It’s been almost a year since Chelsea King was abducted and murdered in San Diego. Parents are still concerned about their children’s safety and children want to know if it will happen again. As a self defense instructor, the two questions I am asked the most are, “What is the likelihood that my child would ever be abducted by a stranger?” and “How do I talk to my children about strangers without scaring them?”
The likelihood of a child getting abducted is one in 347,000 or .0003% according to Dr. Phil and his research team. The reality is that victims of sexual assault know their attacker 90% of the time.
The best way to prepare your child without fear is by talking to them. After teaching more than 20,000 children, I can tell you assuredly they want to know what to do! Knowledge is truly power for them. Once they know that they have the power to “self-protect,” they will feel more confident when moving about their world. When I teach children, I always emphasize to them that, “there are not a lot of bad strangers in the world who take children.” The reason we learn about bad strangers and how to protect ourselves is “just in case.” Like “Stop, drop and roll,” we learn this safety lesson on the off chance it could happen.
So how do you talk to a child without scaring them? I don’t suggest using the term “Stranger Danger.” We don’t want children thinking that all strangers are bad. I like the term “Stranger Awareness.” Your child needs to know that we don’t know if a stranger is bad or not. Most strangers are good, but it’s not up to the child to find out. They can talk to a stranger only if they are with a parent or trusted adult. I highly recommend John Walsh’s DVD “The Safe Side” for younger children.
The keys to self-protection are:
- Projecting confidence
- Trusting your intuition
Like any lesson, this information must be reinforced at home through parent-child communication and role-play. Awareness is 90% of self-defense. Play “awareness” games with your children while you are driving. For example, ask them to identify something that is round and purple. This will teach them to take notice of their surroundings.
Remind your older children to never walk alone. The most vulnerable ages are 11-21 years because they are more independent. Recently, within a two week period, we had two 12 year old girls in San Diego that were almost abducted. Thank goodness they both fought off their attacker. They both made the same mistakes:
- walking alone from school
- walking with the flow of traffic
- stopping long enough to listen to the stranger
“Don’t talk to strangers!” is not good enough anymore. We need to tell our kids, “Don’t even stop and listen to a stranger!” A safe distance from a stranger, car or an animal is more than five arm-lengths. Teach them that no matter what, they must never get into a car, even if they see a weapon. Your child only has a 1% chance of returning if they get into that car.
It is important to teach them the “Three Weapons of Self Defense:”
• SECRET WEAPON “CONFIDENCE”: be aware of your surroundings and look confident, establish your boundaries with eye-contact and distance!
• BIGGEST WEAPON “YOUR VOICE!”: If a stranger approaches you, run and shout “Back-off, Stranger!, 911!” Remember, NOISE ATTRACTS ATTENTION!
• STRONGEST WEAPON “YOUR LEGS”: Your #1 goal is to run!!! If you can’t run away, drop to the ground and have a self-defense temper-tantrum. KICK AND SHOUT “Stranger!” Call 911!
Finally, teach your children to self-protect. If they are not interested in the martial arts, that’s okay. Sign them up for a one-time self defense class. I encourage parents to practice with their children after taking a class. We teach the children to go “Chihuahua Crazy!” because children understand the concept that a small dog can bark a big dog away. A great family movie to rent is the first “Beverly Hills Chihuahua.” The Chihuahuas live by the motto, “We are tiny, but we are mighty!” Pick your child up and encourage them to wriggle and kick their way out of it. Have them get down on the floor and kick and scream, “Stranger 911!” Get down on the carpet and wrestle with them, make it fun for them. Here is a video clip me teaching these skills on Dr. Phil’s show.
I just heard of a 10 year old that was grabbed recently on her way to school. She kicked and screamed and threw a tantrum. She was able to get away and run to her school. This little girl had no martial arts training.
Here are several books I recommend for parents and children that will help you generate a non-fearful conversation:
Debbie Gardner. Mike Gardner Raising Kids Who Can Protect Themselves
De Becker, Gavin Protecting the Gift. Dell Publishing
Linda Walvoord Girard “Who is A Stranger and What Should I do?” (K-5th grades)
Frederick Alimonti Not Everyone Is Nice: Helping Children Learn Caution With Strangers (Let’s Talk)
Tracie Arlington has her black belt in Tae Kwon Do and has been teaching self-defense courses since 1998 to women, teens and children. She is also a certified Senior “Rape Escape” instructor for the Women’s Self-Defense Institute.