Teaching Kids To Teach Themselves

Looking for Answers

Many parents are asking, “How can I keep my children safe? What do I teach them? Who can help us?”

For the sake of this discussion, let’s call our family’s aptitude and readiness in a crisis their “survivability quotient.” As far as increasing your family’s survivability quotient, there are some counter-intuitive gems nestled comfortably amongst the standard approaches to raising families that we have always accepted as gospel truth.

Let’s start with the ones that have stood the test of time and then highlight the lesser known that might start us thinking of the options.

Tried and True: Panic is the enemy. Survival is a mentality.

Lesser known: Stockdale Paradox – Excessive optimism can kill if the results are not what you expected.

Tried and True: Crisis is inevitable. Observe, analyze, and act.

Lesser Known: You are probably stronger than you know.

Tried and True:  In a crisis, “Rambo” types are the first to go.

Lesser Known: Rigid rules of behavior taught to children actually decrease their chances for survival in today’s world.

Let’s take a closer look at this last one. Chances are that the alternatives to inflexible rules designed to foster “good child” development are seldom considered. Why should anyone turn their back on the tried and true formulas of child rearing to adopt those of diminished parental oversight that might otherwise increase the child’s survival quotient?

 The Devil is in the Details

Behavioral researchers characterize the human condition as that of being fish in an aquarium, a state in which civilization sustains us. It is a virtual “human zoo” in which people accept a given level of risk, sometimes face a crisis and eventually return to that previous, acceptable level. Faced with the discomfort of a crisis, people are intent on eliminating high-risk events that lead to large-scale accidents. They don’t understand the undeniable truth that while infrequent, large scale accidents are normal and can’t be prevented despite anyone’s best efforts.

So what can we do to increase our loved one’s survivability quotient? First, we have to understand how they can best learn some new techniques. There are three types of learning: 1. Directly from experience and certainly the most effective; 2. Modeling – imitating others; 3. Controlled learning that is directed by authority figures i.e. parents and teachers. A less considered method is letting the child learn on their own, a type of self-taught environment. Studies suggest that when a child is restricted from self-learning, they become a person less able to adapt to a changing world. They become conditioned to let others give them instructions on what to think, feel, and do.

Consider some grim examples from the World Trade Center attacks in which many people who were used to following the rules didn’t evacuate because they were told not to by authority figures. They died at their desks even though they had an opportunity to escape. One such calamity involved an office worker who had left his business, walked down the stairway in the South Tower, and arrived safely in the lobby. A building security official told him to return to his office that he did by walking back up the stairs. Later, when he found that he was trapped with no means of escape, he called his father, said goodbye, and ended the call by saying that he shouldn’t have listened to the security guard. By why did he?

Research suggests that authority enforced rules of behavior actually decreases a child’s chance of survival. The child’s desire to be compliant can result in an adult who is unable to cope well with life. This is the prohibitionist logic of child rearing that promotes eliminating bad behavior and all the problems it causes. Simultaneously, according to researchers, parents who over protect and impose extreme restrictions on the children’s way of behaving cause them to become like “animals born with pre-determined behavioral patterns.”

The Last Word

Dr. Richard Wiseman, self-proclaimed luck expert and author of The Luck Factor, postulated that only 10% of life is purely random. “The remaining 90% is defined by the way you think.” Scott Sagan in his book, Limits of Safety, said  “Things that never happened before happen all the time.” Parents and children alike have to understand the need to be prepared to react and respond in the unlikely event that a crisis actually happens.

For parents, it becomes a singular matter of teaching children that they have to know themselves. That this is the point where survival begins.  Along with an attitude of self-reliance, children need to understand the basics: 1. Perceive and believe; 2. Stay calm; 3. Think, analyze, plan; 4. Do whatever is necessary; 5. Never give up.

Don’t expect instantaneous results. Another great truth: Everything takes 8 times longer than it’s supposed to. Above all, practice, practice, practice. Ultimately, survivors are always connected to their loved ones. That’s one reason survivors do it – for one another.

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Brett Braaten, author of Homeland Insecurity: Failed Politics, Policies, and a Nation at Risk, retired after nearly 30 years in federal law enforcement as a Resident Agent in Charge with the US Customs Service and later the Department of Homeland Security.

As a presenter and trainer, Brett educates audiences in the best ways to keep their families safe. For more information and to buy his book, visit www.homeland-insecurity.com.