As an experienced martial arts instructor I invest a substantial amount of time working with kids. I take what I do very seriously knowing that what I teach may save a child’s life someday, or enable them to better handle situations they may find themselves in. When considering realistic threats that children may encounter, strangers quickly come to mind. The reason for this is that child abductions happen quite often and we need to prepare our kids so that they know what to do if someone tries to take them. My question to parents is this. What do your children know about strangers and what have you taught them to do when confronted by one?
I recently held a seminar for kids where we covered some realistic tactics for handling strangers, and what to do if someone tries to take them. We had a blast, and in this article I will share my experiences and give some helpful tips for parents to use when teaching your kids.
Establish What a Stranger Is
You can start off by simply asking your child “what is a stranger?” Most will give you an answer like “a stranger is someone you don’t know.” That’s a great answer, but take it further. Some students will tell me that bad strangers are only men, or wear all black clothes. Kids need to understand that a stranger can be man or woman, young or old, mean or nice. The truth is we can never tell based on appearance.
How to Handle Confrontation
I was doing a test drill with a student and had him come to the front of the class. I had him sit down and told him to pretend he was sitting in his driveway. I told him to treat me like a stranger and do exactly what he would do if a stranger approached him at home. So I casually walked up and as I approached him he stood up. I asked for his name in which he replied “Iâ€™m not telling you.” So I asked why not, and he replied “because I donâ€™t know you.”
I then asked him a few more questions, to which he also declined to answer. Some would say he did a good job, I personally disagree and here is why. The first thing a kid should do if confronted by a stranger is run! Run and find whatever adult they are with. I say this because the time they take to answer is time a potential abductor could use to get closer to your child and possibly being successful. The worst thing that could happen from your child running away is that it’s someone harmless and you can verify that to your child. In this case I would rather be safe than sorry.
If It Gets Physical
What if someone actually gets a hold of your child? What should they do? Here is where I have some fun in my classes. I ask my students something along the lines of “who thinks they are strong enough to fight off an attacker?” There is usually that little rugged wrecking ball of a kid who will most likely grow up to an absolute beast that raises his hand as he flexes his muscles. I usually get a good laugh, but I call him up in front the class, and by that time he is pumped up and ready to rock nâ€™ roll. I tell him to punch me in the stomach as hard as he can and I let him take a few shots. In training children, a false sense of security can be very dangerous so I bring them back to reality for a moment. Totally surprised, he and his classmates realize that punches probably wonâ€™t work on an adult attacker. So then we get serious and move on to what actually could work.
The number one tool for kids is their voice. We all know that it will be very hard for them to fight off an adult but if they can draw attention to themselves there is a better chance of an adult hearing and hopefully intervening. If an abductor has you, my recommendation is to yell as loud as you possibly can. In this situation you need to draw attention to yourself as if your life depends on it, because it might.
I teach kids not to scream. Itâ€™s not uncommon in neighborhoods to hear kids scream while they play, so screaming could easily be dismissed as kids playing. I recommend yelling words that are simple and clear enough where they wonâ€™t leave any questioning, words like “help” or “Iâ€™m being taken” or even “this is not my father/mother.” These statements are clear, simple and effective. If the child happens to get free they should run to the nearest adult and they should not stop yelling until they are safe. Remember, the yelling is to draw attention so hopefully an adult can intervene.
Along with using their voice, I also recommend a few things that kids can do to hinder an abductor’s attack. The number one thing for a kid to do if picked up by an abductor is fingers in the eyes, hopefully scratching them. Have you ever had an eye lash or speck of sand in your eye? I have, and I know that when I do the whole world around me comes to a screeching halt and my main priority is to get whatever it is out of my eye. If a child can affect the abductor’s vision it will increase their chances of getting away. The last thing I will say is, what if the abductor puts his hand over your child’s mouth? It might not be the cleanest option, but teach them to bite anything they can in order to get loose.
So parents, sit down with your children and see not only how much they really know, but what they would do if ever faced with these circumstances. Knowledge is power so the more knowledge we give to our children the more powerful they become. A week after putting on that last stranger awareness seminar the local police department a few towns over released a sketch of an alleged child abductor they were looking for who was still within the community. Needless to say, these threats are real and we can do our part to prevent the always possible child abduction.
Brendan Walsh is a Martial Arts Instructor with over 17 years of experience, a Firearms Safety Instructor in MA, and the owner of Walsh Dynamics.