Street-proofing Your Kids

If there's one thing I'm sure most of us fear more than a violent attack upon ourselves, it's the fear of our children being confronted, violently or otherwise. As caring, responsible parents and self-defense instructors it is our duty, then, to create the safest possible environment we can for our children. It is imperative that street-proofing techniques – techniques of awareness and understanding – be incorporated into every children's class. We must do all we can to help children learn to help themselves.

Street-proofing children is not an easy thing to do, however. It requires a continuing effort on the part of parents, and a great deal of caring on the part of the martial arts instructor. But then again, isn't that what we're here for?

An example of the difficulty of street-proofing kids happened to me a few years ago when my own son, Andrew, was only four years old. Following a short discussion about strangers, I asked him a simple question to test him: “If someone in a car stopped and offered you some candy to get in, would you?”

“NO!” he exclaimed.

“Good boy!” I said proudly, convinced my fatherly advice had taken hold.

Then, with the innocence of an angel, he asked, “Would he give me a Hotwheel car?”

Needless to say we began again.

Parents have practiced teaching little ones not to talk to strangers since the beginning of time. But what exactly is a stranger? I once had a five-year old tell me during a self-defense session that a stranger was anyone wearing a beard and work boots.

Personally I have always taught that a stranger is ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE, except Mommy and Daddy, Grandma and Grandpa, a UNIFORMED policeman or fireman and friends and family readily recognizable. Even then the list of friendly faces you as parents choose is one you must take care in making.

Take for example, non-custodial parental abductions. This is where the non-custodial parent, the parent estranged from his or her spouse due to a separation or divorce, abducts their child. No matter what the tragic circumstances are between Mom and Dad, clearly neither is a stranger to their children. So in the case of a bitter situation where the parent with legal custody might expect the other of being capable of abducting their child, measures must be taken in the child's best interest.

Also consider the Block Parent program in your neighborhood. Do you and your children know where and who they are? Some parents will take a walk with their children and point out the block parent signs in their area. Familiarizing your children with these safe houses is a good idea. But it might be a better idea to go one step further, and actually knock on each door and introduce your child to the person in the program. Block Parents is a wonderful and trusted organization, represented by model citizens. But the participants are, after all, still strangers to your child.

Teaching children about self-defense includes everything from knowing how to handle peer pressure when faced with that first invitation to smoke a cigarette, drink alcohol or take drugs, to how to handle sexual harassment at school or in the workplace. It not only includes what to do when strangers approach them for any reason, but also how to handle an adult relative, or anyone else they know who tries to touch them inappropriately.

For instance, teach little ones to memorize their own address and phone number. Instruct them in the importance of informing Mom and Dad of their whereabouts at all times. If they feel someone is following them, they should go immediately to a public place like a store, police or fire station. Teach them that displaying pro team jackets, expensive name-brand running shoes, and other popular fashions is only an invitation to steal their possessions.

If you are a martial arts instructor and you're not teaching these types of street-proofing techniques, and continually reinforcing them as part of your self-defense curriculum, you're not teaching a total self-defense system for children. Unlike jump-turning-hook-kicks, street-proofing techniques such as these are essential life skills.

If you are a parent and you discover your child is not being taught these types of street-proofing techniques in the school you have chosen for them, don't hesitate to ask why. If you find the answer is not suitable, and self-defense is your main concern for your child, you might want to discontinue practice with the present club and find a more professional school, one that truly understands what self-defense for children really entails.

Children and parents alike must be made to understand that an ability to defend oneself physically is perhaps one of the least important aspects of street survival. In most cases, regardless of age, it is more important to learn to think smart, to have knowledge and understanding and to be totally aware of your environment, rather than have punching and kicking skills. After all, would you really expect your six or seven year old to be able to physically defend him or her against a determined abductor?

Of course emulating the Ninja Turtles, throwing head-high roundhouse kicks and spinning hook kicks is a lot more exciting for the kids than sitting and listening to someone lecture on the virtues of not talking to strangers. So you as parents and professional martial arts instructors might have to be a little creative in your introduction of such subjects. You might have to loosen up your traditional approach to teaching martial arts and play a game or two. If will take nothing away from your particular style to do so. It will enhance the enrollment of your children's program, guaranteed.

As for the physical techniques of self-defense for children, you have to keep it simple, direct and functional. Break-falls are a good idea for when that schoolyard bully starts pushing his way around. Learning to strike vital areas that require little or no strength while a child is being lifted into the air is important. Double-handed strikes should be used to a maximum.

Teaching children the concept of total body commitment is absolutely essential. Respective height and weight differences compared to an adult's require that children use every ounce of every muscle to cause even the slightest damage or disorientation to the attacker. All the while they are defending themselves they should be shouting things at the tops of their lungs. Things like; “You are not my Daddy!” “Let me go! You are not my Mommy!”

I realize over the past decade we have been inundated by the media about abducted children. It seems that just about every time you turn around someone else has written a piece on street-proofing children. I would also venture to bet that the moment some of you began reading this column you rolled your eyes and thought, “Come on, not another one.” Well, if nothing else, all this attention being drawn to the needs of children should help you channel your energy as far as teaching self-defense is concerned. Teaching children to kick, punch, flip and fall is one thing. But teaching them how to avoid ever using those skills outside a dojo or competition is clearly another.

It you have never spoken to your kids' class to casually discuss these concerns, take time now. Be a concerned participant and I guarantee you will be surprised what a few innocent hearts and minds will teach you.

Till next time, keep the attitude!

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