02 June 2013

Awareness skills for kids



Because I talk so much about awareness, it comes as no surprise that one of the most common questions I receive is from parents wanting to know how to work on awareness with their kids.  This is a tough question because of kids maturing at different ages.  In this article, I will try to provide some ideas and talking points for you and your kids.


Awareness is quite a buzzword in the tactical world, but there seems to be a problem defining it.  Here is how we do it.  There are three types of awareness: self awareness, situational awareness, and team awareness.  The ideas below are intended for kids from around 3-10 years old.

Self Awareness-   Teach kids to be aware of their limits and stay within them.  For example, if they are not yet comfortable swimming in the deep end of the pool, don’t be coaxed there by other kids.  It is not about child molesters.  It is about over all safety.  Many bad situations that adults encounter could be avoided by not getting in over their head.

Situational Awareness- Kids possess great intuition, but it is most likely to be interpreted as fear, and that is OK as long as they are encouraged to act on it.  When we are scared, a natural response is to retreat to a safe place or person.  Let your kids know that this is natural and everyone, including adults, have it.  This will encourage them to immediately act on it.  If something does not feel right, it’s probably not.  Especially with little ones, don’t try to be too specific with scenarios.  Just let them know that when they are afraid of something or someone that they should remove themselves from the situation.  Fear, probably our most primal and powerful response, sometimes has the ability to paralyze adults, so we should not expect anything different from our kids.  One of the most effective ways to combat this is by breathing, and a good way to encourage that is verbalization.  Ask your child what they would say if they were approached by an adult who was known to them but asked them to do something they were uncomfortable with such as going to the bathroom with them.  Ask them what they would say if they were at a friend’s house at a pool party and they saw their friend's Dad taking pictures of them while they were changing.  Ask them what they would do if someone followed them into a bathroom stall at Wal Mart.  Don’t be surprised if they say they don’t know.  This will open a dialog between you, not only about what they should say but what action to take.  It is my opinion that we spend too much time worrying about our kids being molested by the Boogeyman and too little time talking about the reality of people they know putting them in uncomfortable situations.  Child predators are insidious and often test the water with kids to see what they can get away with.  Kids need permission to decisively respond to anything that they are uncomfortable with.  

Team Awareness- Encourage your kids to immediately respond to you.  Because dangerous situations don’t occur every day, your response to them is going to be unusual requiring you to say and do things that you normally wouldn’t.  Your kids know you well enough that when you use a tone that they are not familiar with, there is something going on.  Our kids are separated by three years.  We always made them responsible for the their younger brother or sister, as we were for them.  We enforced this by the way we held hands.  This is very helpful for the Mom that has to load several kids into the minivan.  The older kids serve as lookouts when Mom is fixated on the little ones.  You will be surprised how aware they become when you tell them you need them to be.  Explain to them that bad things can happen even when you are all together and having fun and how important it is for them to immediately do as you say, especially out of the house.  You should have no problem coming up with a few scenarios to role play to make your point.

As with all tools and tactics, it comes down to time and opportunity to use them.  Based on my experience with my own kids, nieces and nephews, and as a Scout leader, I would say that it is around 6-7 that kids start squirming out from under our thumbs.  It is at that time that they will be exposed to other adults without us always being there.  Most often in the way of  a sports team, Scouts, first sleep overs, etc.  As I have discussed before, I find biting to be the most reliable tool for kids this age to defend themselves against adults.  It is intuitive, primal, and effective.  Just be sure that they realize that they cannot overpower an adult and not to waste valuable time trying to do so when they need to get away.

This short article is not intended to be the final word on training your kids, but rather some ideas to open a dialog with them.  Letting them know that being afraid of certain situations and people is a natural gift goes a long way in ensuring that they will act on their feeling, something most adults fail to do.

In a future article I will discuss what your child can do if they are abducted. 

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