Thursday, February 16, 2012

Tiny Tigers

A 7 year old girl fights off an attempted kidnapping.

Since this event made the news last week, parents everywhere have been discussing the best way to teach their kids to defend themselves without making them terrified to go out into the world.  Some parents throw their kids into the deep end by just being completely honest about how brutally violent a predator can be, letting them watch violent movies with adults, etc.  

Others take the opposite view.  I was fascinated by one woman who posted that she completely shielded her daughter from any concept of violence or danger or "badness" in the world, in an effort to protect her innocence.  It reminded me of the young Buddha being raised within palace walls without knowledge of sickness or death.

As usual, I believe the best way lies somewhere in the middle.  I'm not here to try to tell anyone how to raise their children, but if you choose to prepare your kids to deal with the world as it actually is and not how you fear it is or wish it were, the difficulty lies in how to get the message across without freaking them (or you) out.

Having taught children in Karate and Krav Maga, I've discovered a few things you can do to help your kids learn.  Please take whatever you think you might find helpful, and feel free to add your own ideas in the comments.  Every little bit helps us raise our kids into strong, smart, confident men and women.  

*Make sure your kids know your full name, your cell phone number, and their home address.  Kids with stepfamilies will need to know both sets, and they can accomplish this at a much younger age than one might think.

*Have your kids practice dialling 911-send.  Turn the phone off first, so the call doesn't go through!  Then have them practice it under pressure.  That pressure can be you playing chase with them saying "I'm gonna get you!".  It's hard for them to concentrate when they're running & giggling & shrieking, so it's good practice.  You can also have them race another child who is dialling on another phone for a small prize.  That raises the stakes. The purpose of adding the pressure is the adrenaline rush makes one's small motor skills deteriorate.  This is what they will experience during a real event that's serious enough to warrant calling 911.  They must practice pushing 'send' after 911 if its a cell phone.  

*If they spend time in a day care facility that has the typical phone system in which one has to dial 9 to get an outside line, they should practice dialling 
9 911, too.  Adults should do the same.

*Once they've successfully "dialed" 911, role play with them.  You play the role of the operator and ask them questions like "What happened?" "Where are you?" etc.

*Many people teach their children not to talk to strangers.  It's a good idea to also teach them how to ask a stranger for help if they get lost or someone tries to harm them and they escape.  I teach my students that its safer to approach someone for help than to go with someone who has approached you.  Obviously not everyone who approaches you is a predator, but it's not uncommon for a predator to pretend to help someone they intend to assault.  That's why they're called predators.  Most people are willing to help if asked, and you stand a better chance of choosing an honorable person if YOU (i.e. the child) makes the choice. (See Gavin de Becker's The Gift of Fear for more on this subject).

*When my stepdaughter was young we had a password.  If someone tried to give her a ride home from school saying something like, "Your parents got into an accident and asked me to give you a ride to the hospital", she was to ask them "What's the password?"  If they didn't know it, she was instructed to run like hell.  Predators think of all kinds of lies to entice children to get close enough to grab.  Anyone who doesn't know the password doesn't need to get close when your child is alone.  Incidentally, it is crucial that the child understands that NO ONE should be told that word except for people the family has agreed will be called upon to get the child in case of emergency.  Not even friends and other family.  Sadly the most common assaults are committed by someone the victim knows.  My stepdaughter is 21 years old now, and I STILL haven't told anyone the password.  

*On a similar note, one of my adult students has prepared her family for a home invasion.  If someone comes to the door and this student says to her kids, "Oh, I just remembered I forgot to reset the timer on the microwave" her children are to calmly but quickly go to the downstairs bathroom, taking a cell phone and lock themselves in until she gives them the password to open the door.  I think this is genius.  By the way, that's not the phrase she actually uses, I just made that one up.

*Children need to be taught when it's okay to disobey an adult.  I"m referring to "NO" as a response to a stranger saying "get in my car" vs. mom or dad saying "it's time for bed".  Active disobedience is very difficult for kids who are not regularly in the habit of behaving this way.  Also, the rules on this are different in different families.   Think about where your boundaries are regarding your child's behavior.  What are your expectations of what they must endure to remain out of trouble and when can they say no?  To whom can they say no?  When can they physically resist?  Run away?  Strike back?  What kind of strike is acceptable for your child to defend himself (if any)?  Shoving?  Slapping?  Using a weapon?  
How about when the aggressor is not an adult but another child?  How much bullying (if any) should your child put up with before defending herself?  You don't need to labor through every possible scenario with your kids, but having a clear concept in your mind of what is acceptable will help you discuss these matters when the subject arises.

*Often the hardest part of having these talks with your kids is simply getting started.  I have a friend who starts by asking her son, "Hey, what would you do if..." and lets him provide the first solution.  This is awesome, as it gives her an understanding of where his head is at already, and essentially turns the talk into a brainstorming session with the kid.  Then instead of telling just scary stories about "what could happen" you're focusing on solutions, finding holes in each others ideas and using that space to create a plan.

*My experience with kids has been that they're not traumatized by talking about this subject.  Most traditional fairy tales are pretty graphically violent, so these aren't new ideas to children.  If you find that your child does start to get scared or retreat, stop talking about it for the moment and find another way to approach the subject.  It may help to have another person discuss it with them or to change the environment in which the discussion is held next time.  Discussing or role-playing and practicing with a sense of play can also help.

*Lastly, I'm going to recommend letting your kids give martial arts a try.  Visit a school that is convenient to your home and affordable and just watch a class. If you like what you see talk to the instructor about the school's philosophy regarding self-defense and fighting, discipline and self-control.   Many parents fear their children will become violent if they are taught martial arts, particularly if the child has behavior issues to begin with.  My experience has been the opposite.  Children with a healthy outlet for the natural aggression we are all born with learn control and self-discipline, in addition to learning to defend themselves.  If you try it and don't feel your child is benefiting, remove them from the school.

*Ok, this is really the last one.  You will notice in the video the girl who was grabbed didn't do any fancy ninja moves to disable her attacker.  She simply screamed and kicked with all her might. (Screaming, "He's a stranger!!" is helpful, btw.)  All she did was one of the most important things you can do - she made it not worth the extra effort to kidnap her.   She made a poor victim.  Nice job, kid.  

If you'd like more information on making sure anyone who attacks you is practicing poor victim selection, read my friend Jennie's post on the subject.

Regarding kids in martial arts, here's a little video of a 4 year old and a 9 year old being introduced to headlock from the side.  I told the kids they could hit me as hard as they wanted to.  Kids love to hear that.  Turn the sound up. :)


  1. this is excellent, Parker. Thank you so much for providing this helpful information. xo

  2. Far out! Wonderful suggestions. (We think alike!) Thanks for sharing your experience, strength, and hope.

  3. This is fantastic! I'll definitely be incorporating some of your suggestions into my kindergarten class this year!