Can a kid fight off an adult predator?
A question (paraphrased) we received from a parent who heard us speak on self-defence at a conference:
“Are there any good methods for teaching children how to use debilitating techniques and 'dirty' tactics, but with discretion and only in appropriate situations? How do I tell my kids that it's okay to bite, and eye-gouge any unknown adult (as in, not a trusted immediate family member) who tries to grab or hurt them — and also teach them how to do so — so I can trust that they won’t just do it to any kid that messes with them?”
Absolutely there are. But before addressing that it is EXTREMELY important that we address the wording of the question, particularly the “unknown” reference. One of the keys to teaching our kids to stay safe is to urgently move away from the ineffective “Stranger Danger” model. It does not work on its own and never has. There are many reasons why it is ineffective which we highlight in our book, training, and articles, but just one of those reasons is that the vast majority of child abuse takes place at the hands of someone known to the child or family. “Stranger Danger” has a dangerous message embedded in it, after all if all “strangers” are dangerous, then everyone we know must be…Safe.
“Stranger Danger” has a dangerous message embedded in it, after all if all “strangers” are dangerous, then everyone we know must be…Safe.
This message has caused a huge amount of victimisation and has to be urgently updated. We must make our kids aware that it is not who someone is (i.e. a “stranger”) or what they look like that makes them dangerous, it is their behaviours that do that. When we teach kids the behaviours to look out for it empowers them with confidence and realistic skills instead of introducing un-necessary fears into young minds. There are many angles to this which we address in other articles but all child safety training should always aim to empower kids, not frighten them.
Kid's self defence training should always aim to empower kids, not frighten them.
The physical portion of protecting themselves is the last resort when all of the recognition and avoidance strategies have failed them. These other strategies are far more likely to be used but the child still needs a (realistic) physical arsenal to enable them to escape. Note the goal is escape, not to fight.
If the child is able to attend a quality, child specific self defence course where they can train “live” against padded adult opponents that is ideal, but not always possible. So it’s often up to the parent/caregiver to give the training. Obviously, safety is absolutely paramount and should never be treated lightly, protective gear is a must.
I don’t care if the child is a black belt, at a physical level it’s unlikely a 7-year old is going to fight off an adult male with conventional ‘techniques’, that’s just reality.
Accepting that, instead we teach the “wriggle defence” (I couldn’t think of a better name but it definitely fits). This involves firstly exploring tool and target development so they know where to attack and how.
And then they practice the “wriggle defence” motion, which anyone who has ever tried to hold a child who passionately does not want to be held will understand; they thrash, they squirm, they scream, they wriggle, they FIGHT!
We then overlay the tool and target striking (hitting, biting, gouging, butting, scratching, kicking, screaming) with the “wriggle defence” motion and you have a child who is very hard to control, move or secure.
This must be trained safely, but realistically with real energy (hence the protective gear) and it should be fun. If it is being constantly reiterated that this is for use against “dangerous people” only and not in the playground most kids really get it. It is also designed more for use against a bigger, stronger person picking them up or dragging them away so unlikely to be used on their peers in a playground situation.
From there you add in role plays of various scenarios and work through all of the defensive strategies or recognition, avoidance, de-escalation (yes, it applies to kids too!), physical attack, and next-steps.
Of all of the empowerment and self-defence strategies we teach to kids, the physical aspect is the part with the smallest chance of success, which is why we emphasize the other aspects so consistently and passionately.
All training with kids needs to address the serious issues but should do it in a fun, often “games-based” way so it is enjoyable. And remember to always positively encourage them throughout the process.
Please share this with any parents you know as that is how we get the word out. Thank you!