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I'm Not Ready for Code Red

Photograph by Getty Images

The other day, my 5-year-old daughter told me about the Code Red drill they had at her elementary school, "For if a stranger comes to our school."

She has no idea what that really means. I do. So I asked her, as casually as I could muster, “What are you supposed to do if a stranger comes to your school?"

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"We get in the storage closet with (teacher) and lock the door,” she told me excitedly. “Then we all sit on the floor and practice being really quiet. We did a great job, so we got animal crackers after the drill was over."

And then the conversation moved on to another story she wanted to tell me. I cherish the drive home from school. I can’t get her to stop talking about her day. I know at some point that will change; so I don’t even try.

But oh how I wanted to cry! Because I can't stand that there is a need for Code Red drills at elementary — or any — school.

My child just started Kindergarten in August. There are many things that are new to us this year. But this? I can barely handle.

That night, I had a “What has the world come to?!” breakdown. Yes, I know; there is always going to be some form of potential danger lurking and I can’t protect my daughter from everything.

But I am not ready for this.

Her innocence over the Code Red drill left me unsure as to how and when we should broach the subject.

We never talked to our daughter about Sandy Hook. She was not quite 4 years old when it happened. Adults were having a difficult enough time processing the event. How was she supposed to do so? My husband and I discussed privately whether or not to talk to her about it.

One concern we had was if she heard about it elsewhere and we hadn’t brought it up. If she was going to learn the news, we wanted it to come from us. But since she was only in preschool, we knew her teachers would not bring it up in the classroom. And it was very unlikely any of her classmates would be aware of the situation.

In the end, we decided she was too young, and the news had more potential to harm than benefit her in any way. We kept the television off and our emotions in check (which was not easy) over the coming weeks.

We have talked to her about safety at length; even role-playing various scenarios and helping her learn how to respond. We don’t talk about, “stranger danger,” the popular term used for many years, because recent research has shown it is not the most effective way to keep kids safe. Instead, we focus on dangerous behaviors and improper actions.

We still have not spoken to her about school violence specifically. I don’t want her to be afraid to go. She loves Kindergarten so much. Her innocence over the Code Red drill left me even more unwilling to burst that bubble and unsure as to how and when we should broach the subject.

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I am glad her school holds the drill and prepares for what to do in the event of what can no longer be considered “the unthinkable.” And I’m grateful to her wonderful teacher for presenting the event in such a way that my daughter had no reason to feel fear or apprehension.

But who can comfort me at the vision of my child huddled on the floor of a supply closet in the face of real danger? Because I simply cannot stand to think of it.

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