhood attitude and our sense that an elementary school is the safest of places. A few years ago, after some sniper-style shootings here, many preschools kept their doors locked all day, allowing people entry only after being viewed on a monitor and being buzzed in. I don’t know why that made me feel better — after all, the kids were on the playground a couple of times a day near an active community center with plenty of people coming and going.

After yesterday’s murders, I’m wondering how it’s possible to balance a discussion about possibly increasing safety precautions at her school with the reality that more of that may only serve to frighten the kids more than they already are.

PunditGirl had a million questions a few weeks ago after her school had a semi-regular “lock-down” drill. The only reason I knew about it was because I was there at the time for a parents’ association meeting and was required to participate, moving from an interior room with interior windows to one were we could not be seen. It was freaky enough for me, fully comprehending that this was just a practice drill for an event that I pray will never happen. I admit I felt the hair go up on the back of my neck as we huddled in the corner of the music room, amid the African drums, lights out and silent.

I learned that for the children, their drill involves making sure all the window blinds are closed, the window on the classroom door is covered, the door is locked and then they make the children gather in the corner furthest from the glass windows, trying to keep them from making a peep. How does a first-grader make sense of that, after you’ve explained that school is a safe and welcoming place?

PunditGirl grilled me for a week about why they needed to do that — is there a man with a gun trying to get in? How do I know it will be OK? How do I know that he won’t get in? She reports that some of her friends are now afraid to go to the bathroom by themselves for fear that there might be a “bad man” lurking in the stalls.

I’m at a loss as to how to answer her questions and how to assuage her fears. I could lie and say that no bad men will ever come into her school. But I can’t do that. Explaining that the odds are slim isn’t satisfying for either one of us. So the anxiety lingers. The fear has crept into her consiousness at home, as well. She wants to make sure all our doors at home are locked at night.

“Nobody’s coming in and nobody’s going out, right?” she asks us each and every night after she’s tucked in. I try to assure her that we’re safe as she voices her seven-year-old worries each night.

Now, how to figure out managing my low-level anxiety about the myriad scenarios racing through my mind?

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Nancy also has a politically thoughtful post on the shootings over at The Soccer Mom Vote called, “When Tragedy Sets the Platform.” This is an aspect that struck me right away last night as the cable coverage went into overdrive.

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10 Responses to “Can it Make Sense to a First-Grader?”

  1. Lisa Giebitz Says:

    Bad things can happen anywhere, at anytime. It’s a scary thought most of us (myself included) don’t like to dwell on.

    I truly believe that even with all the safety measures in the world, that terrible things could still happen.

    So like you said, where’s the balance? How much is good sense and how much is paranoia? When do all the ‘safety measures’ get in the way of, well, living?

    And how do you explain to a child why bad things like this happen?

    I suppose, in this case, I would say that sometimes people become ill and the illness is in their brain and that causes them to do things that they probably wouldn’t do otherwise. A little thing all of us can do is care more about the people around us, not just our family and friends, but the lonely guy you always see at the coffee shop or the store clerk who seems to be having a bad day. I have to believe that a little kindness can go a long way.

  2. impromptublogger Says:

    My dd was just entering kindergarten when 9/11 happened and she was frankly fairly oblivious to it all.

    But entering 1st grade was when the Beltway snipers occurred and the school was in lockdown for 2 weeks! It was horrible. They kids didn’t understand why they were locked in and any explanation I gave didn’t make much sense to her. The kids were bouncing off the walls not having outside recess and mornings at the busstops consisted of them playing “Red Rover” they had so much pent-up energy. I doubt she even remembers anything about it.

  3. Amanda Says:

    So tough finding balance. I remember living in the city before kids and thinking that I didn’t want to have to one day raise my children to be fearful. Now, as a parent I realize that there needs to be some degree of awareness, some level of fear or respect for threats, whether we are talkin about an undertow at the ocean of a bad person on the street. I cannot begin to give advice on how to soothe, other than perhaps try and give your daughter the ability to trust her instinct, to not trust when she feels worried, to always question. Too simplistic?

  4. Motherhood Uncensored Says:

    Hey Chica — You’ve got some weird color issues going on with the bloggy :)

    Anyway, I’m about to read Protecting the Gift – great book I hear — and I think it addresses this.

    It’s one of the toughest things about parenthood. of course, I’ve been saying that about EVERYTHING these days…

  5. D Says:

    After reading your description of the drill, I can’t help but be reminded of the air raid drills I’ve heard about from WWII.

  6. Lawyer Mama Says:

    I ache that we live in a world where kids have to worry about these things. The drills we prepared for as kids were for fires or tornadoes. I have no idea where to even begin explaining all of this.

    Gosh & you reminded me about the sniper stuff. I was still childless at that point, but thinking back now I realize how much worse it would have been if I’d had children then. I probably would have locked myself up in the house.

    I’ll have to check out the book K. mentioned.

  7. Damselfly Says:

    You’re right — where is the boundary between protection and overprotection? I don’t know what I’ll tell my boy when he gets old enough to understand what is going on in the world.

  8. Gunfighter Says:

    Remember, thinking about security is important. Not thinking way too much about security is equally important.

    Some things can be defended against with prudence and good sense.

    After you have been thoughtful about security issues, and done everythign that you can do, pay close attnetion, stay close, and don’t over-think it.

    Know what you can do, know what you can’t do, and don’t drive yourself mad.

    GF

  9. Oh, The Joys Says:

    It’s so hard to know how much is too much protection. K and I talked about this too.

  10. Doc Think Says:

    You ask, “Can it make sense to a first-grader?” Heck, it doesn’t make much sense to this parent of a teen and almost teen. Kids are very resilient, and put stuff in perspective. My youngest was 5 on 9/11 and asked, “What happened last time this happenend?”

    They pick up fears from us. If we are confident, then they will be. And when I say confident, it’s not confident that something bad won’t happen but confident that they will be able to handle/manage/survive. That’s the best we can do.

    I did want to hit on my next fear. Over-reaction. We shut down the streets, add barricades and metal detectors, stand in long security lines, and look at our neighbors with additional suspicion. I dunno–seems like we give up alot and I don’t know what for.

    Thanks for the good post.


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