Active shooting – what you need to know to protect your child

How to Help Your Child Survive An Active Shooting

How to teach your kids about active shooter in a public place - post cover

I think that the necessity of teaching kids to survive a possible shooting is all wrong and crazy.

No parent (including myself) wants to hear, think, or talk about teaching kids this area of safety.

But, if nothing else, we can increase kids’ chances of survival; the stress of having this conversation is worth it.

What kids need to know:

  1. There is no one proven method to get out of this situation.
  2. Shooting usually lasts less than 5-10 minutes – kids need to survive this amount of time.
  3. They are on their own for that time until help arrives and need to commit to rescuing themselves – they should listen to their teachers, but keep in mind that they may not help everyone.


If your kids are young (3-5 years old), you can play games (see Practices below) and do not have any conversations until they can handle them.


If your kids are older (5-10 years old), you can gently start talking about what has helped people survive a shooting.

How to start this conversation:


  • It’s easier to have these conversations outside and while walking.
  • Keep them under 3-5 minutes.
  • Stop if you feel anxiety, fear, or resistance.
  • Never force your child to talk about anything if he is not ready.
  • Always answer questions.
  • Leave the door open – tell your child he can always come to you with any question no matter how scary or weird it may seem – you are an adult, and you can handle it.
  • Keep answers to a level kids can accept.
  • Provide examples like this:


A librarian who saved 55 students had prior relevant experience of a similar situation and, as a result, following the “hide” part of the lockdown procedure:

  1. Recognized the sound of actual gunshots fast
  2. Pulled kids into the room and locked it
  3. Covered the window at the door
  4. ! Turned lights off
  5. Instructed kids to hide, stay put, and be quiet so that the room seemed empty


If you are not sure, you can be calm talking about it for the first time – show kids a video with a safety lesson by an elementary school teacher – it is listed in the resources at the end of this article.



How to make sure kids understand and remember what to do:


Kids forget things quickly.


Apart from having conversations, kids need to practice and reinforce the skills.


Safety is like swimming – you can’t teach it by just talking and watching videos.


Even though many schools do drills, it’s your responsibility as a parent to make sure your child understands and remembers what to do.


Kids need to know about 4 possible steps of surviving a shooting:


Recognize – Run - Hide – Fight

Step 1: Recognize the shooting

The faster people evacuate, the higher their chances for survival.


In situations of stress, people may freeze and waste crucial time not believing the shooting is happening.


This brain inertia is called “normalcy bias”.


It happens when the brain refuses to accept the danger and underestimates the possible effects. The brain believes that things will always function the way things usually have worked.


The faster people react, the higher the chances of running away.


That's why we need to have these conversations despite stress and anxiety.


How to help kids recognize the shooting fast


If kids are at school, they will most likely be alerted by their teacher or intercom systems.


In all other places, kids need to figure it out by themselves or follow the instructions of their trusted adult.


This includes knowing how guns sound and look.

Recognize shooting by sound: Take kids to a kid-friendly place where they can hear real gun sounds in a safe environment. In real life, the sound is different from the movies. Use ear protection.

Practice 1: Introduce kids to the sound and look of guns in a kid-friendly way:

    1. Military and history museums have open house days and do pretend battles. These guns may be old models, but they are still guns.
    2. If you or someone you know owns guns (and your kids are old enough), you can take them to a place where you practice and let them hear the sounds. It should be an age-appropriate and kid-safe place.


Recognize guns by look: find an appropriate place to show kids real guns

Practice 2: Teach kids the names and types of the most popular firearms (pistols, rifles, shotguns)

  1. Military or history museums often have modern guns on display.
  2. Your police department may organize field trips for kids and have a museum or an exhibition.
  3. Show your guns if you have them. Follow safety rules.
  4. A gun store or a hunt are not appropriate places for kids to have safety lessons.
  5. Teach kids that if they see a gun, they need to run and tell their trusted adult immediately (for example, a person in a grocery store with a visible weapon in a purse or pocket; any gun during a play date.)

Step 2: Run

Running from the building towards a safe location is the first option to consider.

At this step, the goal is to teach kids three things:


  1. Situation awareness

Teach your child to pay attention to what’s around you, how the environment changes, who is around you, and what feels odd (people who do not belong to the environment or alerting behaviors.)

Practice: [The course: “Teach Your Child Ultimate Safety” has an entire module of games to help kids build the skill of situation awareness]


  1. Spatial awareness

Teach your child to pay attention to the layouts of buildings, location of the stairs, corridors, hallways, emergency exits, windows, and mark them as possible evacuation routes.

+ Note the objects that can serve as covers (walls, columns, vending machines).


Practice 3: Figure out evacuation plans for the places you visit most often and practice modeling these plans until it becomes a habit. (This saves lives during fires and crowd emergencies as well.)

At some point, your child will see a pattern of how emergency layouts are designed in different public places and anticipate the stairs, exits, etc.


Practice 4: Check how to change the environment to let you evacuate (what can you use to break a window or force a locked exit door to open: fire extinguishers, heavy objects, tools, tactical flashlights, cubatons, tactical pens - google what they are).



  1. Move while changing directions and in zigzags in the open space

Shooting a moving target is times harder than someone who is still.

If you can, hide behind the objects - put objects between you and the shooter.


Practice 5: Take kids to a laser tag, Nerf gun place, squirt guns, or paintball obstacle course so that they can practice running and hiding.


Practice 6: Teach kids to run fast by signing them up for soccer, baseball, or athletic training.

Alternative Step 2: Hide

If evacuation is not possible, the next option is to hide.

An active shooter is less likely to force his way through locked doors than trying to find easier targets.


On this step, your goal is to teach kids to hide and never open the doors to anyone for any reason (shooters may pretend to be a victim asking for help or shelter in the room).


Remind kids that everyone must be quiet, all phones must be in a silent mode, lights off, blinds shut.


Call 911 – don’t assume someone already did!


Practice the skill of hiding during the shooting or home invasion:


Practice 7: Play classic hide and seek when kids play with each other or you.


Practice 8: Brainstorm Emergency hide and seek and find unusual hiding places (if your child is not with a group and needs to hide on his own.)



  1. Discuss with kids that most of these places are inappropriate and dangerous for regular hide and seek.
  2. Never let kids hide there during play.
  3. These are the places for hiding in case of a shooting emergency only.
  4. Make sure kids are not in danger of suffocation in those places (like dryers or washers).
  5. Make sure kids know how to get out of those places and can do it without help.


Walk around your house, class, church, or other building to find unusual places to hide in case of a shooting:

  • Inside the cabinets and under the counters
  • Lying flat under the piled covers, blankets, or laundry
  • Any area several feet above the head level - people rarely look up
  • Inside of boxes, chests, wagons, containers, drawers, or shelves
  • In attics or sheds
  • Under trampolines, flipped buckets, or boxes

Find as many as you can.

Discuss new places as you go to new buildings (stores, cinemas, parks, hospitals.)


Practice 9: Brainstorm unusual poses to hide:

    1. Climbing on top of the toilet inside a stall if you get stuck in a restroom - so that your legs are not visible from the outside
    2. Packing yourself into a tiny space that kids can fit into - in a child's pose on a chair, pushing yourself under a desk with the chair so that legs are not visible under the chair and you are covered by the desk
    3. Squeezing yourself into a tight or tiny space - a shelf under a desk, a locker, or between the pieces of furniture.


Practice 10: Stay put

Teach kids to stay in one position at the same place for 10-15 minutes without moving or making a sound.

Set a timer for one minute and tell your child to hide in some regular hide and seek place and stay there until the timer goes off.

Each round, increase the time minute by minute until kids can stay unnoticeable for 10-15 minutes while you are looking for them.

They should not disclose their location by making any sounds or movements (including giggling or breathing loudly after running to their place.)

Ensure kids don't respond to conversation prompts (shooters may knock on doors or pretend to yell for help).


Practice 11: Learn how to barricade doors

  1. By blocking it – using the furniture (desks, podiums, bookcases, shelves) or other heavy objects (bins, containers, boxes.) Try different layouts - putting the heaviest thing first to the door or last to the door and checking which version works better.
  2. By fixing the opening mechanisms:
    1. If you have a belt, loop and tighten it around the top part of the door closer - so that the arms opening the door can’t move. This is the thing ABOVE your head between the opening part of the door and the fixed part of the door.
    2. You can also tighten your belt around the door handle and attach it to something sturdy if it’s possible or hold it in your hands (standing by the side of the door avoiding the line of fire).

Step 3: Fight


This is the last resort – teach kids never to play a superhero.

Many kids believe they can fight a shooter.


Fighting is the last option. It may be used only if the other options are not available or failed to be executed (if the room has no place to hide, if the door cannot be locked or barricaded, or if the door was forced open).


Little kids are not supposed to fight a shooter. But kids need to know that an adult may fight with a shooter, and they should stay as far they can - running away if possible - because the direction of the shots becomes unpredictable. 


Older kids also need to know that as a last resort, they may attack as a class throwing things, yelling, screaming, and keep running.


If you are an adult at school:


"What if nothing else" plan:


  • Watch video three under this article.
  • You are most likely to have something to protect yourself in your classroom already.
  • Prepare yourself mentally to fight.
  • Commit to action.
  • Stay out of the line of the fire.
  • Attack from the side of the door.
  • Attack from different angles if you can involve several people.
  • During your attack, make as much noise as possible to help other people know where the shooter is.


In this scenario, your biggest asset is unpredictability, focused aggression, and full force action.


The weakest places of the shooter are his vision and the trigger of the gun. 


The most challenging lesson from law enforcement is:


“If the fight leaves room for just one winner, may it be you, never stop halfway.”



Practice 12: Brainstorm improvised weapons, hiding spots, and evacuation options in your class


You can use the following objects:

  • Fire extinguisher to hit or spray.
  • Spray bottles with bleach, toilet cleaner, or cosmetics aerosol to spray.
  • Scissors, tactical or regular pen, cubaton to poke.
  • Tactical flashlight to hit.
  • Rice, beads, and sand from sensory tables to distract.
  • Chairs, books, backpacks, binders, laptops, flag poles, tabletop lamps, staplers, plant pots, coffee pots, skateboards, water bottles, stoves, microwaves, even phones for throwing and hitting.
  • A belt can turn into a choking weapon.
  • Trash can put on someone's head may give a couple of seconds as well.
Self-defense improvised tools in your classroom or home - checklist

Download a free checklist

"12 educational activities for kids that can help survive an active shooter situation"


Active shooter training - 12 activities for school kids that can help survive - post cover - rubber duck on the dart pad

A must-have resource that nobody wants, but everybody needs.

Be prepared if nothing else.


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Your input matters:


Hopefully, none of us will ever need to implement any of these tips.


If you’ve gotten to the end of this uneasy article – you are an amazing parent!


Your feedback matters!

Please, scroll to the comments and let us know what you think about this article.

More resources from the sites I love:




  1. A lesson presented by an elementary teacher – she is talking to her class - there are no scary scenes in it.

  1. This video demonstrates a lesson on what teachers are supposed to do during a lockdown.

  1. A clip about the training at one of the schools – ! start from the minute 3.00 (the intro is sad)

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How to explain death, traumas and disabilities to kids in a non-scary way

How to discuss 3 of the scariest things with kids: death, traumas, and disabilities while teaching safety

- "Mommy, why did the ambulance come?" the innocent eyes ask.

Do you have a simple answer?

At some time, our kids face reality - things happen to people they love.


As parents, we are responsible for making this realization as painless as possible.

Whenever you feel your child is ready to take a new step in learning about the things that might scare him, take it gently.

It's better to discuss those topics when life is calm, and nothing happened than trying to recollect yourself dealing with some emergency and explaining it to your child at the same time.

How to discuss death while teaching kids safety

This is the scariest topic of safety. If you’ve had this conversation already, you can refer to it.

Long story short, build your conversation around three things:

  1. Humans are intended to live a long, happy life.
  2. Safety is the science of keeping yourself alive and healthy as long as you possibly can.
  3. If people do not follow safety rules, their life might end sooner, or they can lose their health.

Use as much generalization as you can.

Say that your kids are learning safety and are going to live a long and happy life.

This is how we were created and how our lives are intended to be.

How to discuss traumas while teaching safety


How to comfort your child in trauma, build connection and teach safety - a dad showing a boy how to ride a bike

Kids do not realize the consequences of a fracture until they get one.

The only way to teach about traumas is to utilize the mishaps you get along the way.

A child got a burn? A couple of days later, get back to that situation and say:

"Remember how painful that little burn with the fingertip was?

Can you imagine how painful it would be if you put your whole hand on it rather than just your fingertip?”

Explain that our body will stay with us for all our life. It does have the capabilities to heal but not to regenerate. You can show the starfish growing their arms or lizards growing their tails. Explain that humans cannot do the same.

Teach kids that humans can't regrow their body parts.
Teach kids that humans can't regrow their body parts.

How to respond if your child got hurt - to build connection and teach safety

We all saw moms leaving play dates carrying their almost 8 year-olds dramatically suffering after losing a fight with a sibling.

And we also saw kiddos "I'm-okay-just-trapped-over-with-my-bike-landing-on-top" who just shook off the dirt and left you in the dust staring at their tailgates, wondering if those kids are made of rubber.

The way you respond to your children’s traumas will give them the scenario of how they are supposed to behave.

If you go into "panic mode" whenever your kids fall, kids lose the "anchor" to hold on to.

In their minds, you are the rock they can rely on if something happened, and now it is failing them.

On the other hand, just trying to stay calm and casually ask, "Are you okay?" might amplify your child's negative emotions and trigger "acting" about how badly they were hurt.

It might signal that his needs for your support were not met.

How parents accidentally open their kids to bullying

On the opposite side of the scale, if you exaggerate your response and pay too much attention to minor things, your child may subconsciously learn that to get someone's attention, he needs to get hurt.

This may lead to unhealthy patterns in their future relationships like "victim-rescuer-prosecutor" (also known as a drama triangle).


If you step in into a kid's conflict on someone's side, kids may learn that to have someone on their side (a parent, a teacher), they need to provoke that child to hurt them.

This is one reason some kids get bullied all the time and adults can't help them - because everybody knows this child is intentionally victimizing himself to manipulate the adults.


The algorithm of handling a boo-boo situation

Instead of saying "Are you okay?" or commenting on the acting, try the following algorithm (inspired by a conversation of Milton Erickson with his son) responding to the boo-boo situation.

It works with emotional trauma as well.

Step 1: Make a connection

When you see your child already hurt, come to him and say, "It hurts. It hurts a lot" (for a major thing) or "It hurts. It probably hurts" (for a minor thing).

  • It will build an immediate connection between you and your child.
  • And instead of your child thinking - "It's good to say are you okay - that's not you who is hurting", he feels you understand what is going on.
  • Now you have his ears and trust. And a chance to say the next thing.

Otherwise, you are talking to an alien who does not hear you.

When someone is hurt, he falls into the internal part of his mind - focusing more on the inside than outside.

All the brain resources are busy figuring out the trauma. This is why people do not respond during the first couple of seconds when they are in shock.


Step 2: Verbalize child's feelings/fear

Chose Plan A or B depending on how bad the situation is.

Plan A. If the trauma is easy (he was running and fell), ask, "What do you feel more: you're more hurt or scared / disappointed / upset".

In many cases, they will say "upset / scared" and be done.

  • You verbalized his FEELINGS, and you contained them.
  • You addressed his needs.
  • Case closed. He can run again.

The rest of the algorithm is for the bigger traumas.

Plan B. If the trauma is severe and you both understand it, say, "It is probably going to hurt more" .

  • Your child has the fear that this moment is not the end, that the ER treatment and the recovery process will hurt as well.
  • Your goal is to verbalize his FEAR.
  • It is easier for him to hear it from you than to suspect it.

For a child, it also means you are still with him. You accept him and his feelings regardless of what has happened.

This way, you reassure him that his feelings and fears are normal.

  • You are still the grown-up.
  • You are accountable.
  • You can handle it.


Step 3: Verbalize child's need

The next step is to say, "You want this to stop hurting" .

  • This way, you verbalize his NEED.
  • This is a turning point from the past to the future.
  • This way, you remind your child that there is a way out. Kids usually stop crying at this point.

In some cases, if a child also ruined her dress, broke her toy, and feels upset, you can say, "You want this to be fixed / cleaned".


Step 4: Verbalize child's hope

The next step is to say, "It might get better soon" 

  • This way, you verbalize his HOPE. The word "might" is important because otherwise, your child may think you are lying to him to calm him down. "Might" is giving him a way to accept hope.


Step 5: Support and figure out what to do next

The next step is to say: "Let's see what we can do here". 

  • Whatever you say next needs to be positive and encouraging. "You've gotten calm so quickly - you are brave."
  • "Thank you for cooperating and being patient" - whatever positive you can say to support your child.
  • Then examine the trauma and figure out what to do next.


Step 6: Lift your child up

When someone is hurt, his physical barrier with the world is broken.

And the emotional one is broken too.

  • Feeling miserable is normal.
  • Our goal is to lift the child's spirit and do not let him feel guilty.
  • Offenders often try to make people feel guilty for being hurt - don't let your child fall into this - help him be resilient.


Step 7: Verbalize the lesson

At some point, it is necessary to say, "It was a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes", "Let's think how to avoid it the next time."

If you and your child learn these steps, you both will feel less panic even when the traumas are severe.

Download the checklist for the future reference

"7 STEPS to comfort your child in trauma"


How to comfort your child in trauma and teach safety - checklist

+ Receive a free mini-course on how to teach kids safety with people in a positive way

7 steps to comfort your child in trauma and teach safety - cecklist

And one more thing:

Please never laugh, even if the situation looks funny (like when a child has gotten stuck in the mud and fell on his butt), and you can't help smiling.

This may hurt more than their accident.

How to discuss disabilities while teaching kids safety

The next way to start a conversation about safety mistakes that can lead to severe traumas or disabilities is to point out people in wheelchairs, people that are blind, and amenities for people that are disabled.

You need to be gentle and super delicate - you don't want to offend these people by staring, pointing, or discussing their differences with your child in front of them.


The best way is to quietly pay your child's attention to such a person and discuss it later.

  • Discuss how good it is to have all your body parts functioning well.
  • As well as have the complete set of all those body parts.
  • That's a suitable place to start the conversation about what people can do despite their disabilities, too.

How to respond when kids ask what happened to that person:

1. You can say that it might be the way they came to this world.

2. It might also be an accident they could not control. Make sure not to scare kids when introducing the topic of misfortune.

It's tough, but it’s better kids learn it from you:

"Life may turn unfair, not the way it’s meant to be. Even though we cannot understand why and never accept it.”


Otherwise, the shock of facing something unfair happening to someone accidentally might be amplified by the child's unpreparedness: "HOW could that happen? It's so unfair!"


To make the landing softer, you can say that things like that, fortunately, do not happen very often.


3. This person with a disability might have made a huge mistake.

  • ! The balance between creating the fear of mistakes and understanding is fragile.
  • It will depend on how you explain that one mistake at one moment can change someone's life drastically forever.
  • And that kids need to take care of their bodies and keep themselves safe.

! Warning: you don't want to place fear of making mistakes when discussing the traumas.


Even though making a mistake can put someone in a wheelchair, we are here to learn safety measures to prevent these things.

Explain that mistakes in learning are normal and beneficial, and they do not lead to a wheelchair, granted you follow the safety instructions.

But careless mistakes and neglected safety measures are dangerous.

The goal is to explain to kids:

"You are keeping yourself safe not only for the sake of your mom's sanity but because you will not be given any other body than this one".

And kids need to do everything possible never to need any help from the ambulance.

Their "tail" will not regrow.

Do you want your child to be safe with people?

Do you want a road map to safety?

Do you want your child to be safe when you are not around?

In situations you have never discussed? 


Enroll in a Free online course for parents of kids 3-10 years old

"Teach Your Child Safety With Strangers (and other people)"


Teach Your Child Safety with Strangers

Do you want:

  • Your child to be safe with strangers and other people around him?
  • Learn safety skills positively and practically?
  • Be prepared and worry you less?

Join this free class and go from fear to confidence.

When your child breaks a safety rule he didn’t know, it may be too late to teach the rule.

Don't wait until it's too late. Our kids are the most precious of what we have - protect them.


Take action

Great job so far - safety is a challenging subject!

Please sign up above to see the next steps.


Can your child keep himself safe when you are not around?

Recommended product


Full safety course for parents of kids 3-10 years old 


A modern approach to safety with people


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