The call came in Tuesday. A threat to nine schools. Emergency protocol immediately went into effect. Thousands of students — from kindergarteners to high schoolers — went into lockdown and shelter-in-place mode. Hours later, authorities called off the emergency. But for many of the children, the trauma had just begun.
“The kids have been drilled on that,” says Doctor Douglas Goldsmith.
The prominent psychologist says children are smarter than ever before, and more stressed out. They know says Goldsmith, what it means when their teachers walk them through a “shelter-in-place” drill. And Tuesday, he says, many of those children were traumatized.
“Children know, ‘I am now sheltering in place,’ which means there could be a real serious problem. And the older kids get — which could even mean in this case, fourth, fifth, sixth grade — they start to feel panicked.”
Goldsmith works with children of all ages who suffer from anxiety. He says that an incident such as Tuesday’s, even though it was deemed a false alarm, can impact a child for a long time.
“When we talk to children who have been through shelter-in-place,” says Doctor Goldsmith, “what they tell us is, ‘I sat there thinking I’m never gonna see my mom and dad again.’ And they are terrified.”
Goldsmith says an event like what happened Tuesday can change a child’s outlook. What was once a safe place can become a dangerous place.
“But especially the elementary school children, who are fearful anyway,” says Goldsmith, “are going to take this to heart and go, ‘I don’t know if I can go back to school.’ And the reality for kids today, and parents, is school shootings are real. They can happen. They know that nothing is being done to stop it, and they are terrified.”
Goldsmith counsels parents to reassure their children adults are doing everything possible to protect them. He also says parents should pay extra attention to signals a child may be traumatized – reports of trouble sleeping, or a stomach ache. And he urges parents to seek counseling for their children who manifest those signals, making sure to help that child go back to school as quickly as possible.