5 Self-defense Tactics to Help Empower Children Against Harm
No parent wants to think that any harm could come to their child. The mere mention of it makes most of us want to pop in some earplugs and climb back into our blissful little bubbles where nothing bad happens. However, our children are in harm's way more often than we'd like to believe. They may be hurt by a friend who moves on without them or fails to include them in an event. A thoughtless comment by somebody they admire might unwittingly damage their self perception. They could become the target of a bully or someone else looking to take advantage of them. The list goes on. Unfortunately, we can't shield them from every painful experience they will encounter in life. And we certainly don't want to place graphic images of things that could occur in their heads. However, we can teach them some general reactions that might help them protect themselves from many hurtful happenings.
1. Teach Children Not to Keep Secrets
Not long after children learn to talk in phrases somebody they go to for help might criticize them with Don't be a tattletale. For example, if one sibling hits another and the one who was hit tells an adult, the adult might look at them and think they are fine. People often pay little attention to the complaint the child made and the wrongdoer is rarely punished. Sometimes the tattler is made to believe that telling was wrong and they get punished for it. They begin to learn how to keep a secret.
While most of the secrets kids keep will never have any significant impact on their lives, some might. As these children grow older they might be encouraged not to tell on others or they will be ridiculed by friends or classmates and labeled a snitch or a rat. However, if we want our kids to come to us when they have a problem, we have to quit shutting them up. We have to let them know that we appreciate them confiding in us. And then, our actions have to show them that we heard what they said. This also applies for problems outside of the home such as at school. When a child confides in an adult that they are having a problem with someone at school, the child will feel they are deeply cared about if the adult gives them their undivided attention, asks questions, and sets up a meeting if necessary.
2. Teach Children to Feel Comfortable and Confident Rejecting Others
Occasionally kids encounter other kids or adults who take advantage of them or ask them to do or say things that make them feel uneasy. Instead of flat out refusing, some kids nervously agree or otherwise get coerced into appeasing the user. These children, most likely, either feel some sort of obligation to obey or they lack confidence in their own power or the know-how in how to use it. The confusion about how to react may come from being taught to respect authority and/or adults without being informed that there are exceptions to that rule.
One way to prepare them to defend themselves is to let them know and remind them occasionally that they have a right and an obligation to themselves to protect themselves and to refuse to let others take advantage of them. In addition, discussing what would you do (or say) if...questions and having them practice responding with a strong, convincible refusal including actions such as walking or running away could make it easier for them to respond this way in real situations.
3. Teach Children to Be Aware of their Surroundings
The earlier children start observing details in the people, places, and things around them, the more it will become second nature to them as they get older. Most kids love games such as I Spy, as well as, hidden object puzzle books. These games help them learn to zero in on specific parts of a bigger picture.
Parents can step it up a notch by creating more games or stories that involve real people or things they come into contact with. For example, when a parent takes their child for a walk, the parent and child could score points for correct answers to questions relating to people or things they just walked past. The child will not only be looking more closely to answer correctly; but, they will also be looking more closely to form a question to ask. After a child learns to see things more clearly, they might be able to more readily understand how something or someone could pose a threat and what they can do to protect themselves.
4. Teach Children How to Respond to Mean Words
Back when I was a kid, many moons ago, if somebody said something mean to me or one of my siblings or friends, we would immediately chant, "sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me." Chanting this somehow helped lessen the pain inflicted on me; however, it didn't eliminate it altogether. When my daughter was a kid, back in the early 90's, the popular phrase to counter mean comments was, "talk to the hand," and the kids would forcefully stick their arm out in front of them as if to say stop right there. Amazingly, this too seemed to work to some extent most of the time.
After analyzing why this might be, I've concluded that instead of focusing on what was said we all transferred our focus to our response. In addition, we didn't open ourselves up to more insults by saying mean things back, instead, we shut them down by letting them know that what they said didn't matter.
5. Teach Children How to React to their Gut Instincts
Most of the time, the only thing that rattles a child's trust of someone is when that person says or does something that clearly is not right. However, every now and then, a child might get a bad feeling about a person or situation without any apparent reason. We hope that our children would remove themselves from the presence of these unrealized threats and then tell somebody about their feelings. However, we also don't want our children to live with anxiety by constantly warning them of unforeseen dangers. If an adult has had this experience and reacted accordingly, they might mention it and their reaction to it in conversation with their child or in conversation with somebody else while their child is in the room.
What If You Make a Mistake as a Parent?
Ensuring our children have the tools they need to defend themselves saves both parents and child from a lifetime of wondering if they could have done something differently to prevent whatever happened. Being a parent has many benefits, but, it also is a lot of hard work. We do our best and sometimes we make mistakes and sometimes we get it perfectly right. The best defense for parents is to become educated on the problems many children face throughout their youth and do enough to head them off without being overbearing.