I find that when I teach self defense, my most challenging demographic is the children. Any child under the age of ten. We teach them the basics just as we teach everyone the basics – how to get out of a wrist lock, how to punch, how to kick, how to deflect a push or a grab. I call these basic self-defense techniques “playground self defense”. It’s the kind of reaction you’d want a child to have if they were being bullied at school and shoved around on the playground. Because for me, personally, I believe thats the only place it’s practical for them to use. Some other kid grabs their wrist, sure, do a palm hook and slap them in the nose with a palm heel or kick them in the shin. Perfect.
If some big hulking stranger grabs that same child’s wrist? Sorry, but a palm hook is not going to work. I’m a tough woman and sometimes I can’t even get away with just the basics.
When the opportunity presents itself and I get a chance to pull aside a handful of children in the studio, I like to teach them five basic self-defense techniques. Five is a nice number, because children can remember five. Five is a “handful” (my educator side of me is coming out). I’ll run through the five topics I like to teach, and this can be a PSA for parents to use to follow up with their children at home. Hell, you don’t even have to be a martial artist to teach these five safety techniques to your children.
Here we go.
This is not a novel idea. But I’m about to put a novel spin on it.
Not all strangers are bad people.
And to teach your children that all strangers are “bad” and “dangerous”, or tell them to “not talk to strangers” robs of them valuable human resources if they are in an emergency.
Instead, put this language spin on it: Tricky People.
Inform your children about “tricky people” – people that make their bellies feel weird when they see them. Children have acute gut instincts and we tend to squash those instincts when they are young. Ever have your child NOT want to hug someone? Or not want to talk to a relative? Something is setting a red flag off for that child and we as adults need to trust their instincts sometimes even more than our own, and we need to teach them to trust their own instincts.
Teach them about “tricky people” – people who make them feel strange. Teach them to look for people who seem out-of-place or aren’t following normal patterns of human behavior. Teach them to know the difference between a person who lingers a little at the playground and the person that’s just walking their dog.
And of course, teach them to be wary of people who might try to lure them away – the stereotypical person who’s lost their dog, or has some sweet treat for them.
Staying with the “tricky people” theme vs “stranger danger” – if your child happens to find themselves stranded without an adult who is responsible for them, this distinction can be very useful. We always teach children to look for a police officer for help. But what if a police officer isn’t available? Teaching children “tricky people” versus “strangers” helps here, because if they need an adult and they can’t find a police officer, that means that they are going to have to talk to a stranger.
The following strangers are resources for children:
-Other parents with children (first choice!)
-Anyone in a uniform, whether it’s a police officer or the Chic-Fil-A guy or the woman in all black with a name tag who works as a hairdresser.
-Groups of female teenagers/young women. (I hedge to add male teenagers in this group because male teens tend to have a bit more testosterone and have that “playful aggression” that might be intimidating to a child. That’s not to say that ALL male teens are unapproachable, but teach your children to know the difference between ‘tricky’ teens and ‘helpful’ teens.)
-Anyone working a counter or a booth
Calls for Help
As a teacher by day, I have learned to drown out the sounds of children screaming. I won’t look twice, because my brain tunes it out.
I might look – because I’m a bit paranoid – if I hear a child cry for help, and I’m probably one of the few people that might even intervene. But, I know how naughty children can behave when they are mad at their parents, and most people just assume the kid tugging at an adult’s wrist and crying “stop stop stop!” is just a misbehaving child and a frustrated and embarrassed parent. I’ve seen parents bodily haul their screaming children out of stores. Hell, I’ve BEEN the person to ask parents to remove their screaming children from stores and movie theaters. And all parents can share that one commonality – children will scream and throw temper tantrums.
At martial arts – and you can do this without martial arts – I teach children two phrases for emergencies:
“This is not my mom, this is not my dad!”
“I don’t know you.”
I stress stress STRESS the importance of these two key phrases with the children. I stress how important it is to reserve those words for real emergencies, and sometimes I share the “Boy Who Cried Wolf” story with them, and tell them that they don’t want to be crying wolf and have no one listen and then get eaten. They laugh and we have fun, but it’s important. We practice. I will bodily haul them across the studio and they will shout “I don’t know you” or “This is not my mom”.
Because “help”, “leave me alone” and “stop stop stop” don’t work.
Wrist locks, knee strikes, elbows, these are good elements for children to learn in a martial arts class for basic self defense. But not entirely practical. Teaching your five year old how to get out of a wrist lock is not going to be useful when someone throws her over their shoulder and walks away.
Some of the targets I teach them include:
-Punching – but with select targets: throat, nose, carotid artery on the side of the neck, groin, and punching the bones on the top of the hand.
Note: I don’t teach them to bite, that’s gross, but we talk about it as a valid option.
When I teach the self defense, I haul the children around. I grab their little wrists and hold, I throw them over my shoulder, I drag them around. I do them no favors by playing nice with them and if you’d like to follow up a martial arts lesson at home, don’t go easy on them. Make them work to get out of a situation. Bumps and bruises from a good self defense situation will heal; having your child abducted will not. That’s the brutal reality of it.
Color Code of Awareness
I teach a color code of awareness to everyone, as follows.
White: when you’re sleeping.
Yellow: daily activities, alert.
Orange: something is wrong and you may need to take action.
Red: you have no choice but to defend yourself.
But children don’t understand what it truly means to be “alert” to your surroundings. Children – especially young children – are very egocentric. Their entire world revolves around them. And that’s okay, that’s normal. They need to be taught what to look for an how to be “alert”.
–Where are they? Discuss with your children your location. Are you at the mall? What mall? What store?
–Who are they with? Are they with mom? Dad? Auntie? Grandma? The babysitter? Do they have a sibling with them?
–Where are the exits? Point them out to your child, make sure he/she is aware of how to leave a building or a place. Talk about where the car is – are you parked in a lot? In a garage? Near what store?
-Most importantly, pick a place to meet your child should you get separated. Point out the information desk, or the front office. Where can they go for help?
Knowledge is Power
Every child needs to know their basic personal information. I repeat, every child needs to know their basic personal information.
-Their own full name
-Their parents full names
-Their phone numbers
Not much more I need to say about that. Drill your kids on their personal information. Do it. For them.
There you have it. Five practical self-defense strategies. I could go on about more, but these five I think are easy enough to teach, and honestly don’t require martial arts. Pure, honest safety for all the children. Keep them safe, keep them smart. That is all.
Peace, love, kamsahamnida.