Protect, Prepare, and Defend
I am going to present a little bit different perspective on protecting our children.
We are men. We are naturally wired to be protectors and defenders. Nearly every dad has stated that he would die for his children, for his family. And when we discuss protecting our family, and defending our family, we usually want to jump in and start discussing and deciding on what style of self-defense we want our kids to learn, whether boxing, Krav Maga, Jujitsu or something else. But, instead of talking about self-defense, and fighting, I want to suggest that it is just as important to teach our children to be aware of their surroundings and to teach them how to react in difficult situations.
Recently, I started teaching my daughter to defend herself, but then I realized that I was teaching her to be reactionary and I had not been teaching her how to recognize what dangers exist, where they come from, how to recognize potential danger, how to respond to the threat of danger, and how to move through the cycle of recognition to avoidance, and through crisis or conflict mode. I also realized that there are a lot of difficult questions that I needed to ask her in order to start preparing her to be aware of her surroundings and what situations could potentially arise.
There are still a lot of situations that we don’t even know how to start a conversation about. I mean, how do you talk to an eight or nine-year-old girl about murderers, pedophiles, human trafficking, and child predators? How do you talk to a five-year-old boy about terrorism and gang violence? I would love to just let it go and not ever discuss these things, but unfortunately in today’s world, we have to talk about these things and a lot more. Because of this, I started looking for info and I ran across a podcast for dads and they were discussing how to teach our children to be vigilant, observant, and recognize potential problems around them, and how to have the difficult conversations about these things.
First of all, there are some difficult questions that we need to ask our children and be ready to answer them. If your child isn’t old enough to ask these questions, then ask them of yourself.
1. What if we are at the store, or in a mall, or out in nature (woods, desert, wilderness, etc.) and we get separated and you get lost? What do you do?
2. What happens if we are out somewhere together and I get hurt (attacked, car wreck, etc.)? What are you supposed to do?
3. What if a police officer approaches you and tells you to come with him because your mom and dad have been hurt and they need to take you to the hospital to be with them?
4. What do you do if someone makes you feel really uncomfortable? What are you supposed to say to them when they try to talk to you?
5. What happens if a mean person comes at us in the parking lot and they are attacking me or your mom? What should you do?
6. If you see someone getting bullied or beat up, what should you do?
7. A gas station was robbed recently. What happens if you were at the gas station when it was being robbed? What should you do?
8. What happens when you see someone bullying or hurting another kid?
9. What happens if one day someone grabs you and is trying to drag you to their car? What do you do?
10. What do you do if you find a puppy or kitten and a man or high school boy walks up and tells you it’s his and starts talking to you?
These are some of the difficult questions about situations in which our children probably have no idea how to respond, and if you’re like I was, you have no real answer that has been thought out and planned.
What I want to do is to take a couple of weeks and go through the difficult conversations we need to have with our children about the potential dangers they may encounter. I also want to go over how to teach our children situational awareness and the ability to recognize and avoid potentially harmful situations. Then, I would like to discuss some of the ways a child can react if they are actually put in a situation that has turned violent, or if someone is trying to hurt them, or if someone is trying to abduct them. If your children are too young for this type of conversation, then you can prepare yourself for when they are old enough, and then have the conversation, and you can always train yourself to be aware and ready.
So, whether we are talking about bullies, inappropriate behavior from older kids or adults, or an actual violent attack we can find a way to discuss the potential dangers with our children and help them learn how to recognize the potential for a dangerous situation. The place to start is to have a conversation about what kind of dangers are in the world. Then we can progress through awareness and reactions.
It would be a good idea for the whole family to be involved in these conversations. My wife helps me explain things to my daughter and she also helps with teaching responses.
· Violence—This should be the first thing to address in this conversation. It really hit home with me when my third-grade daughter came home and told me about their active shooter training. It really stinks that we live in a world that she has to be taught these things, but our children need to know that there is violence in the world. This is an ugly, unfortunate fact, but if we don’t tell them, they will wind up learning by first-hand experience and will be physically, mentally, and emotionally unprepared. With younger kids, words like rape or molestation don’t have to be used. You can tell them that there are some people who try to hurt other people and kids. If the child hasn’t learned what sex is yet, then certain terms will just cause more confusion. But if your child is a preteen or tween, they need to know that there are people who do set out to harm children and to do wrong things with them. Be ready for questions about “why,” “who,” and “what.”
· Fear or No Fear—You don’t want to create unnecessary fear for your child, but a certain amount of fear can be a good thing and can help them be cautious. They need to know that there can be situations that are not healthy or safe. If you do notice that your child is acting overly fearful about this conversation, you can reassure them that knowing about these things will help keep them safe. You also want them to know that you will do everything you can to keep them safe, but that you can’t be right by their side throughout their entire lives.
· Observant—Our children need to know how to be observant and how to recognize potential threats in the area around them. Playing video games for hours on end actually develops a tunnel-vision focus and desensitizes the peripheral vision; and walking around with their nose in a phone will distract them and keep them from being able to recognize anything going on around them. So, they need to be actually looking around them and learning to be aware.
· Action—Our children need to know how to react once they recognize that a situation is dangerous or is about to become dangerous. This often will not mean fighting. If we teach our kids to recognize potentially dangerous situations, they will usually be able to avoid a confrontation and remove themselves from the area before a dangerous or violent situation develops. We will get into this in a later blog.
So, these are some basic parts of the conversations that we need to have with our children about situational awareness. So, once we have the initial conversation explaining what, why, and when, what do we actually teach them?
When your child gets old enough, you can give them a list of things to look for:
1. How many people are in the room?
2. Is the person closest to the door a man or woman?
3. Where is the emergency exit?
This can be made into kind of a game…like when you sit down in a restaurant, you can ask her the questions and see how observant she is. Doing this will begin to form habits of being observant and aware of what is going on around them. Obviously, you can’t sit down with a two-year-old and explain the need for situational awareness and why they need to look for danger. They’ll never sleep again. But we can start training them to be aware of their surroundings. If a child is too young for a conversation, just start by pointing things out. When you walk into a room you can say, “Look at that picture,” or point out something unusual in the room, or counting how many people, or pointing out exits, etc. This will get the child in the habit of looking around and noticing individual items.
Most important, is that we are on “the journey” together with our families…not yelling from the sidelines; not sending them out to do something just so they’re out of our hair; but in with them, learning and doing what is necessary to learn how to survive and succeed in today’s world. There is a special bond that is developed when dads are doing things together with their children. This is done thru TIME TIME TIME!
So, what I want is to learn, for us to learn, not only how to protect our families, but also how to teach our kids and spouses/partners to recognize danger; how to respond; how to avoid potential danger; and how to protect and defend themselves.