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Training for Children Doesn’t Mean Scaring Them by Katherine Schweit

Of all the questions posed to me, the most emotionally laden are those that ask if and how to talk to children about targeted violence. At what age should active shooter training take place?
It’s natural for adults to want to protect children. New parents feel the weight when they leave the hospital with a fragile bundle the size of their forearm. Without the warmth and food provided, the child would be lost. Teachers and daycare providers, who often spend more waking hours with a child than the parents, develop the same protective bond.
As adults nurture, they tamp down their constant and biggest fear, losing a child. I know, I have two of my own. I, too, tried to build that impenetrable layer of armor to shield them.
Parents can’t really protect their children from every hazard, and each comes to appreciate the practicality of training even the youngest in safety. Toddlers learn to keep their hands off the stove and stay out of the street. Little ones complain but still get out of the water when lightning might strike.
But uncertainty remains about translating those cautions into helpful advice when it comes to gun violence. More and more schools are mandating active shooter safety training, but parents are the resisters, concerned that training will make children more afraid. Consider, though, that this type of safety training can be useful far beyond the schoolyard, whether in a park, a home, or a shopping center.
Training children in safety shouldn’t involve scaring them. Let me show you how. Much of the pushback comes from parents, school administrators, and pre-school personnel who misunderstand what good training for children looks like. They fear children will be scared by the sound of gunshots, the sight of blood, and people running. That would scare me, too. If you have guns in your house, are you training your children in gun safety by showing them photos of people who have been shot? Of course not.
Imagine you live near a train track, or your children need to cross one to go to school. How do you train children to appreciate that danger? Would you show them pictures of cars crushed by locomotives or images of mangled bodies? Of course not. Training doesn’t mean traumatizing.
Many schools across the country already offer active shooter training. Do you know what your child is learning? Teachers know how to use age-appropriate language to inform and educate without creating fear. Training children focuses on their behavior, empowering them to take part in their own safety.
My co-podcaster, Sarah Ferris, was very much against training children when we began our first season of Stop the Killing podcast.
In each episode we talk about a shooting, what went wrong, what signs were missed about the shooter, and how we can all be better prepared. We talked about Sandy Hook, Columbine, and so many other school shootings. By the end of the season, she was firmly in the “train them” camp.
She came to appreciate that training for the scariest but rare occurrence of targeted violence is more about teaching children to follow directions immediately and listen, be quiet, be brave when they are scared, and even move to safety if they are in a dangerous place.
Isn’t this the same checklist of training tools adults use to prepare children to respond when there is a fire, lightning storm, or even a tornado? Some threats are more common than others, but the message to children is all the same: listen to the adults around you, follow directions, and get to a safe location.
I’m so confident in this approach that I wrote a whole chapter in my book, Stop the Killing, just about training children. I provide details on available books and websites – too many to mention here. There are books teachers and librarians can order and activities and ideas for engaging even the youngest.
On that fateful day in 2012, those children at Sandy Hook Elementary had been through active shooter training. Many are alive today because of that training.
After the recent school shooting in Oxford, Michigan, I received several calls from school principals and district officials asking what type of training they should offer in their church, preschool, or kindergarten through eighth-grade classrooms.
Let’s be clear. No one wants to talk to children about safety matters. We don’t ever want our children to think they might be in danger. But if you think your elementary school or middle school child is blissfully unaware of school shootings, chances are you are wrong. Ask them.
One other often overlooked benefit to training is the opportunity to assure children about the rare nature of shootings in schools. We tell children fires and tornadoes are rare, but it is wise to be prepared just in case.
If you are responsible for training children, develop a way to train but not scare them. If you have children in school, find out about their training. Training should never be designed to scare children or adults. Training should be empowering.
If you have or are responsible for toddlers, let me share a resource often overlooked that you can tap into right now focused exclusively on our youngest charges.
My friend, Heather Beal, is the owner, author, and creator of a book series branded under the company name Train 4 Safety. She wrote and published these books first for her own little ones. The book series for toddlers includes individual books focused on safety during fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, thunderstorms, and earthquakes.
She believes disaster affects everyone, even children, and wrote her books to develop fun and engaging stories to teach children how to stay safe and be prepared.
A woman of boundless energy, Heather was not satisfied with just writing her books.
After her first books came out, she zeroed in on daycare providers, establishing a not-for-profit called BLOCKS. BLOCKS stands for Building Links between Offices of Emergency Management, Childcare, and the community for Kids Safety. BLOCKS helps prepare child care organizations to face and recover from disaster by providing disaster planning and training support.
Remember, safety isn’t about the odds of whether something will happen; safety is about being prepared if it does happen. ❦

About Katherine Schweit

Ms. Katherine Schweit is an author, attorney, former Chicago prosecutor, and career Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent who helped jail bank robbers, kidnappers, and domestic terrorists, while working daily with local police investigating and responding to mass casualty and active shooter incidents.
She is the author of the upcoming release, Stop the Killing: How to End the Mass Shooting Crisis (Aug. 2021; Rowman and Littlefield). She has published extensively, including opinion pieces in The New York Times and Chicago’s Daily Herald.
When not writing, Ms. Schweit runs Schweit Consulting LLC, providing leadership counseling, security advice, and safety training to hospitals, businesses, religious organizations, educators, and government clients. She brings to clients her knowledge and experience gained as the director of security training at a Fortune 300 company.
She is a member of DePaul University School of Law’s adjunct faculty, teaching courses in the culture of the Second Amendment and the rules of evidence. At Webster University, Ms. Schweit teaches courses in business and cyber law and policy. She is a Certified Compliance and Ethics Professional.
As a member of the federally funded National Center for School Safety, her expertise in school safety supports the University of Michigan-led effort to provide extensive, free resources to school administrators, teachers, parents, and school resource officers.
She authored the FBI’s seminal research, A Study of 160 Active Shooter Incident in the United States, 2000 – 2013, and was part of the crisis team responding to incidents, including the shootings at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Pentagon, and the Navy Yard in the Washington D.C. area. She is the executive producer for the award-winning film, The Coming Storm, widely used in security and law enforcement training in the United States and relied on by the Department of State worldwide. This work earned her a second U.S. Attorney General Award.
She is a member of the International Association of Chief of Police and the invitation-only Association of Threat Assessment Professionals, as well as the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety, each a clearinghouse that allows experts to work together toward common goals.
She is a recognized expert in crisis response, workplace violence, corporate security policies, and often provides on-air television and radio commentary after mass casualty and complex attacks. She is regularly invited to speak at universities and before professional, government, and private organizations about her insight into the challenges of preventing and managing mass shootings and complex terrorist attacks.
A native of Detroit, Ms. Schweit earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Michigan State University and wrote for daily newspapers in Michigan and Chicago. She earned a law degree at DePaul University and joined the Cook County prosecutor’s office as an assistant state’s attorney. As a journalist, she earned state and national writing recognition, including a Peter Lisagor Award for her 1990 analysis of discipline meted to judges and attorneys by the Illinois Supreme Court after one of the largest FBI public corruption investigations ever conducted. She lives in Northern Virginia, outside of Washington D.C.

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