In a matter of days, there have been a mass shooting at a Florida school, a drive-by shooting at a local eatery and bar, and a tragic accident resulting in a young mother's death.
Some say these events make them want to go somewhere and hide. Unfortunately, that is not an option for the vast majority of people, but you can take steps to help keep your family members safe.
We have all been taught to "stop, drop and roll" in the event of a fire, and for years we have taught children about stranger danger in an effort to avoid child abductions. Now, Ready.gov says we should be ready to "run, hide and fight."
Although the thought of having this discussion with your kids can make you sad, talking about it and sharing ways your children can protect themselves may help them feel more secure. Your discussion will certainly vary based on age, however.
For elementary-age children, the American School Counselor Association recommends the following:
-Try to keep routines as normal as possible. Children gain security from the predictability of routine, including attending school.
-Limit a younger child's exposure to television and the news. This is actually good for adults as well.
-Be honest and share as much information as your child is developmentally able to handle. Listen to their fears and concerns. Reassure them that the world is a good place to be, but there are people who do bad things.
For older tweens and teens, advice expands from limitations to taking action.
-Specifically talk with them about how to take action should they find themselves in danger. For example, if they see something, they should say something. Show them how to be aware of their environment and to notice anything that looks out of the ordinary.
-Be aware. In addition to these things, you can make a family plan to ensure everyone anticipates what they would do if confronted with an active shooter or some other type of violent situation. Look for the two nearest exits anywhere you go — the mall, a movie theater or restaurant — and have an escape path in mind or identify places you could hide.
IN THE LINE OF FIRE
-Run. If you ever find yourself in an active-shooter situation, getting away from the danger is the top priority. Leave your belongings behind and get away. Help others escape, if possible, but evacuate regardless of whether others agree to follow. Warn and prevent individuals from entering an area where the active shooter may be. Call 911 when you are safe, and describe the shooter, location and weapons if you can.
-Hide. If you can't escape, hide. Get out of the shooter's view, and stay very quiet. Silence all electronic devices, and make sure they won't vibrate. Lock and block doors, close blinds and turn off lights. Don't hide in groups — spread out along walls or hide separately to make it more difficult for the shooter. Try to communicate silently with police. Use text messaging or social media to tag your location, or put a sign in a window. Stay in place until law enforcement gives you the all-clear. Your hiding place should be out of the shooter's view and provide protection if shots are fired in your direction.
-Fight. As a last resort, fight. Commit to your actions, and act as aggressively as possible against the shooter. Recruit others to ambush the shooter with makeshift weapons like chairs, fire extinguishers, scissors, books, etc. Throw items to distract and disarm the shooter, and be prepared to cause severe or fatal injury to the shooter.
Clearly, this sensitive and intense topic should be handled with the utmost care. You know your family and what is in their best interest. These are trying times for everyone, so make sure you take the time to listen to your children. Encourage them to ask questions and to share their thoughts and feelings. Watch for any changes in their behavior, too, because stress and anxiety can show themselves in different ways depending on the child.
Our world has changed, and many are experiencing a level of fear and anxiety that has not been present before. Sticking our heads in the sand or being unprepared is not constructive, and although accidents happen and you can't prepare for everything, the best offense may be a good defense. Just as "stop, drop and roll" has saved many lives, learning protective strategies to implement in the event of violence can also make an impact.
Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email her at email@example.com.