Strategies for Addressing the Code Red


by K-12 School Counseling Program | Sunday, Sep 30, 2018


School violence and the resulting intense media coverage have brought school safety concerns to the forefront of discussion for educators, parents, communities, and our country at large. According to Jones (2018), a near record-high of 20% of parents/guardians reported that their child has verbally expressed fears for their safety at school. Discussing the safety procedures that are in place at school with your child will help to ease fears and anxiety related to their personal safety (Mental Health America, 2018). With this knowledge, we find it imperative to share strategies and resources with parents for navigating this undesirable conversation with children in an effort to alleviate both parents and students concerns for school safety.

At A.D. Henderson and FAU High School, safety continues to be a top priority. Many measures have been taken to enhance our campus security including (but not limited to) increased training for staff and faculty, hiring an additional School Resource Officer, integrating the School Pass dismissal procedures, and improving the building, gate and fence security. An additional step to ensuring student safety is practicing what is called the code red lockdown drill. Lockdown drills have been mandated for all schools by the State of Florida to ensure the safety of our students and staff. This drill requires all staff, faculty and students to practice a lockdown that protects all building occupants from potential dangers in the building. When the announcement is made students are to be cleared from the halls immediately and to report to the nearest available classroom. Furthermore, all doors and windows are to be covered and locked and students are to move to interior walls and be out of sight. There must be total silence and no movement until the door is opened by a police officer or administrator. This drill while absolutely necessary, can provoke feelings of stress in students.

It is not a secret that educators and parents do not want their students to feel anxious when participating in school safety drills. In order to alleviate students’ lockdown fears, and to even turn drills into positive experiences, both educators and parents need to emphasize the importance of this safety protocol. Furthermore, psychologists agree with these kinds of proactive approaches (Schlesinger, 2018). “When you’re dealing with something potentially frightening, if you can get ahead of the anxiety, then kids feel more in control,” explains Dr. Jamie Howard, a clinical psychologist and trauma specialist at the Child Mind Institute. “They feel a sense of competence. They know that the teachers have a plan, and the whole thing can make them feel quite safe.” The purpose of these drills are to teach students not to be scared, but rather, to be prepared. 

School Safety: Tips for Communicating with Students

School safety is a 3-way partnership between schools, law enforcement, and families and communities. We each have a vital role to play. The following school safety procedures are examples of topics of conversation to have with your children: why visitors sign in the front office to enter school property, why certain doors remain locked during the school day, the importance of all students and staff personnel wearing badges, and the significance of our new dismissal procedures. The strategies and resources below are intended to assist parents/guardians and educators in communicating with their children/students about the code red lockdown drill.

Here are some suggestions for addressing code red drills or lockdowns with school-aged child:

  1. Communicate Openly: It is important to talk about the school’s code red procedures with your child and provide an opportunity for him or her to discuss their feelings, thoughts and questions.
  2. Stay Calm: During this open conversation, it is important to recognize that no matter the age of the student, we as adults are the models for how to react to undesired or stressful situations. If an adult demonstrates a calm approach to the discussion of code red drills or lockdowns, students will not have reason for alarm. Adults remaining calm is a proactive approach to avoiding unnecessary fear for children and teens.
  3. Reassure Safety: Remind students that the school is a safe place with many trusted adults. It is important to emphasize that students should listen to who is in authority (i.e. teacher, specials teacher, principal, or whoever is in charge of their class at that time). You can teach them the acronym PAL (P-pause, A- Adult and L-Listen) as a way to help them remember what to do in case of a code red/lockdown. Remind students that in a cod red they can pause and take a deep breath. Then, they should find a trusting adult. If they are in a classroom they should find their teacher, if they are in the hallway they need to find the nearest room/classroom. And last, they need to remember to listen to the adult in the room. The adult will let you know what actions to take as well as when it’s all clear. Express that in this time, these actions of pausing, finding a trusting adult, and listening is keeping them safe (idea adapted from Dr. J. S. Prager, 2013).
  4. Make Your Conversations Developmentally Appropriate: Be sure to frame your conversations surrounding code red lockdown procedures in a way that is developmentally appropriate. Below are recommendations for navigating the conversation with young children to adolescents:
    1. Elementary School: Elementary school students are still coming to understand the rules and procedures to a code red lockdown. Many K-5 students are starting to gain access to social media outlets and may have questions that may stem from a lockdown situation. Tell your students that its ok to have various feelings about a code-red. Remind students that their teachers and school personnel are here to ensure their safety. Also, encourage students to speak up when they feel something is not right. If they see someone in the building that they are unsure of, they can speak to a trusting adult. Make sure students understand why it’s important to listen when under a code red lockdown and take action seriously. It might be easier to relate it to something they may have experience with. For example, explaining to students that similar to preparing for a big storm with water, shutters, and flashlights, we must be prepared in case of a code red lockdown and follow the important instructions that may be given by an adult at that time; therefore why drills are held throughout the school year.
    2. Middle School: By the time students are preteens, they have likely seen a lot of media related to school violence, and are aware of recent tragedies. Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, a psychiatrist and founding president of the Child Mind Institute, recommends that one of the most valuable things that educators and parents can do is to listen to their preteens concerns and help them work through their fears regarding lockdowns. When your child brings up concerns about school lockdown safety procedures, it’s important to have open and honest conversations to discuss their concerns. Although hearing the term code red lockdown itself may evoke feelings of anxiety in students, parents can help to ease this fear by emphasizing the role that students have in maintaining safe schools - by following school safety drills and guidelines (National Association of School Psychologists, 2018). It will also help to explain that a drill is a proactive practice to take in order to remain safe.
    3. High School: High school aged students will likely feel empowered by sharing opinions regarding school violence and code red drills or lockdowns. Students may feel strongly about school safety procedures and policies and may have specific suggestions on how to improve a code red drill within their school environment as well as schools across the country. Educators and parents should listen to and acknowledge student thoughts, feelings, and suggestions surrounding school safety and encourage students to take their role in maintaining a safe school environment seriously. Educators and parents can reiterate specific ways high school students can contribute to school safety such as reporting strangers on campus, speaking up about any safety concerns, and being an example for their peers to follow school safety protocols. It is also important to speak openly with high school students about seeking emotional and social supports early when needed.

When you’re dealing with something potentially frightening, if you can get ahead of the anxiety, then kids feel more in control - Dr. Jamie Howard 

Monitor and Communicate Regarding the use of Technology on a regular basis. Elementary-aged students should have little to no exposure to social media and other forms of news media that are likely to expose them to violence. Middle school children and teens are likely to have access to both social and news media, and thus adults should have guided exposure, meaning an adult has discussions with them about what they are viewing. High school students will often have more open access to technology, social and news media, therefore it is advised that adults create an environment where discussions surrounding technology use and what teens are viewing online is safe, encouraged, and welcomed. Regardless of age, encourage children and teens to take a break from technology and place limits. Furthermore, to report any concerning, suspicious or alarming content to a trusted adult. If they see something, encourage them to say something!

Remind Children of Support at School during and after a code red lockdown drill or crisis situation remind students of the school support they have. This may include, but is not limited to, their teacher, their school counselor, their principal or assistant principals, the school resource officer, or any adult they have a trusting relationship with.

Web Resources for Parents, Guardians and Educators



Jones, J.M. (2018). More parents, children fearful of safety at school. Gallup News. Retrieved from


Mental Health America (2013). Talking To Kids About School Safety. Retrieved from


Prager, J.S. (2013). Talking to kids about a ‘lockdown.’ Huffpost. Retrieved from


Schlesinger (2018). Lockdown Anxiety: Teachers Talk About How to Explain Drills and Calm Kids' Fears. Retrieved from