lockdowns and emotional distress, open door in school classroom

A School Counselor’s Take on Lockdowns and Emotional Distress

In the past few years the number of lockdowns, caused by gun violence or threats of gun violence, has increased. The years of viewing schools as a “safe haven” and a place where children are sheltered from the chaos of the world, seem to be long gone. There has been an increase in the amount of lockdowns occurring in a school setting. The fear of the emotional distress and childhood trauma of school-aged children has been a heightened concern.

When done correctly school districts, administrators, school counselors, and parents can all help to make these experiences a more calm and secure environment for all students.


Lockdowns and Emotional Distress: What Needs to Get Done to Create a More Calm and Secure Environment in Schools?


#1  At the district and school level

The proper training and procedures need to be put in place. This means that,

  • School staff will feel more capable during a lockdown drill and/or crisis.
  • By receiving the proper training from the instructors at Guardian Defense, teachers and staff members will have the tools they need to help keep students calm, which can help to decrease childhood trauma.
  • Teachers learn verbal de-escalation tactics and the mental preparedness needed to manage an active shooter crisis situation.


#2  Perspective of a School Counselor

I recently read an article by Washington Post that questioned whether lockdowns in schools leave our children traumatized. I have been a School Counselor for the past 5 years and have experienced multiple lockdowns due to threats of gun violence.

Lockdowns are effective when done correctly.

From a counselor’s point of view, when age-appropriate conversations are being replicated by the teachers at the school and at home with their parents/guardians, students are able to cope better during a lockdown.


#3  Involvement of Parents/Guardians is KEY

I realized that a very important piece during these lockdowns is parental involvement.

As I reflect on my role during a lockdown, and the school’s safety plan, I realized that if parents/guardians were also aware of the school safety plan, then the parent/guardian can have a conversation with their child.

Parents/guardians SHOULD be involved not only in their child’s educational plan, but also in their school’s safety plan.

I learned from Co-Founder and President Steven Smith (when I participated in one of his courses in 2017) that parents/guardians need to ask the administration the following questions:

When parents/guardians are aware, then they can talk to their child to reassure them. These conversations can help ease a child’s fear and decrease or prevent childhood trauma.

If a school-aged child hears about a lockdown or a potential threat of gun violence at another school, a conversation with the child is important:

  • Avoiding or ignoring the situation can cause anxiety or uneasiness if they have to experience a lockdown in the future.
  • When a child experiences stress that is severe and prolonged like the article suggests of the children at D.C. Prep, (whether at home or at school), then childhood trauma can occur.
  • However, having a “buffer” like adult support, can assist the child to cope in stressful situations.


#4  Importance of Implementing Policies and Procedures

Lockdown procedures need to be precise.

The administration and the school staff need a clear understanding of their expectations and roles. Administrators need to know when to do a full lockdown versus a “hold” (a response following a low level threat, or a threat off-site, but close by). Simple and brief information followed by reassurance from the teacher, will help a child have a less stressful experience. This will lead to a decrease in any potential childhood trauma.

The way the adult reacts can highly influence how a child responds to a lockdown or an active shooter drill.

The training with Guardian Defense allowed me the ability to reflect on how lockdowns truly affect our children. I believe that if every School District in our country followed the initiative of POLICY-TRAIN-DRILL advocated by Guardian Defense, they would have the tools and skills needed to conduct a thorough plan for their school, including an effective lockdown. This will ease the anxieties of the staff members, leading to trust and security from the students.

About Stephanie Smith

Stephanie Smith has been a Professional School Counselor since 2015. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Florida International University. She later earned a Master’s in Education in School Counseling from Nova Southeastern University, where she joined Psi Chi National Honors Society. She is currently on the Comprehensive Counseling Team writing and implementing the new counseling curriculum for all School Counselors in her current school district.