You may not want to imagine your children being in a situation where they have to fend for themselves, but such emergencies may occur when you least expect it.
It is not just in the wilderness that children can get lost, and keeping them out of the woods will not ensure their safety. But teaching them how to survive in different places and situations can.
Your children may already know how to swim, tie knots , build a fire, find water and some other useful outdoor survival skills, but have they been taught the following?
1. Know Your Surroundings
Even very young children should be drilled with personal details which include their name, their parents’ names, the street and city where they live (and their country of origin and the name of the hotel, if they are travelling abroad). If you make it into a sing-song game, even children as young as 2 or 2 1/2 can repeat it. Emergency phone numbers can be taught likewise to a slightly older child.
Whether you are out camping, or travelling around the country, it pays to teach your children to be aware of where they are. Many children today are so immersed in their hand-held devices that they hardly ever look out of the car window. Knowing things like how many blocks you are away from a shopping center, in which direction your hotel is, or where various landmarks are can be helpful in finding one’s way back. Never underestimate the ability of even the smallest child to remember such information.
2. Stay Calm and Plan
Teach your children the S.T.O.P. rule. It is an acronym for Stop, Think, Observe and Plan. When a child realizes that he/she has been lost, the first thing to do is: STOP. Why? For one thing, this is possibly the nearest point from the place you started, not aerially of course, but in the way you just came. Further movement in any direction, except one, will carry you farther away from your base, and the possibility of help. Secondly, it helps you gather your wits and calm yourself down. Panic and thoughtless actions reduce the chances of survival like no other.
Next, you should try to recollect the past — how long you have been away from company, how far you may have walked in the given amount of time, what were the identifying features of the base and the areas around it, etc. Any instructions about finding the place or ways of seeking help may come to your mind when you stop and think hard.
Observing the surroundings will keep you from walking in circles, as often happens when people get lost in jungles and other uninhabited areas. In the wild, you can look at the kind of vegetation and the lay of the land, the type of ground underfoot, and how much sky you can see above. In a strange town or city, you should observe the roads and landmark buildings, looking for places you may get help from, so that you can plan your next move.
Planning your course of action carefully will increase your survival chances. It involves taking stock of what you have and making the best use of what is available around you. Plan where you will wait for help and how you will keep safe until help arrives. Aimless wandering, or just bolting from the spot out of panic, has cost many lives.
3. Strangers vs. Helpers
This is a very tricky skill to teach your children. We always tell them to beware of strangers and avoid contact with unknown people. When children get lost in a large mall or marketplace or in a crowded city, they should know who to approach, because policemen may not always be around. Seeking help at a large establishment with a number of people around, or a gathering of families, is safer than approaching an individual, however innocuous he may look.
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Away from civilization, it is quite another matter. Getting help from strangers is better than getting no help at all. Children lost in the wild may actually run away from rescuers out of fear. It is all too natural as they could be dreading every noise among the bushes as that of a predator out to get them. They should stay safe and hidden, but in a place, (like a fork in a tree, or by the side of a rock) from where they can watch others approaching. Teach your children a password that will help them identify their benefactors. In the event of them getting lost, you can instruct the rescue team to repeat that password.
4. Help Signals
Calling out for help is advisable only when you are sure that others are close by and just out of sight. Continuing to call for help after the first 5-10 minutes of getting lost could be a waste of precious energy. Signaling is easy if the child has a flashlight, a piece of mirror or a whistle – devices that everyone young or old going for trekking or camping should have. Teach them how to use them properly. They should learn how to whistle or hit the rocks in succession, and how to mark their way by breaking the tops of shrubs, or making scratches on tree barks or on the ground. Drill into them the importance of staying on the trails.
5. Food and Drink
Finding food safe to eat could be nearly impossible in the wild, especially for children. You should teach them NOT TO EAT mushrooms, berries, bulbs and roots found in the wild if they get lost. However, if you have dandelions growing in your lawn, you could get your children to pick them while mentioning that it is an edible plant that may help them survive in the wild. The tender bases of grass stalks are usually safe to chew on, but most other familiar edible plants have similar-looking, but deadly, counterparts in the wild.
Real hunger can be a strange and scary sensation to most kids of today. If they have some food items with them, they should ration it to last longer, taking only tiny nibbles at a time. Getting children to observe half day and full day fasts occasionally could be a lesson in survival. A day or two without food will not kill a healthy child. But lack of water can be more dangerous. Show them how to cover a non-poisonous leafy tree branch with a plastic sheet to collect the water of transpiration. Dew drops on grass and leaf tips can be drunk.
6. Basic First Aid
Injuries from cuts and falls may drastically reduce the chances of survival. Teach your child the basics of first aid such as how to stop bleeding from a cut, how to immobilize a joint with splints  and how to breathe to conserve energy. Learning the different ways of preventing hypothermia by staying warm should also be part of the survival lessons.
Teach basic survival skills as soon as you can. Don’t worry too much about age-appropriateness. In a critical moment, children are known to rise above their normal capacity and manage to survive. The best way to teach is to repeat the instructions frequently, ask your children to tell you back what they know and even stage a demonstration to see how well they can apply their knowledge.
What other survival skills should children learn? Leave your reply in the section below: