Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Situational Awareness With Children

There's a funny advertisement about how children are time thieves and parents are willing victims. It's a humorous ad that rings with quite a bit of truth. In addition to time, children als
o steal attention, energy, patience, and maybe a little sanity.

Situational awareness has been a hot topic on my facebook page of late. My goal has been to better represent its purpose and limitations. While talking about situational awareness a mother asked whether or not situational awareness was possible with children in tow.

My two oldest being goofballs
My answer, I presume, was not much help to her.

I said, "Yes. No. Maybe."

I promised to clarify and herein is that clarification.

In order to answer the question more thoroughly we must define what situational awareness is. At its core, it is a skill. Like any skill, it must be practiced.

Some people are born gifted with situational awareness, most are not. Training can be acquired to help people interpret what they are seeing and what to do with that data. Like any other skill, however, practice falls to the individual attempting to be more aware of their surroundings.

Can you be situationally aware with children?


That depends a lot on the person attempting to be aware--in this case, the parent.

What kind of situational awareness did that parent have before they had children? Were they the type to walk down stairs or into water fountains or did they have a sense of their surroundings and what was going on? What was the focus of their situational awareness?

People interested in self defense tend to look at their surroundings in a far more critical light of potential danger from violent crime and other environmental hazards.

It makes sense that people are are already alert and aware are easier to guide toward defensive situational awareness. On the other hand, there are the No people who couldn't tell you the color of the car they drive to work every day. They might have a little further to go and must first practice awareness in general before it can be directed to any one area such as self defense. They may be completely overwhelmed when asked to be aware while also caring for a child.

Take an aware individual, train them what to look for and give them children and I say, Yes! They absolutely can be aware with children--although there may be an adjustment period.

Children, especially really little ones, suck attention as easily as they suck milk. If they aren't demanding it with screams to be fed, changed, burped or held we are giving it to them willingly while we lovingly watch them sleep, smile, coo and play. It is easy (or should be easy) to allow your child to get 100% of your attention. A parent (in my opinion) should specifically structure times when they purposefully give their children 100% of their attention. In general, however, that time and place should be of the parents time and choosing as to make sure it is appropriate and you are secure.

One cannot simply kneel down in the middle of the street and give their child 100% attention to look at the pretty penny on the ground when a truck is barreling down on them. It may also not be wise to gaze playfully at your child at the park while overlooking the strange individual stalking you or to put your full attention into your child's temper tantrum and miss exit signs and safe havens for emergency situations like fire and weather.

Before you give your child all of your attention ask yourself these questions:
  1. Are we reasonably safe?
  2. Who is near me?
  3. How do we get out of here?

In the example I gave above, the middle of the street is not a safe place to stop and talk about the joys of copper. Another example might be going to the park. It may be a safe place provided it is well maintained but you may take a moment to mentally catalog the individuals there, who they are with and what they are doing. Other parents with children are to be expected. Make note of people who aren't accompanied by children (male or female). Note any and all escape routes (particularly unconventional ones) and take moments to periodically update that information.

There are times and places where it's far easier to give your child your full, undivided attention because you have far more control of the place and time. At home where the location can be secured, you intimately know the individuals in that location and you have already devised a fairly unchanging escape plan is one of the best places to exchange quality attention time with your kids.

Do you have any situational awareness to speak of? If not, now's the time to start practicing. It's impossible to have perfect situational awareness at all times, so don't get frustrated when you find yourself struggling. There will also be times when your kids will steal your attention unexpectedly. That's okay. Keep working at it.

If you're already situationally aware but not sure how to incorporate your kids, here are some tips that might help:

  • Think of yourself as your child's bodyguard. 
Hired bodyguards don't spend a whole lot of time looking at the person they are guarding because the threat doesn't come from that individual. The threat comes from around you. Be looking around you.

  • When your child is demanding your attention, decide if it's an emergency or something that can wait until you are in a better location.
A child who has fallen and broken his arm is having an emergency. He needs to be dealt with. A child who is screaming because you aren't allowing him to have a candy bar can be dealt with somewhere else (even if you have to drag him there).

  • If you can't look at your children, touch them or have them touch you.
Hold hands. If you only have two hands and more than three children or want a hand or both hands free have your children hold your bag, the stroller, a cart or your clothes.

  • Incorporate your children into your awareness.
Play awareness games like ISpy. Have the older children tell you everything they see behind you while you strap the younger ones into seats or load groceries. Make games out of finding all of the exit signs, fire extinguishers and AEDs. Ask them to count how many people are in the room or cars in a parking lot. Ask them where they might hide if there was a bad guy, etc.

  • Trust your child's instincts and teach your children to trust them as well. 
When your child shies away from an individual or tells you they don't like a certain circumstance, as much as possible, err on the side of following the child's lead. They have a strong sense about people.

  • Make yourself known.
If you live in or frequent the same areas and see the same people over and over again introduce yourself and your children. If there's an emergency they can be helpful in reconnecting you with your children or feel more comfortable alerting you to strange things happening. They will also be able to better identify strangers around your children.

  • Know your children and plan for their needs.
I have a 5 month-old a 2 year-old and a 5 year-old. My youngest is not mobile. If I want him to move I have to move him or give him to someone who can move him for me. My little girl is independent and opinionated but still requires contact with her mom or dad in public to feel safe. She will not run away from me or her father if she feels threatened. I will need to carry her with me, give her to someone who can carry her or leave her to draw attention away from her if need be. My oldest is able to understand the concepts of danger. If given specific commands I trust him to be able to run, hide or escape on command. As my children get older their roles in their own defense and that of their siblings may change. Determining their levels of understanding and response takes constant evaluation on my part in addition to mock drills. Your child may be old enough to understand making emergency calls or be trusted with getting his or her siblings to safety or they might be handicapped and need more assistance. Take those things into account and plan for them.

  • Strategically place yourself.
Sit where you can see entrances and exits. Sit closer to exits (particularly ones that are not also entrances). Park where you have the best views of both the store and blind spots.

  • Be mindful of what you carry.
Parents (especially parents with kids still in diapers) tend to carry a lot of stuff. As much as possible, try to limit what you carry with you to limit what you are needing to juggle in a time of need or what might potentially attract the attention of someone looking to victimize you.

Depending on the type of emergency of violence coming against you it is important to note that the safest place for your child might not be with you. In order to increase their chance of survival you might have to give them to a stranger or push them away while you draw violence toward yourself and away from them. Start thinking of scenarios where leaving your children might be the best option for their survival and when it might not.

  • Decide if your exit plan will accommodate strollers and baby carriers.
When you enter a building, immediately start thinking about how you and your children might make a hasty exit and whether or not you will be able to do that with the gear you may have brought in. If you have three children or more it might be easier to pile them all on a stroller and run them out. On the other hand, if you need to escape through a narrow or unconventional place that a stroller won't fit through you might have to ditch the stroller. It may mean pushing them so far and carrying the rest of the way, but consider circumstances where you might have to ditch the baby gear.

Situational awareness with children is possible if you can build off of existing awareness and tailor it to fit your needs as a family.

How might you increase awareness while out and about with your children?

A special thank you to Kathy Jackson for all her good advice over the years.

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