When my children were younger, we spent a lot of time going on errands, walking to the playground, or just killing time at the mall. My arms were always full and my mind overwhelmed as I juggled the diaper bag, a double stroller, keys, a cell phone, and two squirmy toddlers. I think back to those days, and know for certain that if someone had wanted to do us harm, they would have had no trouble. And I know I'm not the only parent who feels this way. Luckily, there a few things self defense instructors want you to know about defending yourself and your kids.
Everyone wants to believe that their particular neighborhood is safe. But, the reality is that no area is 100 percent immune from danger or crime. Moms with small children seem to be at a particular risk, because they have more than one person to defend in the event of an assault. As kids get older and are no longer under constant parental supervision, they, too, may find themselves confronted with dangerous scenarios that require safety skills and quick thinking.
Here are some tips shared by self-defense instructors that will help keep you and your children safe if you're ever faced with a precarious situation.
1. Discuss Stranger Danger
"Stranger Danger" is a phrase that extends as far back as the 1940s. The concept was to teach kids how to be vigilant around people they don't know and avoid the tricks used by predators. Matt Romond, a 3rd Degree Krav Maga Worldwide Black Belt and the Director of Krav Maga Worldwide's KM-X Kids program, tells Romper that kids today still need to be reminded about dangers of strangers, even if the stranger is a neighbor.
"If a stranger says, 'Hello' they can smile, make eye contact, wave, and say 'Hello' back," Romond suggests. "But they should always keep walking toward either the school or home no matter what."
2. Practice Emergency Scenarios
Mike Gizzo an instructor for Krav Maga Institute NYC, suggests that parents and children should practice what to do in the event of an emergency. "Play games with your kids that double as drills which will prepare them for taking action and seeking safety in dangerous situations," he says. "These games should include making sure that your child knows your home address, how to dial 911, that they have their parents' cell phone numbers memorized, and that they know where to hide or go to seek help in emergency situations."
3. Know Where To Go
Kids should know where to go in the event of an emergency. Gizzo suggests discussing a hiding place in familiar locations such as home or school so that parents know where to find their children after the violent scenario has subsided. If they are in an unfamiliar location, they should run to a populated location such as a store or restaurant and ask for help.
4. Know How To Call For Help
Jarrett Arthur, a self-defense and safety expert and co-founder of Jarrett & Jennie Self-Defense, Mothers Against Malicious Acts, Customized Self-Defense for Women, and other specialized self-defense and safety programs for families, tells Romper that older kids will often think they need to stay and protect their mom, so it's important that they know that sometimes running to get help is the best and bravest thing to do.
"Teach your child where they can go: restaurants, schools, shops, police and fire stations, hospitals," Arthur says. "And teach your child what they should do when they get there: notify somebody who works there, someone who is wearing a uniform, or another parent with a child that there is an emergency and they need help right away."
5. Know Your Surroundings
All three instructors noted that the most important tool to keep a person safe is knowing their surroundings, and this starts by taking off headphones and putting the phone away. "The criminal mind is predatory and seeks the path of least resistance," Gizzo says. "If you are perceived to be oblivious to your surroundings it is more likely that you will be targeted."
Arthur understands why moms can become a target. "It’s easy to become myopic when you’re with your kids," she says. "But from a safety standpoint, expanding your focus to include your surroundings is one of the very best ways you can help reduce the chances of being targeted."
She suggests staying off your phone when you’re out in public, especially during transitions into and out of vehicles, homes, and buildings. Moms should also get into the habit of glancing behind you every 50 to 100 feet on a walk, as you approach your car, or the entrance to your home.
6. Listen To Your Gut
"Moms have the best intuition around," Arthur says. "If something doesn’t quite feel right, resist the temptation to brush it off due to inconvenience and honor that feeling. Erring on the side of caution, even if in response to a little voice in your head or a tickle in your belly, is incredibly smart."
7. Avoid Unsafe Scenarios
Romond recommends that kids always practice the buddy system and stay in groups when not with an adult. Parents may not realize it, but teenagers are most at risk for encountering a dangerous situation that is imposed by friends and acquaintances. Romond suggests ensuring that your teen’s time and attention is occupied during certain hours by getting them involved in after school activities or scheduling a time after school for them to do their homework and chores and homework.
It's also important to regularly touch base with your child when they aren't being supervised. Knowing that mom or dad might call or show up at any moment will help your child avoid risky behaviors.
8. Learn How To Fight Back
Fighting back begins with setting boundaries. "Setting clear, strong boundaries is one of the best ways to protect yourself and your child, because it will help give you more information about this person’s intentions," Arthur says. "It can buy you some time to decide your next steps (fight or flee), and it can even work to back the person off completely." Her key recommendations are:
Child Positioning: Immediately position your child behind you so that you are in between the threat and your child, like a shield. If your child is in a stroller, swing the stroller behind you so that it faces away from you.
Body Positioning: Stagger your feet both left to right and front to back so that you’re balanced. Bring your hands up in front of your face with your palms facing forward in a “stop” gesture. You may choose to only raise one hand and keep the other in contact with your child or the stroller.
Body Language: Square your body to the threat. “Grow” tall by pulling your shoulders back. Make eye contact.
Voice: In a strong, deep, loud voice use clear, concise action words to tell the threat what you need him or her to do: “STOP!” “BACK UP!” “NO!” “LEAVE NOW!” Continue to repeat these words until you have the space to move to a safer location.
Practicing some self-defense moves can also help escape a violent situation. Romond teaches women in his self-defense classes five critical techniques: straight punch, front kick to the groin, knee strike, bear hug defense, and choke defense. Look up your local Krav Maga school or a self-defense course to learn more.