(Continued from Part 2.)
In part two of this series, I listed age-appropriate ideas for introducing situational awareness and preparedness concepts to children. In Part 3 and 4 of this series, I’ll share actual games you can play with your children, including objectives, instructions, and assessment criteria.
Since we don’t want to alarm our children, it can be difficult to talk with them about what to do if there is an emergency. After all, children need to know they are safe, and we parents want more than anything to make sure they both feel safe and are safe. But we need to prepare our children for when they encounter something awful, such as a fire, natural disaster, or a mass shooting. A way to do that is to make it fun and non-threatening for a child to learn disaster preparedness skills.
One of the most awful realizations for a parent is that we cannot always be there to protect our children. Therefore, the best we can do is to calmly but consistently teach them the skills they need to stay safe, and I firmly believe this topic has a place for all parents, whether you consider yourself to be a “prepper” or not.
Of course, not all conversations need to be formal. An open dialogue about safe versus dangerous situations should happen continually.
Something I do with my very young daughter is to discuss this while she watches a favorite animated movie. For instance, there are a few dangerous scenes in the movie Finding Nemo, such as when a predator fish attacks and eats all eggs other than Nemo in the opening scene, or when Nemo disobeys his father and swims in the open sea to a boat.
My young daughter has an adorable habit of putting her hands over her ears while keeping her eyes open anytime she witnesses something that alarms her, and this visual cue tells me when I can reassure and educate her at the same time. As needed, I explain that any creature can be a predator, whether it’s a fish, chicken, fox, or human. We’re never too young to learn the difference between good guys and bad guys. Look for situations that are right for you and your children.
Here are some ideas that I hope will be helpful.
- Speak to your children about personal safety in small doses at first. Be careful to use a calm, non-threatening tone so you don’t scare them. Instead, tell them that, while many people are good and trustworthy, not everyone is. As they become more comfortable, create drills to increase their awareness of their own instincts, when to say no, and when to run and seek help. If you don’t think you can do this, you can. You’re their parent and it’s your job.
- Speak openly about safety issues. Children will be less likely to come to you if the issue is enshrouded in secrecy. Children need to know that they can safely tell you or a trusted adult if they feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused at all.
- Don’t confuse children with the concept of “strangers.” Young children don’t have the same understanding as an adult might of who a stranger is. The “stranger-danger” message is not effective, as danger to children is much greater from someone you or they know than from a “stranger.” Of all children under age five murdered from 1976 to 2005— fathers killed 31 percent, mothers killed 29 percent, male acquaintances murdered 23 percent and other relatives killed seven percent. Strangers killed only three percent.
- Older children and teens may think they already know all this or they are “too cool” for lecture. They aren’t, and teens are equally at risk from victimization. Speak to them about the situations they put themselves in and if possible, allow them participate in the conversation with younger siblings. This will reinforce issues they hopefully already know.
- As for parents, we need to know where our children are—at all times. If you can’t be with your child, there are many GPS trackers available for children so you can know their location, and receive alerts if they go out of approved areas.
- Above all, teach your children that it is more important to get out of a threatening situation than to be polite.
- An example of a video that may help you to teach young children is at tinyurl.com/iceabduct. In this social experiment video created with parent’s permission, an ice cream truck operator demonstrates how frighteningly easy it is to abduct children. As a father of a young daughter, it’s difficult to watch with her, but what could be more important than teaching our children about safety? The time to begin developing their survival mindset is as soon as possible.
- Practice what you talk about. You may think your children understand your message, but until they can incorporate it into their daily lives, they may not clearly understand it. Find opportunities to practice “what if” scenarios, demonstrate and model excellent situational awareness, and show them that you value personal safety by being diligent every day. For younger children, be sure to make it playful and fun.
- Lastly, one great thing you can do for your family is to get them working out together. Martial arts and self-defense classes can be found in just about every city, but if this is not feasible, don’t give up. There are many books and videos that show you how to practice right in your own home. This will not only develop a value of fitness but will teach your children lifelong skills.
I believe it is critical that we discuss the issue of safety with our children, and do so often. Not to scare them, but to heighten their awareness of the world that surrounds them.
Now—let’s get on to the games!
Game 1: Snapshot
Build your children’s observational awareness skills by encouraging them to take a mental snapshot of their environment and recalling as many details as they can.
Before the Activity
Look around at what you will ask your child to observe. Think about what they are likely to remember and choose a few details you consider important to their safety that they are likely to miss, such as exit signs, windows, hiding spots, etc. If they have missed these items at the end of the game, you will point it out and discuss why it’s important (you can also connect this to news stories).
How to Play
- Stop all distractions, i.e., turn off radios, stop walking, etc.
- Tell your children to look around and take a mental picture of everything around them. Give them a time limit (one minute, 10 seconds, etc.).
- During the time limit, make your own notes of what is important for them to see.
- When time is up ask them to close their eyes and describe their picture to you. Pay attention to the types of details they notice.
- With their eyes still closed, draw their attention to something you thought was important that they missed. Prompt them to try to remember more. For example, ask them, “Did you notice any exits in the room? Where are they?”
- When done, ask them to open their eyes and discuss what they remembered. This is a great time to coach them on things that are good to pay attention to.
- If you have teenagers, you can encourage them to play this game with younger siblings, thereby teaching both at the same time.
Each time you play, see if your children recall the environment in greater detail. If they don’t assess a threat right away, that’s fine—just be sure they increase their awareness and continually improve. Encourage them to focus on details that relate to safety.
Continually challenge them as they become proficient observers by asking them to take a snapshot in busier and more active places, or simply introduce distractions.
Also, let your children turn the tables on you! Tell them that they can pick a place for you to close your eyes and recall what you remember. This gives them the power to put you in the “hot seat” while still accomplishing your goal of increasing their observational awareness. After all, they’re trying to find threats that you missed.
GamE 2: Incognito
Teach your children how to blend into their environment by camouflaging objects and eventually themselves.
You will need some toys to manipulate with camouflage material. For example, your child may not mind covering a washable plastic duck toy with dirt, but may panic if you scuff up her favorite princess doll. Alternatively, if anyone in your family is a hunter, borrow camouflage clothing.
Before the Activity
Gather some toys that you can bring outside and think about the best areas you could demonstrate camouflaging with them. Choose one toy for a demonstration and camouflage it outside in a safe place.
How to Play
- Invite your children outside and tell them that you have hidden their toy somewhere nearby. Explain that they are hidden very well so they will have to look closely to find them. If needed, give clues to help them find their toy.
- When the toy is found, without moving it, discuss what you did to help it blend into the environment. Maybe you covered it with leaves or you found an area of the same color for it to blend in to. Teach the word camouflage.
- Next, choose another toy and work together to camouflage it into the environment. Ask the children things such as, “What color(s) out here would it blend with?” Or, if the color does not naturally blend in, “What could we use to cover up this bright color so that no one can see it?”
- Use some different techniques to camouflage toys such as rubbing some mud on them, layering leaves and sticks around them, burying them deep in the grass, etc.
- When all the toys are hidden invite another family member out to try to find the toys. Let your children feel proud by being the one to offer clues when the family member can’t find any more of the toys.
- With experience and age, you may want to graduate from camouflaging toys to letting your children camouflage themselves. Let them try to blend into the environment with camouflage paint or clothing. Take their photo to show them what a good job they did.
- Be sure to play this game throughout the year so that your child can learn to camouflage in different seasons. As every hunter knows, it takes a different approach to blend into lush summer forage than it does to hide in the bare, frigid winter landscape.
See if your children understand the concept of camouflage by observing the choices they use to hide their toys. Are they choosing locations for their toys that make sense? Are they covering the toy completely to help them blend in? Can they camouflage only on the ground, or did they hide things (or themselves) in trees as well?
Game 3: extinguish!
Teach your children to identify if a fire is safe or a threat, then find help them find the best method to either control or extinguish the fire.
Fire extinguishing skills.
You will need materials to start and control a small fire, matches, a jar candle with a lid and a chemical fire extinguisher.
Before the Activity
Find a location to safely build a fire, such as a fire ring, a metal drum or even a charcoal grill. Be sure the fire is in a safe location and not adjacent to a home, structure or dry woodlot.
How to Play
- As discussed in Fire it Up, fire can be scary and dangerous. However, the ability to control fire is one of humankind’s greatest achievements, so let’s help children understand both of these facts.
- The tactics you use will depend on the age and ability of the children. For younger children, begin by demonstrating the many ways that a lit match can be extinguished. After lighting a match, simply shake it to use the relative wind to douse the flame. Then light more matches and put them out using sand, water or simply blow on them.
- To show that fires require oxygen, light a candle in a jar and then cover the top with a lid to extinguish the fire.
- Use pictures or discussion to differentiate between “helpful” and “harmful” fires. For instance, controlled helpful fires allow us to cook food, boil water, and even burn trash. Harmful fires are always uncontrolled or accidental, and create great risk to structures, land (wildfires) and life.
- Look for opportunities to share the fire tragedies on the news with children and discuss how it may have started, what could have been done and ask your child how they would have responded.
- Find a VERY safe site, such as a fire pit in a large, sandy area or an isolated fire drum. Place newspaper and kindling in the container. Then, light a stick and, rather than blowing it out, accidentally drop the burning stick on the flammable material. Adults may want to practice this first on their own to ensure the desired effect is achieved.
- Create a small campfire (or a series of small campfires) and demonstrate many ways to extinguish them, such as safely stomping them out, using sand, water, etc.
- Create a larger campfire or drum fire and, as appropriate, allow children to extinguish the fire using the same type of chemical fire extinguisher that is in their home. Show them the proper way to use it, where to stand and where on the fire to apply the suppressant.
- Once children understand the basics of fire and ways to extinguish them, introduce them to other fire threats, such as electrical fires or fires from propane hoses. Discuss the fuel for the fire threat (electricity, propane, gasoline, timber, etc.).
- Inform them that water should NEVER be used on an electrical fire, as it can make it worse or create a risk of electrical shock. For electrical fires a chemical fire extinguisher is necessary.
- Also, be sure your children know to never put water on a grease fire! Water is heavier than the oil (grease) and, as a result, sinks to the bottom and becomes superheated. The resulting explosive force of the steam blows the hot oil out and creates a fireball that can reach a kitchen ceiling. Rather, extinguishing a grease fire requires a chemical fire extinguisher, or turning off the heat source and covering the pan with a metal lid.
- Make a game of rewards for identifying fire threats by sight. For instance, during one game you may want to isolate the game to the living room and kitchen. Teach children to look for frayed electrical appliance cords, combustible materials (that you “accidentally” left) next to toasters, etc., electrical wires running under rugs, portable heaters sitting on top of newspapers, a fireplace without a screen, etc.
- During another game, isolate the backyard and see if the children can find threats around a grill, an overused extension cord that is powering too many outside devices, a lawnmower and gas can with a very dry pile of leaves next to it, etc.
- In addition to sight games, safely make a game of finding things that feel hot, such as the tops/sides of most televisions, the sides of portable heaters, etc. Monitor your children as they move their hands safely above an illuminated light bulb or lit candle to feel the heat, as well as over a toaster and other devices.
- Finally, show children how to test and replace batteries in smoke alarms. Let them hear the sound the smoke detectors make in a calm setting and explain what to do if they ever hear that sound. Let them help you to replace batteries and explain the batteries are necessary if the power fails.
Assess your children’s understanding of fire through their appreciation of and respect for it. Do they understand a fire’s properties? Can they differentiate between a controlled and dangerous fire? Do they know how to put a small fire out? Most importantly, do they know how to call 9-1-1 in the event of an uncontrolled fire?
(To be continued tomorrow, in Part 4.)