As parents, we all want the best for our children. As preppers, we know we need to get them ready for the worst. If we raise them controlled by fear, what kind of adults will they become? But if we don’t prepare them at all, how will they survive if the unthinkable happens? These questions become especially difficult when you have toddlers who are still too young to understand the whys and what-fors of the world around them.
The good news is that God has equipped our children with one of the best survival skills of all – play. Just as wolves play fight and kittens chase anything that moves, your children can learn through the simple act of playing with each other (and you!) how to defend themselves. Here are some of the basic skills your children will need and games you can play to teach them.
● Awareness. As any prepper knows, being able to analyze your surroundings for both potential dangers and potential resources is essential. Games such as “I Spy” are great for this. Play identification games too, such as blindfolding them and having them name various items using only their sense of smell, touch, or hearing. One game that I regularly play with my 2- and 3-year-old is the “Now” game. We lay on the grass (or floor, if indoors) and go through each sense, naming what we can see, hear, feel, and smell from that perspective. It is a very calming activity, and in addition to building awareness, can also be used to distract them in a stressful time.
● Obedience. Of course, obeying parents is part of any biblical instruction for youngsters. But just as you do not want them to obey only out of fear, neither do you want them to have to think about listening. Games like “Red Light, Green Light,” “Simon Says,” or doing a silly dance until you say “freeze” teaches them to listen and be in tune with your voice and gestures. The reward, fun, and praise of “winning” at these games often is much more effective at teaching an instant response. You can use the same gestures and words from these games in an emergency to get them to stop or start on a dime. In a way, you are training yourself just as much as you are training them. You learn to use clear, concise, and consistent terminology for what you want that will eliminate unfortunate miscommunication at the critical moment.
● Speed. Sometimes it’s not just going, but going fast that matters. Tag and races (both competitive and timed) are great beginners. But make sure these games are not just between your children. Being able to evade an adult pursuer is important too. We play the “Get You” game, where the parents chase the children in order to tickle them upon being caught. The bonus here is that it will be good exercise for you too!
● Physical Agility. Make sure your children have plenty of opportunities to play at playgrounds where they will be able to climb, run, and jump. Set up mini-obstacle courses at home with whatever you have around. Even for a baby who is just beginning to walk, you can pull the couch cushions onto the floor and have him or her walk across them to gain extra balance and physical skill. Always make sure that, whatever you do, it is a challenge for your child (but not too hard!). You want this to be fun, and for them to be able to succeed. If they are getting frustrated, scale it back a little. Giving them psychological fortitude and a positive attitude is just as important in all this – maybe even more important.
● Hiding. “Hide and Go Seek” is a perennial favorite of toddlers. While is may get boring for you after only one or two rounds, I would encourage you to play as long as time or the children’s attention spans permit, because this is just that important. Also, try alternate versions of the same game where one person hides, a group hides together, etc.
● Quiet. Children, especially those under the age of three or four, have a difficult time being quiet for extended periods of time. The “Quiet Game” where the last child to make a sound wins, is one way to help them develop this. Also, try making a game out of whispering through normal events in the daytime routine, such as having a “whisper lunch.” Sneaking games like “What Time is it Mr. Fox?” can help them learn to be quiet while moving.
● Identifying Dangers. You may notice that in none of the above examples are you warning your children of all the multitude of things that could hurt them. Children are self-protective, and some struggle with fear of everyday events without being given additional reasons by parents. But at some point in time, it is important to talk to your children about things that could happen. Sit down with your spouse, or other adults in your child’s life, and talk about what types of things may happen. A house fire, kidnapping, and regional natural disasters should certainly be on the list. Don’t overload your child with all of it at once—talk about one thing at a time.
In addition, role play with them about what to do. Be creative and find ways to keep this lighthearted. For example, you could pretend to be flames and make a revised version of tag. Use various senses to identify fire. Or wear a silly costume to pretend to be a threatening adult. Make sure to end any of these discussions with hugs and smiles, and give them a chance to ask you questions or verbalize their thoughts and fears. Making statements like, “Mommy and Daddy are doing ____ to help keep you safe. But just in case, here is what you need to do if ____ does happen,” can help them put it in perspective as a possibility rather than a certainty.
Try to incorporate these activities into your daily play time with your children. The more they are repeated, the more completely the skill will be learned. Praise them often, and don’t be afraid of looking silly when you play right along with them. Making this time a fun time will also give you tools to overcome stressful and dangerous events with your children because they will be able to connect with memories and consistent patterns from happier and safer times.