Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Situational Awareness with Children

I got a question a month or so ago asking how to maintain situational awareness while out with young children.

I haven't been ignoring the question - I've been mulling it over.  I have a few ideas, which I'll share, but we're a pretty good community of shooters and I have no doubt that some of you will have some input as well, so please feel free to add your input in the comment section.

My kids ranged from toddler to pre-school aged when we were being "hunted" (their phrase, not mine), so I can easily envision how difficult it would have been if they had been any younger. 

The transitional areas would be of most concern to me: loading and unloading the kids from the car.  It takes a lot of concentration to get kids wrangled up and strapped into car seats - your focus tends to be on them and not on what's going on around you.

Add in the fact that often your hands are literally full, when your kids are infants, and it can be overwhelming.

One of the first things I would do would be to lighten up.  Literally.  You probably don't need the eighty pound diaper bag with everything but the kitchen sink in it.  When my kids were babies, I literally only carried an extra diaper or two, some wipes, and a spare bottle.  Let me amend that...once I had more than one baby, I pared it down to the above.  A small diaper bag was plenty.  Would it have been nice to have toys, teething rings, and books?  Maybe, but they weren't necessary.  Food and diapers were.  Without an enormous diaper bag, you'll be better able to fight if you have too.  Yes, a heavy bag could be a weapon, but would you really be able to swing it with enough force to do any damage?  You can really wing a small diaper bag around if you have to, plus the weight (or lack thereof) won't throw you off balance.

While we're talking about weight - what about those very nice, very expensive, and very heavy convertable strollers?  Are they comfortable for your child?  Probably.  But are they really necessary?  I watch parents struggle with those all of the time.  If your focus is on breaking down and storing your stroller, can you be aware of what is going on around you?  I would suggest an umbrella stroller.  I know those are so decades ago, but they're sturdy enough to haul your babies and toddlers around and you can break them down one-handed.  They're also light enough that you can swing them at an attacker like a baseball bat if you have to (empty, of course).

Before your kids are old enough to strap themselves into their car seats, you've got to be the one to do it, so how do you keep track of what is going on while you're focused on untangling straps and feeding limbs through the appropriate places?  I would expand your "bubble".  Take a scan of the area before unlocking the car door, make note of who is around and what they are doing.  Think about how big your "bubble" is when you're alone and double it when you've got your kids with you.

After unlocking the car doors, scan again.  Put the baby or toddler in the car seat and scan again before you start with the straps.  If it feels like it's taking longer than usual to strap your child in, scan again.  It's very important to identify a potential threat and that means being aware.  You can't be aware if you're not looking around.  Make it a habit to look around you every few seconds.

As your kids get older, start playing games with them.  "I Spy" is a good one to have them start looking around and noticing what is going on around them. They don't have to know that you're teaching them to notice the world around them - they just think it's fun.

One of the games we used to play was to people watch and make up stories about the people around us.  If the kids came up with a statement like, "that man is mad", I made them explain it to me.  You'd be astounded at how intuitive kids are and how good they are at reading body language.

I am NOT a believer in "stranger danger"; I think kids need to learn to trust their instincts instead of making them afraid of everyone.  I think their intuition needs to be nurtured.  Gavin de Becker's book PROTECTING THE GIFT really helped me out in this sense.  It's an amazing book with real-life, not make-believe, tips to help us keep our kids safe.  There are some gunnies out there who knock him for being an anti-gunner, but I think that's not true.  Here's why I have a hard time believing he's a true anti-gunner: he runs one of the most well-respected, elite Protective Security Services in the world.

We've got lots of parents who are readers, what are some of your tips for situational awareness with kids?  What worked for you?  What didn't?


Rachel said...

Oh gosh. Read this and immediately flashed back to the time when I was accosted by an aggressive panhandler in a store parking lot.

My tiny preemie son, purse, diaper bag, groceries, keys...

Being deaf has helped me make situational awareness a bit more instinctive. My eyes HAVE to be my ears.

But that day, I was wrestling my newborn into his carseat and found myself trapped between the open car door and the cart and an angry man who wanted money.

Know what I did? Shoved the cart and jumped into the car and locked the doors.

Looking back, there is not much I could have done differently. The baby alone makes you less able to react in the same ways. I was very aware of the man as he came around the corner of my car - my purse (and assumed target) were already in the car and I had the cart to somewhat buffer or distract. Thankfully, I was able to simply throw myself into the car next to my son and immediately click the locks shut (I still had my keys in my hand).

I made a report at the store, and was shaken.

What do you think I could have done differently? I mean, except my usual tactic now - wait until my packin' husband can come with me! :)

Anonymous said...

Excellent advice. This question came up in a class recently and I got the whole class involved in answering since it has been so long for me. The best tip that came out was unlock the car, open the door by the car seat, then re-lock the doors so only that one is open.
Great Advice!

agirlandhergun said...

Excellent post!! I just recently "lightened" up my load, but still feel I need to carry more than just the basics.

Teach your children to be aware as well. Even very young kids can be "look-outs". We play games to get them used to looking around. We are looking for things that are beautiful, interesting or dangerous. I tell me kids, if you are looking at your feet you might miss a rainbow, a strange looking tree, a car backing up or a bad guy. Again, depends on the age.

agirlandhergun said...

As I reread my comment I realize my tendencies to type fast has made my previous comment look like teaching children to be aware was an additional suggestion. I meant it as support for your idea and also to add the part about looking for the beauty in life and not just the dangers as you alluded to with "no stranger danger".

GunDiva said...

AGirl - I absolutely love the reminder to look for the beautiful things in life! All too often it's easy to get sucked into looking for "the bad guy" or "threats" and we forget how wonderful everything is and can be. I wish as adults, we could hold onto the wonder of the world that children have.