October 23, 2021

How to Teach Situational Awareness to Children – Part 2, by T.Y.

(Continued from Part 1.)

In Part 1 of this series, I covered why it’s critical that we teach situational awareness preparedness skills to children. The way I like to do that is with age-appropriate games, and I’m excited to share some of those games with you.

But before I cover the actual preparedness games, I’d like to share some suggested survival skills appropriate for various age groups. However, you know your child, so it’s up to you to decide what skills you want him or her to know and how you want to teach those skills. I hope this list is helpful to both you and your children.

Ages 3-5

  • Climb a Tree: In addition to being fun, climbing a tree is effective at evading threats. It can also give children a bird’s-eye view of their environment so they can assess danger and navigate to safety. And in foliage, they can hide.
  • Start a Fire: Teach about gathering kindling, firewood and fire safety. Start at three years old and add instructions as the child matures. Progress to starting supervised fires with wet materials as children age.
  • Stay in Place…Until: If lost in public or in the woods, teach children to stay in place so adults can find them—IF they are in a safe area and not in immediate danger. However, if they’re in public and mom or dad do not find them, teach them to ask an adult with children for help.
  • Know Mommy’s Name: Teach your child to call your real name, rather than shouting “mommy” or “daddy” if they’re lost, since it’s difficult to distinguish children’s voices in public. Repeat this over and over to young children until they understand.
  • Take Their Shoes Off: Since it is difficult for young children to remember key contact information, consider writing your name and phone number inside your preschooler’s shoe. Then teach your child that if you get separated to take his shoe off and show it to a grown-up with children.
  • Emergency Help: It’s appropriate at a very young age to teach children how to call 9-1-1 and seek emergency help. But it may not be so easy on locked smartphones. Teach them how to call 9-1-1 on your devices.
  • Swim: Swimming is fun, sure, but learning to swim could one day save your child’s life. Teach them early.

Ages 5-7

  • Read the Sky: The sky can tell children what time it is, which direction they’re headed and if bad weather is approaching. All children need to know what the sky is trying to tell them so they can be prepared.
  • How to Escape a Fire: One of the games I’ll share is called “Extinguish!” This is where you introduce children to fire safety. It’s critical that they know how to actually get out of a burning house, car or building, and how to keep toxic smoke from entering their lungs. Talk to your fire department or research if you need to, but be sure to teach your children how to save their own lives. This may include teaching them how to escape through a window, etc.
  • Basic Navigation: Point from one place to another and ask the child to determine the best route. Let some routes be safer and some faster to see how they react. Introduce other challenges as needed.
  • Know the Neighborhood: Know the streets, multiple ways to get home and who the neighbors are in case of an emergency.
  • Safely Handle a Knife: Teaching a child to safely handle a knife is scary for many parents, but it is a very important skill to learn. For young children, begin with plastic knives or child scissors that won’t allow them to cut themselves. Progress to sharper kitchen knives and allow them to help you prepare food, making sure that they always know where the first aid kit is.
  • Purify Water: Teach your child why water must be purified, and how to do so with iodine, boiling, bleach, solar purification, etc.
  • Pitch a Tent or Shelter: If you have a commercial tent, allow your children to follow its assembly instructions and let them erect the tent. Once they can do it, look for opportunities to supervise them doing it in poor weather. If you’re comfortable, allow them to build a survival shelter from natural materials.
  • Dress Appropriately for Weather: Children must understand why it is important to layer clothing, as temperatures and conditions change throughout the day and often without warning.
  • Handle Money: Teach children at this age to count money, calculate expected change from small transactions and ensure they receive the correct amount.
  • Fire a Gun: Even if you are averse to firearms, teach children about their proper use. Seek expert help if necessary so that children learn the deadly danger AND the potential life-saving nature of firearms.
  • How to Use a Slingshot: If you don’t have one you can buy an inexpensive slingshot. Learning to effectively use a slingshot provides a firearm alternative to hunting small game, such as squirrels and rabbits.
  • Use Hand Tools: Teach your child to use a handsaw, hammer and screwdrivers.
  • Make Dinner from Freeze Dried Pouch: Show your child how to boil water, interpret instructions, check the clock and serve food from a freeze-dried pouch.

Ages 7-10

  • Tie a Secure Knot: Knowing how to tie knots properly will enable children to pitch tents, secure boats, hang a clothesline and build shelters.
  • Become a Scout: The social and survival skill benefits of participating in these activities are well-known.
  • Advanced Navigation: Introduce navigating by maps and GPS. Allow children to plan trips for you and to navigate. Look for opportunities to praise decision-making while pointing out inefficiencies and threats as appropriate.
  • How to Help Others: Let your children see you volunteer at a hospital, food drive or anytime there’s a local emergency. This not only gives them insight into potential disasters, it teaches empathy, leadership and helps them realize the value of fitness and preparedness.
  • How to Answer the Door and Telephone: Teach the child that, if he’s alone, to never say, “Mom isn’t here.” Rather, instruct him to say that, “Mom is in the shower,” etc. Be sure to teach him why it’s important that he not reveal that he is alone.
  • How to Repair Things: Unfortunately, many children learn that when something breaks they should just buy a replacement. When I was a kid the motto was, “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without,” and that’s still a good lesson to teach children. Look for rusty cast-iron skillets at yard sales and teach children to restore them..
  • Identify Spoiled Food: There’s no “one size fits all” approach to identifying risky food, but you can teach your children that food must be safe to eat. Show them bulging cans (ask your grocer for any “bad” cans), shriveled/wrinkled potatoes, weeping lettuce or leakage in a produce bag. Allow them to smell “bad” milk and meat and look for signs of mold or mildew on lids, inside of jars or on food. At the same time, show them blue mold on blue cheese and teach them that it is safe to eat. Let children know that all fresh foods (fruits, meats, vegetables, etc.) spoil and must be consumed while fresh or safely preserved.
  • Know Basic Self-Defense: Sure, your child can take martial arts, but the best self-defense starts with situational awareness. Playing games such as Snapshot and Guts will teach your child to use their heads and avoid danger. So while you may encourage teaching self-defense fighting techniques, it’s generally best to teach how to avoid and escape from dangerous situations.
  • Develop a Love of Science and Math: Think about how these skills will help them understand ratios of purifiers to water (for potable water) or recipe ingredients, calculate time and distance (navigation, lost in the wilderness), estimate probability, how chemicals react and more. Don’t abdicate this only to school teachers—model your love of the subjects for them.
  • Forage for Food: Take a foraging exploration with your child and find something to eat! If you need training in this area, look for a class or check out the excellent book, The Forager’s Harvest.
  • Cook Over an Open Fire: After starting a supervised fire by themselves, have your children cook over an open fire using cast iron or a metal sheet.
  • Money Management: Teach your children to make a budget and calculate the cost to prepare a dinner. See if they can come up with ways to lower the cost while not decreasing calories, etc.
  • How to Survive a School Shooting: I wish I didn’t have to put this on the list, but…it’s a reality. Find out what your school shooter plan is (if they don’t have one—change schools) and assess it. Share the plan with your child in an age-appropriate manner (as with the rest of this book) so they know the plan. I want to emphasize that, as a parent of a young child, I know how hard this is. Since we’re not always there to protect them we have to help them the best we can, while always remembering that we’re trying to prepare them, not scare them.

Ages 10+

  • Earn Money: Encourage your children to safely earn money. Help them open a savings account and develop their money management skills. When they want to buy something, teach them the value of earning the money and saving for it, with the realization that there’s only so much
  • How to Hunt: This may include using firearms, archery or traps. It is a very important survival skill that all of our ancestors knew. Pass it on.
  • Internet Safety: Grandma didn’t teach me this, but times have changed. Teach your children common-sense guidelines on using the Internet, such as not sharing birthdays, phone numbers, addresses and personal information. Teach them about the dangers of predators, cyberbullying, and sexting (or whatever new concept exists when you’re reading this), and don’t rely on your search engine filters to keep their eyes protected from the real world. Rather, teach them about the real world, how to make good decisions, and how to stay safe.
  • Use Power Tools: Now that your child is older, help her learn to use power drills, saws, and so on. Build an animal pen or something survival related.
  • Tend a Garden: After playing the game Germinate!, allow your children to plant a very small garden, and have them tend it for an entire season. When they harvest the crop (s), allow them to prepare the food for the family over an open fire!
  • How to Feed Themselves: If they are alone in the house, your children should be able to feed themselves. This includes making nutritious food choices, cleaning food, prepping, and cooking. It also includes applying first aid if they have an accident.
  • CPR: When you feel they’re ready, enroll your children in a CPR class. It could end up saving your
  • How and When to Seek Help: This includes teaching teens to ask for help if they feel threatened at school or elsewhere and who can help them (parent, teacher, officer), as well as how to seek help if the child himself feels depressed or suicidal.
  • How to Mentor: This is especially valuable if you have both older and younger children. When children show and explain survival skills to others, they gain self-confidence and increase their own understanding of what they are doing and why. Let your older child know how much you need him and how important a responsibility he has to mentor and help others. If you don’t have younger children, perhaps he can mentor neighborhood children.
  • How to Travel Alone: I mentioned earlier that I grew up rather self-sufficiently. When I was younger than 10, I traveled to my grandparents on buses—alone. The trip was often 4-5 hours. Most of us wouldn’t consider allowing children to do that today, but at some point, they will have to travel safely without you. It’s best to create opportunities for that as safely as possible so that you can teach them situational awareness and safe travel habits.

(To be continued, in Part 3.)

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