The following are some useful tips, though they need to be adjusted to the age and needs of your child:

  1. Establish a “family password” and drill your kids so that they understand that if anyone ever comes to pick them up at school “because Mommy or Daddy is sick” that person MUST give them the family password, or the child should not leave with them. Kids like family secrets, and should have no trouble dealing with this concept.
  2. Tell them success stories about kids defending themselves, such as the 12 year old girl who was recently accosted by a man with a gun on her way to school. He told her to get into his van. She was more afraid of the van than the gun (wise child), and managed to break free and run away. He didn’t shoot at her, and was later picked up by police and charged with several child murders. The point is that it is important to resist strongly and early in the interaction, not to go along (in the van, for example), hoping that the situation will somehow get better later on.
  3. Role play with them in a low key way, so that they really know how to respond to a variety of situations. One girl who was walking home from school when she was accosted, and had trouble running away because she was afraid to drop her schoolbooks, fearing that her father would be angry at her if she lost the books. Parents spend a lot of time trying to get kids to understand and adopt our usual adult priorities, and it is very important that kids understand that all those normal rules are suspended if they are in personal danger!
  4. Give them “Eddie Eagle” training about firearms. The message of the Eddie Eagle program is, if you see a gun, don’t touch it, leave the area immediately, tell an adult. This is critical for even very young children to understand, since they might come across a firearm in the home of a friend. AWARE can tell you how to get Eddie Eagle materials (coloring book, etc) if you are interested.
  5. Far more important than formal classes are the attitudes about self-protection that parents convey to kids. If Mommy is alert, unafraid, and self-reliant, the kids will tend to be so, too. Teach them that it is OK to scream, really loud, if they are in danger. If someone covers their mouth, teach them that it is alright to kick and scratch (not wildly, but targeted areas such as groin, eyes, throat and knees).
  6. Don’t have backpacks and clothing with the child’s name visibly on it. It allows a stranger to call the child by name, and kids are less suspicious of (and more likely to obey) someone who knows their name.
  7. Remember that the media strive to entertain as well as inform, and horror stories involving children get a huge amount of press and air time, because they sell a lot of papers and make people watch the TV, NOT BECAUSE THEY HAPPEN OFTEN. Kidnapping is every parent’s worst nightmare, but it is NOT a common crime. It may not be increasing, though the “extensive media coverage” may make it feel that way. While teaching your children how to protect themselves from that, don’t forget to teach them how to protect themselves from much more common threats, such as school yard bullies, friends experimenting with drugs, pedophiles, purse snatchers, etc.

There are a number of programs springing up that claim to teach self-defense for kids. Be cautious about them. Most local martial arts groups and karate clubs are great for exercise and confidence building, but lousy for self-defense.

Some Impact studios, however, are starting to offer suitable kids’ programs. Look for programs that teach a combination of boundary setting, verbal and physical techniques.

This is a very important topic these days.  We can’t begin to cover all the possibilities, but here are a couple of resources you may not have come across.  One is A Parent’s Guide to School Shootings, by an Ohio police officer, another is a school safety program called ALICE (Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Escape). FASTER is a program that provides police-level training for free to teachers and other school personnel for the kind of emergency situations everyone hopes never happens to them.

Talk to your local schools and your local police.  Are they talking together about what to do in these situations?  Are they training together?