Los Angeles

How I told my kids about the L.A. threat

Originally posted on the NYDailyNews on 12/15/15

Tuesday at 7:05 a.m., I was alerted that all Los Angeles public schools would be closed in response to “threats made on many schools.” Just under two weeks ago, my children’s elementary school was threatened by a man who said he wanted to, shoot children and then kill himself. A similar threat was made the following day at another LAUSD elementary school. Both schools were put on lockdown and safely evacuated.

Thankfully, in these cases, no one was hurt. Still, with our city under heightened alert in the wake of the terror in Paris and San Bernardino, parents are left with a unsettling question: Is it safe to send our children to school?

The confusion and fear this lockdown and evacuation had on our community of children, staff and families is difficult to convey. When I received the initial call that school was on lockdown, time stood still. One mother shared how her kindergartener’s emotional state went from calm during the lockdown to terror when the LAPD came loudly knocking on the door.

 The child said, “I thought it was the bad guy trying to get into our classroom.” The presence of hundreds of armed police escorting children out of classrooms led my first grader to fear and question, “where was the bad guy?”

Reassuring our children that we had many good guys at the school to protect them was crucial to easing fears.

Now, two weeks later, in the wake of a new threat, additional parents are feeling paralyzed by fear.

As a psychotherapist, many parents have asked me how to handle the situation. I explain, parents provide the path in which children will follow. It is critical for parents to lead with clarity, honesty and assurances of safety.

This morning I had to explain to my children as to why school was closed. I chose to speak with both my 6-year-old and my 9-year-old separately.

Without going into great detail about the nature of the threat, I calmly explained all schools were closed because the superintendent wanted to ensure they were safe.

Parents should always follow their children’s lead as to what questions they have and answering them appropriately. The most important thing is to remain calm and convey a sense of safety to your children.

You may be worried about terrorism or some lone gunman; do all you can to prevent your kids from absorbing that anxiety.

I realize this advice may, to some, seem academic.

One mother emailed me stating, “I’m so sad our kids live in this world. I honestly don’t want to send them all week. These people have successfully scared me, and they have won.” Another mother said “my children saw it on the news and I think they are sadly starting to get used to it.”

So, what are we to do beyond being thrown about by periodic threats like boats on choppy seas? We should modernize the safety of schools nationwide — and I’m not just talking about lockdown drills, which heighten fear without doing much more.

During and after our recent threat at my children’s school, we had a mental health presence to help children — and parents — deal with the anxiety. That’s crucial.

So is hardening targets to ensure that all schools have the security personnel they need to react in the event of an emergency.

School is our children’s second home. Parents deserve to know it is a safe one.


Photo by Abbie Bernet