McALESTER, Okla. — Schools across the country are reopening this year with an increased focus on safety, following the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 students dead, as well as two of their teachers.
Even with these precautions, for many parents, the new school year comes with heightened anxiety.
“In the back of your mind, you’re always worried about it. And it’s never out of place,” Cassie Walton, a mother of two in McAlester, Oklahoma, told ABC News. “It’s always possible, no matter where you live or what kind of school you go to, you really never know.”
As Walton prepared her eldest son Weston, 5, to start kindergarten this month, she said she bought him the usual school supplies, as well as a bulletproof backpack to put in his bag backpack Spiderman.
Walton, 22, also took her son through a makeshift active-shooter drill at home in the hope, she said, it would better prepare him for what he might experience in his classroom.
“I think it’s important for him to at least have some ideas of what he should be doing rather than blindly walking in and not knowing anything,” Walton said. “He did a really good job of remembering what to do and how to do it, and of course I told him when it was time it might not be exactly the same. , that maybe he should do something different.”
Walton was born less than a year after the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado that left 12 students and a teacher dead. She said she grew up participating in school safety drills and used what she remembered from the active shooter drills conducted at her high school to teach her son.
“We would have threats all the time, and you would never know which ones are serious and which ones aren’t,” Walton said of his high school experience. “So you have to be ready, no matter what, to go from zero to 100 in the blink of an eye.”
Just days before her son is due to start kindergarten, Walton shared a video on TikTok of herself leading him in an active-shooter drill at home.
In the video, she can be heard asking Weston what to do if a teacher says to go to a corner and be quiet and still. Later, she asks her son what he would do if a shooter was in the classroom and he overheard a policeman asking if anyone was inside the classroom, reminding him to “absolutely stay quiet”.
Walton’s video received over a million likes on TikTok.
“I just wanted to show that even though it’s sad, it’s starting to be our reality with the way things are going,” Walton said. “There are more and more shootings every year, and it’s better to be prepared than sorry.”
How to deal with back-to-school anxiety amid school shootings
Walton’s post sparked thousands of comments on TikTok, with many other parents saying they were also afraid for their children.
Some also wrote that they too had talked at home with their children about how to survive possible school shootings.
“I can’t stop watching this without crying. I tell my kids about it every year, but I’m still emotional,” one commenter wrote.
Janine Domingues, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute in New York, said additional worry this year due to the Uvalde shooting, in addition to normal back-to-school anxiety, was to be expected.
“There’s definitely an extra layer, I think more for parents, around school shootings,” Domingues told ABC News. “I can totally understand as a parent of a 7-year-old who will soon be entering first grade, certainly with a desire in mind to make sure this year is safe and that we all go prepared for it. “
For parents anxious about the start of the school year, Domingues recommends discuss with school officials the security plan in placeincluding exercises during school.
“My main recommendation is really to follow what the school is doing,” she said. “I can totally understand parents wanting to be prepared and potentially wanting to do the exercises at home, but I think it could also potentially be counterproductive because what you might say might be slightly different than what is going to be done at school, and it can actually potentially create more chaos and put people at risk.”
Safe and Sound Schools, a non-profit organization founded by parents who lost children in the Sandy Hook school shooting, recommends that parents know what security measures are in place at their child’s school before speaking with their child.
“For example, ask your school administration or school safety coordinator what types of drills students participate in,” the organization says in its online school safety guide. “Learn what instructions are given and the language used to explain these measurements to students.”
The organization also recommends that parents spend time asking their child questions to help assess “what information they are missing” about school safety protocols.
“Some good opening questions are: what does your school do to help you stay safe? or what are some of the things your school teaches you about safety?” says the guide.
Similarly, Domingues said parents can also let children know that they will practice school safetywithout creating additional anxiety.
“Sometimes preparing too much in advance can make an anxious child even more anxious,” Domingues said. “If you want to say anything, it can be like, ‘There’s a lot of things you learn in school, and some of the things you’re going to learn are about how we protect each other, ‘ and keep it simple like that.”
And while parents may have more anxiety about school safety than even their children, Domingues said they can be useful models for their children in how they deal with their worry.
First, according to Domingues, parents should talk openly with their children, at a developmentally appropriate level, about their concerns.
“I think talking about it can be really helpful because it helps ease some of that anxiety, and it also helps the kids see how you’re handling the situation as well,” Domingues said. “A lot of times I tell parents to really get to a place where you feel calm – you can still be really sad, angry that it’s happening, anxious about it, even talking about it that way, but also doing it. in a calm and in control way. This way you show your children that it is okay to talk about your feelings. It is very appropriate and valid.
Domingues said it’s also helpful for parents to talk to children about events like school shootings so parents can ensure they are “at the forefront of the narrative” of what their child is hearing.
When it comes to helping kids deal with something like a school shooting or back-to-school anxiety, Domingues said it’s important that parents keep an open dialogue and ask questions to help assess what the child is worrying about or what he knows about an event.
Students and parents can also practice grounding to help deal with anxiety, focusing on what they see, hear, feel and smell around them, according to Domingues.
Finally, Domingues said that parents should be aware of possible signs that they or their child may need professional help to deal with their concerns.
“As a parent, if you drop your child off and it’s something you constantly think about throughout the day and it really impacts functioning that way, you may be looking to talk to someone else about it,” she said. “To really learn skills on how I can work through this anxiety in a way that’s helpful so that it’s helpful for my child as well .”
For children, if a child still has persistent problems after the first month of school feeling comfortable going to school every day, the parent should ask for helpaccording to Domingues.
“If it’s persistent and consistent, then it’s time to reach out,” she said. “Contact a counselor, contact the school, contact a school psychologist, a clinical psychologist, and get tips and ways to really help prepare the kids and deal with that anxiety.”
The video in the media player above was used in a previous report.
Copyright © 2022 ABC News Internet Ventures.