Therapist’s Book Aims to Empower Students and Parents in Wake of School Violence

By Janie Rosman


Author Nancy Kislin’s desire to facilitate communication among parents, teachers, school administrators and social service professionals about how lockdowns affect students was sparked by the Parkland, Florida, tragedy.

In Lockdown: Talking to Your Kids about School Violence, Kislin hopes to send what she calls “a clear message, a wakeup call. We need to be adults and focus on the mental health of our children and what the fear around school shootings does to them,” she emphasized.

Kislin, a psychotherapist from Short Hills, who works with youth and families in a private practice, was writing a book about how technology affects children when she noticed a friend’s post on Facebook: the woman’s daughter was hiding in a closet in her high school in Parkland. “I wasn’t that familiar with lockdown drills because my daughters did not have them when they were in school,” she said. “I was concerned about the drills and knew I needed to learn more

While penning her book in 2018, she visited a longtime friend in Florida and spoke with several of her daughter’s friends who survived the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. She includes their stories in a section of the chapter, “The Voices of Parkland.”

Middle and high school clients she saw that day after school told stories about the shooting. “Kids have phones and know everything,” she said. “I asked how they were doing, what they knew, and they began talking about the lockdowns at their schools.”

Many said they didn’t know if they were drills or if there was an active shooter in their school. “In many schools, parents are not emailed the day of the drill; however, I feel it’s important for schools to tell parents after the fact,” Kislin realized.

She learned through interviews with hundreds of children and teachers that students are expected to go immediately back to their school work after a lockdown drill. One way to help them come down from an adrenaline rush after this experience is to engage in what she calls  two-minute pause: it helps acknowledge that what happened — sitting in the dark, hiding from a potential shooter — is not normal.

“After it’s over, and the school is clear, the brain can’t immediately return to its pre-drill state,” she explained. Kids need to release that energy. “Let them do jumping jacks, yoga poses, or skip around the room so their bodies and minds can calm down.”

Parents and children also told her stories about being afraid to go to the bathroom at school for fear there would be a lockdown drill. “Kids told me they don’t want to be in the bathroom when a shooter comes because they don’t want to die alone.”

The book is positive, Kislin maintained, and teaches parents to have conversations with their child in a safe environment and where they feel comfortable speaking their minds. She encourages parents to help their child develop coping skills like breathing exercises to ground themselves in scary moments and to learn protocols about lockdown drills at their children’s school.

“Parents need to know when a drill has occurred so they will be prepared to talk to their kids,” she said.

However, the U.S. Department of Education Press Office said the decision to inform them rests with each state’s education department. State of New Jersey Department of Education spokesman Michael Yaple said “that would be a matter determined at the local school district level.” A school board may either have a specific policy in place or have a general policy and leave the decision to the superintendent’s discretion.

New Jersey has a law that requires every school to hold at least one fire drill and one school security drill every month. (School-safety drills can include active shooter, lockdown/shelter in place, non-fire evacuation, bomb threat, etc..) The state also requires school districts to regularly meet with local law enforcement to review and discuss their emergency plans.

 Lockdown was written to help parents and educators understand what kids are feeling and experiencing in today’s climate of fear. “I’m passionate about keeping kids safe so they know what to do while sitting in the dark — a closet, a back room — waiting.”

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