Police tape in portrait form with emergency lights in the background
Flickr Creative Commons image courtesy of Tony Webster

I’ve come to the conclusion in recent months that I can’t protect my children. After many dreams (nightmares) involving situations where one or both of my children were involved, I’ve spent hours thinking about what I would do if faced with an emergency situation: an active shooter, a car jacker wielding a knife, or someone actively intimidating my children or myself. It’s frightening when you think about it. Nowhere seems to be safe anymore. Even our churches and schools don’t seem the safe haven that they should be, in fact, in many instances they are becoming the most common targets.

I want to be able to protect my children to the best of my ability in an emergency situation. I may not be able to take down a crazy man with a knife, or disarm a shooter, but I want to know how to keep my children as safe as possible until the situation has passed, and I want to prepare them as best I can to ensure we do everything we can to protect ourselves from danger. So I did what I do best – I started reading and googling. There’s a ton of information out there, but I’ve done my best to put together the short list of suggestions, plus some of my own additions, geared more specifically toward children.

I found The Department of Homeland Security website extremely informative. It offers online training sessions focused on keeping you safe in an active shooter situation. I highly recommend looking over their online training manual. The focus of the information presented in these materials is based on the direction to

Run, Hide, Fight.

Fighting only as a an absolute last resort. I have focused the bulk of this article on catering these directions to children, especially young children, who may not have the reasoning skills to make their own decisions in a time of crisis.

Ways to prepare you children

  • Make sure your child can identify themself by first and last name.
    Also, teach them your first and last name so they can identify you to first responders, should you become separated.
  • Practice obedience with your child. Specifically directives like “stop” and “go”, or “quiet” and “still”. Simply remaining still and quiet could save your life in an active shooter scenario. You are your child’s lifeline in these situations, and it’s important that they follow your direction the first time, every time.
  • Teach your children to “check in”. One of the places we frequent is a large, indoor play area. It’s impossible for me to hold my children’s hand the entire time. The play area is gated, preventing my children from the leaving the area without me, but sometimes it’s impossible for me to see exactly where my kids are located in the giant maze of a play place. My three year old knows that he has to come check in with me every three rides down the slide. This way I keep tabs on him, and have a better idea of where he is if there’s an emergency. This is harder with my youngest, however, we tend to stay in the three and under corner of the play zone, together. You want to be close, and able to help your children if there’s an emergency situation. Proximity is key.
  • Prepare your child for the worst case scenario – an active shooter situation where you are not present. Schools are often targeted because of the lower adult to child ratio, which means you won’t be there to physically aid your child in an emergency situation. This is really dependent on the situation. It’s hard to describe an emergency situation to a three and almost two year old. They just don’t have the reasoning skills to determine when there is danger. I have explained the circumstances of this type of “emergency” to my three year old as “someone who has something dangerous, that scares you, or makes you feel unsafe.” In the case of the play place, my children know they need to hide if they can’t see, or get to me. My oldest also knows to find his younger brother, and be as still and quiet as possible.

Ways to protect yourself when in a public place

  • Identify two exits when you enter a new facility. Point them out to your children. Better yet, make a game of it. Who can spot the red exit signs first?
  • Identify a meeting place in case of emergency. Where will your child find you if you’re not together? Back to the play place, my oldest knows to find his brother (who is too young to identify this type of situation) and go down the “red slide”, where I will be waiting.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings. Don’t spend your entire visit on your cell phone (i.e. Facebook). Stay alert to your environment and your children. If something doesn’t seem right, trust your gut and get out before you find yourself in a situation you don’t want to be a part of.  

If you find yourself in an active shooter situation

  • Your first priority is to find a safe way out, which will allow you to get as far away from the premises and to the safest location possible. Once you are safe, call 911 immediately.
  • If you can’t evacuate, hide. Preferably behind a locked door. This is where you practice “still” and “quiet”, because if a shooter can’t find you, they can’t harm you. Also, while we’re on the subject of still and quiet, turn off all the devices you’re wearing or carrying that make noise. Cell phones, fitness trackers, noisy children’s toys in your diaper bag. Turn it off.
  • If you have access to a cell phone, dial 911. If it’s unsafe for you to speak with the 911 operator because the shooter is in proximity, turn down the speaker volume but DO NOT MUTE the phone and allow the operator to listen. This allows emergency responders to have access to the situation, even if they can’t access the facility.
  • If you can’t get out, fight back. Here’s where The Department of Homeland Security and I disagree. If I were on my own in one of the situations, I’d like to think I’d be brave enough to attempt to disarm a man with a gun, but quite frankly, we don’t know what we’ll do until we’re in the moment. However, put in this situation with my two small children, I’m not sure the thought will even cross my mind. Most days it’s a struggle to use the bathroom on my own, so assuming that I will be able to disarm a mad man while my children just stand by and watch, seems highly unlikely. I assume (and pray) I will not be fighting. 

It’s a scary world we live in nowadays. No one wants to live their daily lives in a constant state of worry and anxiety. While I can’t remove that anxiety (even for myself), I hope these tips will help you feel more secure about what you would do in this type of situation, or at the very least, encourage you to think about how to protect yourself and your family.

Do you have suggestions for how to protect your family in public? Please share them with us in the comments below.


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Teresa G is a work at home mom of three boys, ages 3, 4, and 2 months. She has been happily married to her husband Gus for 7 years. She and her family currently reside in the Slippery Rock area, where she has been a longtime resident. Teresa has bachelor’s degrees in both Dance and Professional writing from Slippery Rock University. She has worked in many different fields over the years - dance teacher, aerobics instructor, swim teacher, and most recently, documentation specialist and content manager for a local software company. Currently, she works for The Hillman Center for Performing Arts at Shady Side Academy, and as a freelance writing professional and content manager for a variety of clients in several different industries. Teresa and her family spend much of their time outdoors, being active, and you can often find them in their “Little Boat” on Lake Arthur, or in the “Big Bass Boat” at Lake Erie. In her spare time, Teresa loves to practice yoga, run, and read anything she can get her hands on.