I am a victim. I am a spectator. I am luck incarnate. You would think based on my chosen career for over twenty years as a US Navy SEAL  that I would be the poster boy of preparedness. You would think that now retired from the military and currently a security professional that I would have stockpiled food, weapons and supplies in preparation for the next Hurricane Katrina, 9/11 or other mass casualty causing disaster. Instead, like so many others I have assumed luck is on my side. I have assumed that because I have lived a life on the edge, constantly under the stress of death as the alternative to mission success that I am impervious to harm. I have stood by so many times like a spectator and watched as others suffered through earthquakes, tsunamis or terrorist attacks with little concern that it could be me next.
Sad and Disgusted
I have tragically lost well over twenty friends, teammates and compatriots [in combat and in training accidents] and still I didn’t feel the overwhelming need to prepare. I have become self reliant and so used to working with a team that has my back that little phases me now. I believed my self to be Mr. Lucky, to be luck incarnate.
That was until I had a family. I don’t mean the twentieth century kind of family, a wife, two dogs and a condo. I mean a real family, a lovely wife and two precious young sons and all that comes with it. A family that whether they know it or not relies on me to protect them. That regardless how liberal we have become the man of the house is still supposed to check on every bump in the night. I am now that guy, that husband, that dad the one who must be able to tell between a spider that will kill you and one that catches flies or stink bugs for us during summer. I have to be able to do more than recite my favorite sports team’s season stats or what new “app” we can get for our phones. My wife is a foodie and intent on buying some land and doing some small scale farming, perfect, I have the best kind of supportive and understanding wife. I have a 6 year old son who has to convince the neighborhood kids to play outside for more than 10 minutes, during spring and fall let alone winter. He knows how to shoot a traditional recurve bow and skies better than most adults. My youngest son is only 9 months old but he’s stout, strong and totally engaged with his environment and radiates confidence that belies his months. I have been blessed with the perfect supportive family. Several years ago it became apparent to me I can no longer afford to be a spectator, a victim and luck is not a preparedness plan.
No matter how perfect my family appears to be and is it is no SEAL Team assault element, nor do I want them to be. But, it has become clear that my family needs guidance, training and nurturing in reference to disaster preparedness. Any parent knows that a well thought out plan can easily go awry when you infuse young children into the mix. It is one thing for me to be self reliant, for my wife and me to discuss our future on a farm, it’s another thing to get small children to find the “fun” in preparedness planning, to become self-reliant themselves. It’s even more difficult to have them become willing team players in what seems to them an arbitrary endeavor. Ironically it was my 6 year old who has given me the greatest inspiration. At 3 years old he would yell out, as he sat snuggly in his car seat what we would later call “waypoints”. My son had, through a game we would play developed the, sometimes eerie ability to identify landmarks (buildings, towers, parks, ponds, restaurants, playgrounds, etc) and could tell you where we were in relation to home or other important establishments. As the “point man” for many years in SEAL platoons, forever being oriented was of the utmost importance not only to me, but to my teammates and to mission accomplishment. My son had clearly picked up this innate interest in knowing where he was either from me, his mom or he had it instinctively. But, where he got it from was unimportant to me. What was important was that I wanted to encourage him to refine this talent and use it as a stepping stone to discover other similar talents.
This is where the trouble started and where a major life lesson took place for me. How do I make disaster, death and mayhem look attractive and not scary to a child? How do I relate my oldest son’s love of the outdoors, chess and legos to hunting, self-defense and problem solving? Ok, admittedly that makes it sound pretty easy. In fact in the beginning it was pretty easy because where ever I went my son went. Whatever I did my son wanted to try which is the reason my son has been skiing for four years and he’s only 6. But, as he got older and the challenges or maybe the learning curve got steeper I found myself struggling to make it happen. The crazy thing is I have a background in education. Albeit it was training SEAL candidates, but I spent nearly 6 years of my life trying relate, convey and transfer life saving skills to what amounted to a bunch of kids. How then did it not come naturally when it came to working with my own son? That’s what this article is about, how to teach your kids essential life skills.
In the remainder of this article I will go through the concepts and steps that I believe to be essential to nurturing our children’s natural desire to protect one another and their family and to be generally safe in daily life. The concepts are more child psychology and motivational methods than direct practical preparedness steps, but I believe them to be imperative to our children’s complete understanding of why they must prepare. The steps on the other hand are…
The first word in any parents training vocabulary should be encourage. We have all experienced that parent that believes he or she must instill drive in his or her children. That children need to be pushed from time to time or in some cases all the time. Encourage is the optimal way to build a lasting interest in, well pretty much anything. This seems like a very obvious concept but as my own experience has shown me, our best intentions to encourage can often wane as we the parent see our children lose interest in something, get distracted or even rebel against the activity altogether. I have a tendency to come in a little too intense when my son shows interest in something I believe to be highly beneficial. For example, my son showed considerable interest in wanting to learn how to shoot a bow and arrow. Great I thought he will take down his first white tail by the time he’s 8. I had it all mapped out. I went out and bought all the gear. Set up a 10 meter range in the backyard. For the first week he was into it, again it was easy. I didn’t have to do anything but say lets go shoot and he was ready. But, the interest soon subsided and out of frustration seeing my dream of a 7 year old taking down the families Thanksgiving turkey fading I started to use poor tactics. It was my amazing wife who reminded me of our family values, that we would never be derogatory with our children. If they showed an interest in something we would support and encourage them. The only steadfast rule we had was that if our sons started something they would see it through. For example if my eldest wanted to play soccer he would play the season not quit halfway through. If he didn’t want to play soccer again the next season so be it. And so it went with archery. I backed off, relaxed a little and when he did want to got out back and shoot I was full of encouragement and took the opportunity to connect with my son as much as pass on skills.
The next concept I believe to be essential to raising self-reliant, confident and skilled children is appreciation. I always like to say appreciation over compliance. If our children learn to appreciate how important being prepared for a home invasion or a fire is they are much more likely to act appropriately. By contrast, if a child has been taught to be compliant with the rules of what to do in case of a fire the compliant child will generally be devoid of freewill. Freewill you say? Yes freewill, I want my children to be problem solvers. I don’t want them to freeze when mom and dad are incapacitated and my oldest son needs to get his little brother out of a second story bedroom that’s on fire. My oldest has always wanted to know “why”. Once again he has taught me some valuable lessons by way of continually challenging me to help him understand how things work. He would sooner jump off a bridge than be immediately compliant on most anything especially if he doesn’t understand the importance of the task. I am sure he is not the only 6 year old that fits this mold. But, I am positive that it presents some unique challenges when trying to teach a child something that we as adults believe to be so intuitive. To promote appreciation be willing to “work with” your child. My wife is the queen of analogies. She can relate most any idea to an example, to illustrate an idea. I lack this skill, but I have worked to develop it. It’s just as important to help my sons appreciate how they can be of considerable assistance in even the most mundane things, like taking out the trash or peeling the carrots. It is even more important to show them how they are integral to the safety of their family. Think of ways to help your children see the importance of being an active part of planning, preparing, and getting through a stressful, life threatening situation. Your child’s appreciation and understanding of his/her role in your family, to problem solve and think on their feet may save your life.
The third and final concept of my philosophy towards teaching our children preparedness and self-sufficiency is for us as parents to be less objective oriented. Children, especially young children are experience oriented. That experiencing may take place at the beginning of an outing or lesson, at the middle or towards the end. For example, there is a 50 acre nature preserve two blocks away from my family’s house. My oldest son has dubbed this forested area the “spooky woods”. Although the woods have never scared him, from the age of 3 they have reminded him of the many fairy tells his mom and I read to him. It seemed to him that all fairytales took place in scary forests. My son and I have spent hours exploring the woods. A couple times I tried to plan and organized an outing with clear objectives (i.e. build a debris hut, a wood bridge over the creek, a solar still to collect water). I soon realized my first mistake was to plan anything, to organize anything. What I wanted to do was of little concern to my young son once he found a dead raccoon to poke with a stick, a frozen creek to throw rocks through or if he just wanted to sit and pick the bark off some deadfall. What I learned from this was to be ready. I learned to carry a pack with the makings of a bow drill fire starter or a snare. I became less interested in learning a specific skill, meeting an objective or making a particular destination and more about the experience. I allowed my son to drive where we went and what we saw and experienced. I stayed open enough to use the opportunities my son presented me to pass on knowledge. On one outing we were discussing the merits of being observant. I wasn’t using any specific examples from our outing, just relaying the idea of stopping every so often and taking a real look around. I was trying to extol the ideal that you miss a lot when you put your head down and just follow the trail. Within 15 minutes of the end of our conversation my son spies what he thinks looks like the tip of a spear poking out of the fall leaf pack. As he digs through the leaves he finds the right antler of an 8 pointer. My sons still proud of that find and reminds me often how he used his superior observation skills to find such a treasure. The other amazing attribute of this concept is that for us as parents being less objective oriented is much less stressful, much more peaceful and once again affords the us to connect with our children on a much more intimate and personal level.
It’s probably comes as no surprise to any of the readers that orientation is vital to survival, preparedness and sustainability among many other things. The following are
Steps to Orientation
– Start with learning land marks and their importance – situation awareness
– Fun with maps
– Give them the tools to navigation
– Observation drills
– Relate to other activities