How to Deal with Emergency Drill at School

Updated on November 30, 2012
A.P. asks from Morrisville, PA
19 answers

My son, who is in kindergarten, told me that today at school they had an emergency drill "in case someone would try to come into the school and hurt us." Then, with a shaky voice and on the verge of tears, he asks me, "Why would someone try to hurt us? Would they come in to our class and strangle us? Would they make us stop breathing?" I didn't know how to answer him or what to say, so I told him we'd talk about it, but that I needed time to think. I don't have a problem with the drill, but I'm shocked and disappointed that the school would be so blunt with such young children, running roughshod over their innocence. I feel that it was completely inappropriate to tell them anything beyond the idea of needing to do it in case of an "emergency." When I worked in an elementary school, we told the kids, when asked, that it would be for a situation like if a bear or other wild animal got into the school. At the very least, I feel like the parents should have been notified of the drill, so that we could be prepared for questions, etc.

So three questions: First, am I overreacting? Second, what should I actually tell my son? And third, do you think I should talk to the administration or teacher about this?


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So What Happened?

Thanks for all the responses. I spoke with my son's teacher and, YES, she DID tell the kids that they were doing this drill in case someone would come into the school and try to hurt them. She didn't seem to see anything wrong with that, which I find very disturbing. (In fact, in one of the drills, the school announces "shooter" over the PA system.) Since I originally posted my question, my son has asked even more questions about this, and it breaks my heart. I know there are evils in this world and, yes, I teach him about such things, but I think it's completely inappropriate to tell a 5 year old that someone might come into their school to hurt them. For those of you who strongly disagreed with me and think i shouldn't shelter him, well, someone could come into your house and rob you at gunpoint. It could happen, but do you need to tell your child that? Do they need to know WHY you're locking your doors at night? At least the teacher is willing to compromise a little--she will let me know when they are having the drills--that way I can decide to either prepare my son, or keep him home.

More Answers


answers from Washington DC on

dimes to donuts the teacher said something perfectly appropriate and the other kids took it and ran with it.
do not ever take the word of a kindergartner. they're rarely liars, but the kindergartner's filter is not that of an adult.
find out what actually happened before you shoot off.
and be glad your school is thinking about how to handle emergencies.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Detroit on

I think you are overreacting a little. I am a teacher and my school has never sent home prior notice to drills, not has my son ever brought one home form his school.

The teacher may have talked about strangers and keeping kids safe from them. The sad fact is there are bad people that will hurt children, so I have told my son always that he needs to listen in emergencies so that no one can hurt him and i can keep him safe. I don't go into details, but then he never asked.

I would maybe talk to the teacher to let her know that your son was scared. As a teacher, I would want to know if one of my students was scared so I could address it. I would also talk to him about how we practice so that is there ever is an emergency we don't have to be scared because we know what to do, just like for a fire or tornado drill.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I agree with the other posters who suggest asking the teacher what sort of information is given to the kids regarding drills.

I can tell you that at our school recently, there was a fugitive who ran through the playground a half-hour after school. The police showed up en masse and the buildings were in lockdown until the all-clear was given. I say this because it does happen from time to time, and your child's classmates may have older siblings who are happy to provide more lurid details (this is also par for the course for youngsters). This is why it's good to check in on this, and then to reassure your son that his school is a safe place. Let him know that you would never send him to a place that you thought wasn't safe and that the scary stuff he heard about hardly ever happens. It's true--in the big picture, these instances are rare, which is why they so affect us.

When my son gets worried, I remind him that there are a few bad guys out there, but there are lots and lots of good guys, lots of people that would care enough to help each other. I think that's the best we can do: to show them that most people are pretty good.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

1) We've had one lockdown already this year (someone with a gun several blocks over).

I was ON campus when it happened... and the teachers didn't say a word of what was actually happening to the kids... but you should have heard what they were telling each other. Of course, some kids actually knew (they were in the office when the call came in, and adults talk in front of kids without thinking), and that info was all over the school in about 2 minutes flat. So everyone knew there was a gun. What the wild stories were about were MOSTLY gun related. They ranged from Rambo type stories, to some horrifically graphic snuff film type stories, to paratroopers, to, to, to.

Actual quotes I heard from teachers shouted loudly enough to be heard through shut doors:

"No Johnny. No one is putting ANYTHING in ANYONE'S orofice. Next person who brings it up again... "

"Yes. If they land helicopters on the school roof to take us all to a secret location, that would be pretty cool. Don't think it's going to happen."

"Baby Genius!"

"Instead of telling us the story, why don't you write it down?"

"No the school does NOT have cannons!"

"We are not being invaded by China."

"You were born in 2006."

2) If it WAS the teacher (or other person in authority) spreading strangulation stories, yep. Wildly inappropriate, and not overreacting.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

Talk to his Teacher.
I don't think the school would "scare" the Kinder kids on purpose...nor use that exact wording, to the kids.

With my kids' school, they ALWAYS send home a note, a couple of days before, an emergency drill, to let the parents know when it is going to be.

When my son was in Kindergarten, he got scared... even with the stories of Thanksgiving. It scared him for awhile. He'd tell me "Mommy, I don't want you to get sick or you'll die...." and he'd CRY and clutch me tightly. I asked him why he says that... and what is bothering him. He explained that, while learning about Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims and Indians, that many of the Indians died from diseases that the Pilgrims brought with them, to this land. He said they got sick, and died. But that is his child's mind... about it. His Teacher did not tell them this to scare them, and she certainly did not say that their parents would die if they got sick. She was just teaching them history.

So, talk to the Teacher, and explain the fear in your child about the drill... and she CAN perhaps, talk the the entire classroom to explain it with less drama.

Maybe, the other kids said that. Not the Teacher or the school.
I cannot imagine, any teacher telling their students that someone is going to "strangle them" or make them stop breathing.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

I would ask the teacher what was said and let her know how your son interpreted it. Everyone has their own interpretation of what they see and hear. It could have been that this was another child's interpretation of what he heard and he passed his view on to your son.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

They hold these drills here in Austin and have since our daughter was in elementary school and she is 22 now.

They do not send out notices about is supposed to be a surprise.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

The drills are lock down drills - my school district's "party line" is in the event of police activity. We have had two actual occurances since the start of school at my son's school, one ironically the same day a drill was planned I only know it was planned b/c I am on PTO and was there that morning when they discussed it.

Kids talk and create stories - I am sure that is what you son is a victim of nothing more.

They are a surprise so they instill a kind of panic to make it a realistic senario - sorry but he was supposed to be scared a little bit.

Now discuss with him the reality of the purpose of the drill and that it is mainly in the event of police activity and they do this so a bad guy can not hide in your school or whatever rainbows and lolipops spin you need to put on it to make yourself feel better. I for one have always been honest with my son and given him enough to appease his couriosity with out giving him too much to digest.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

rule of thumb (which i learned the hard way too) - you're always overreacting if you freak out WITHOUT talking to the school first.

i would highly doubt any teacher or adult at the school told them someone might come and strangle them.

more likely, one of his classmates said it or he overheard it. first thing before freaking out - talk to his teacher. bet you anything they handled it fine.

S., it's a harsh reality of life, but yes, some people are bad and are not nice to people, including little kids. you can tell your son that that is why he has you and his daddy and his teachers, because it's your JOB to keep him safe - which you will always do.

i thought my child was sheltered (he doesn't have older siblings, and we don't watch a lot of shows with violence or anything) but he does know that there are "bad" people that might be mean to him. i think on some level he knows what that can mean. i don't think it's a bad thing - in public, for example, my son knows that "hide and seek" is NOT safe because there are bad people that might want to harm him if mommy does not know where he is. there's a reason for some fears. it keeps us safe. so yes, i think an age-appropriate amount of fear of strangers is VERY necessary. it might be time to have that talk with your kindergartener, especially how this seems to be such a traumatic shock to him. good luck!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

You... lighten up. Reality is lock down drills at schools as well as weather drills.

Your child needs to know if he is in danger what measures to take. You help him understand via calm communication that schools practice this for a just in case measure.

It is more than likely he'll experience a real drill by middle or high school. He needs educated that preparation is a good thing.

Maybe his buddies were talking up scary things while in the drill, I don't know, but communicate with your child that drills are a practice for a what if that will most likely not occur.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Sounds like things that would come out of a child's mouth and not a teacher's mouth. You may mention to the teacher how you son reacted and is feeling. Tell how that you would like to help your child understand the purpose of the drill and why it is important and ask what info was given to the kids. Teachers can't control how kids interpret things or how they add their own thoughts to the conversation.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Yes, basing an opinion on the (second hand) words of a 5-6 year old is over reacting.
If you are concerned about what the drill was REALLY about, call the school in the morning.
I have heard of fire, flood, hurricane, tornado, earthquake and natural disaster (like a gas/nuclear waste leak) drills but never a "what if someone came to school and tried to hurt us" drill.
Get the facts FIRST, and THEN freak out (if necessary.)

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Milwaukee on

you are over reacting....your son needs to know that not everyone is nice in the world. and it's the school trying to protect your child to the best that they you choose at home is another story. all kids need to know of the strange danger and know how to protect themselves.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Sacramento on

I don't think you're over reacting. You were wise to buy yourself time to think about the situation.

I would contact the teacher and ask how she explained the drill to the children. I would tell her the version your son gave and maybe she'll have some insight as to where he came up with that explanation. You might find your son's information came from a classmate or some other source.

I would tell my child the drill is the school's way of making sure everyone is safe if there was an emergency. Explain how rare it is for anything to happen at school but the drill is a way for everyone to practice and know what to do, just in case. I'd explain that depending on the type of emergency, sometimes its safer to stay in the classroom and sometimes its better to leave- good time to discuss fire drills too. I would use your bear example but our school did one once because a dog came onto the campus and the dog acted aggressive when they tried to catch him.

I think if you treat it like its not a big deal, he'll calm down.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Cleveland on

I didn't catch in your post but did the teacher say if someone woudl hurt us, or did another child tell that to him?

Maybe you could say that the teachers have lots of ways of keepign kids safe, like no running in the halls, and follow directions, and they send kids to the nurse if they get sick and they have smoke alarms to keep kids safe just like mommy and daddy do things at home to keep you safe. like buckling the seat belt in the car and only grown ups use the stove. Its just something they do to make sure you are safe.

Maybe that would answer it well enough for him to not dwell on the "people" coming in and hurting him. type thing.

Its tough, and sad that this is our world, so i don't discount your feelings, but on the other hand he may get over it quicker if you are calm and don't try too hard to answer to much for him. i personally don't feel a call to the school is warranted but if it makes you feel better you might try to start with the teacher who would have been right there and might be able to shed some light on your sons reaction.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Miami on

Please call the principal today and ask him or her why your child had to hear such a frightening reason for the drill. Pin him or her down on this. I feel like this is just ridiculous.


1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

If your son's teacher actually said that the drill was in case someone came in school and tried to hurt them, then I think your justified in being upset. Yes, kids need emergency drills, and yes they should be without notice. But there is no need to tell kindergarteners that there are people who come to school - which should be a safe place - to hurt them. That said - I would follow up with the teacher to see what was actually said (as others note, it may be that another kid said that this was the reason) and talk about other ways to prepare the children (like the wild animal scenario or inclement weather one. Finally - although emergency drills should be without notice, my son's school did warn us and the kids about the first one of the year so that they could prepare the kids about what was going to happen. The remainder will be surprise drills.



answers from New York on

1st, Chances are the school officials did not say that someone would come in and strangle them but another child "elaborated" or something.
2nd ALL children should know what to do in case of emergency. In our childrens day this is a very real possible emergency that needs to be dealt with. You should tell your child that there are bad people in the world that do bad things. You can explain to him that not all people are bad but there are some that are. By now you have probably told him about the danger of going somewhere with someone he doesn't know or you don't know and trust. Didn't you explain that it's because of bad people.
I am all for keeping children as innoccent as possible but to not explain simple bad verses good is a mistake. A child understands (or should) that they can't trust every dog because some might bite and that is why you ask before touching a dog. Use the same idea when explaining people. I have explained to my 3 year old that she can't take off without me because she could get hurt. She gets it een if she doesn't always obey.
Don't go to the school with an attitude but rather explain that your son came home and said that "someone said.....X" and could you please let me know what was said and done because your son is worried and you would like to be able to explain it to him further. Remember what was said and what your son said was said may be two different things. Children (just like adults) don't always listen well and can take things and expand them expecially with the help of a friend or another child.



answers from Washington DC on

Reason #1001 why I'm so very grateful my child is in a private school. While we do follow many of the same guidelines as public schools, we are afforded the freedom to NOT be subjected to many of the governmental mandates.

Yes, we do have fire drills and what we call "emergency preparedness drills." First and foremost, the parents are notified in the weekly newsletter if a drill is scheduled for the following week. We are also text and emailed a reminder the morning of the drill.

In fact, earlier this year one of the teachers smelled a plastic-ky (not a word I know, but no way to describe it) odor. She called down to the office and the Principal immediately announced a fire drill over the PA system and pulled the alarm. The school was evacuated within minutes. The children were already outside on the playground before the first fire truck showed up.

Apparently all of the staff knows that if an impromptu drill comes over the PA it is a real threat of danger but they don't want to scare the kids so they act like it is a drill. I got a text and email alerting me of the possibility of a fire at the school and that all children and staff were evacuated and accounted for. I received the alert within minutes of hearing the town volunteer sirens going off. A follow up alert came about a half hour later letting us know that a water cooler in one of the teacher lounges had a wire short out and that was the burning plastic-ky smell. The water cooler was removed, the fire dept checked the entire building before allowing anyone back inside. My point in all of this is that communication is key. Can you imagine the panic that might have ensued had we all heard the sirens and the radio call for possible fire at our school without having the heads up from the school?

At the beginning of each school year during orientation assemblies the Principal explains the importance for such drills. However, she uses instances of bad weather that we would need to lock down for, or examples of should a child wander off from his/her classroom and we need to locate them immediately (like a walmart alert, although this has never happened and it is not the reason for the drill, it helps the children think of why it is so important to follow the directions given without scaring the bejesus out of them.), or if someone comes into the school without stopping in the office for a visitor's pass. She explains it in such a way that the children know everyone is required to wear a visitor's pass and we take our school security very seriously. Not once has she ever said a gunman or bad person wanting to hurt us. There are ways to address these matters without terrorizing our young children.

Our school holds separate assemblies for the elementary, middle school, and high school levels. I'm sure as the age of the student's increase the amount of information given to the students increases. I would not have a problem with the Principal explaining to the middle school and high school students the possibility of a gunman in the neighborhood causing a lock down, or even the possibility of an armed intruder at the school. I think the children in that age group are already aware of such possibilities and to sugar coat it just insults their intelligence.

Our school also has a "buddy up" program as part of our anti bullying campaign. Every middle & high school student is assigned an elementary school "buddy" at the beginning of the school year. Throughout the year the buddies do projects together, they make crafts, read to each other, make gifts for the kids parents, have lunch together occasionally, have ice cream parties, attend mass together, etc.

The older students really welcome the responsibility of looking out for their buddy. They really do care about the little ones. It's rather sweet. Our daughter still remains in contact with her buddies from prior years. The older children know they are privy to more information than the younger children and they know their job is to guide and protect their buddies. Therefore we don't have any of the older kids telling the younger kids what is really going on. They know they are supposed to make their buddy feel safe and secure at all times. It is a big responsibility that they take very seriously.

Does my 6 year old know there are bad people in the world? Yup, she sure does. We've explained that to her at HER level when we practice what to do if someone tries to grab her or touch her inappropriately. We don't do the whole "stranger danger" bit because frankly, it is not a stranger trying to harm your children. Why? Because once they introduce themselves to your child and start a conversation with them, then they are no longer a "stranger."

My child knows that there are sick people in the world that are so very unhappy that they try to hurt other people to make them feel as bad as they do. Her response is to pray for them so that they may find peace and comfort in their lives. I'm ok with that :)

I would most definitely contact the administration to find out why the parent's were not warned of the drill. Although I'm sure you will get the run of the mill response that they are not required or allowed to give warning.

Are you aware that all across the country terror drills are being performed in public schools where they actually remove your children from the school and bus them to an undisclosed location WITHOUT the parents knowledge or permission? You read that right. They are taking your children out of school, not telling the children it is a drill and not telling the parents about it until well after it is over. Utterly ridiculous.

I urge you all to check out the video on this link, it is an actual terror drill performed at a school. Read the article, educate yourselves on what is happening in our schools. Here is an excerpt from the article that really annoyed me:

During a terror drill at a public school in Muskegon County, Michigan, students and teachers were told that “homeschoolers” were the ones attacking them….

“The exercise will simulate an attack by a fictitious radical group called Wackos Against Schools and Education who believe everyone should be homeschooled. Under the scenario, a bomb is placed on the bus and is detonated while the bus is traveling on Durham, causing the bus to land on its side and fill with smoke.”

REALLY...Homeschoolers are attacking them???? Way to go government, let's just label homeschoolers as wack jobs because they do not conform to your way of thinking. Or how about this one:

In another case in New Jersey, students were told that the gunmen were from a group of “fundamentalist Christians” called “The New Crusaders”….

“Investigators described them as members of a right-wing fundamentalist group called the ‘New Crusaders’ who don’t believe in separation of church and state. The mock gunmen went to the school seeking justice because the daughter of one had been expelled for praying before class.”

I can't even wrap my head around that.... point taken, homeschoolers and Christians are the it.

Google it for yourself and you will find hundreds of stories just like this one.

I can tell you now, I would unleash all kinda crazy on an administration that allowed such a drill at my child's school. Seriously??? Armed men taking your children out of school at gunpoint while fellow students and staff lay bloody on the ground? I don't care if they are blanks. WTH???

Peace and Blessings to you and your son,
T. B

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