How to Teach Situational Awareness to Children – Part 3, by T.Y.


by T.Y., Survival Blog:

(Continued from Part 2.)

In part two of this series, I listed age-appropriate ideas for introducing situational awareness and preparedness concepts to children. In Part 3 and 4 of this series, I’ll share actual games you can play with your children, including objectives, instructions, and assessment criteria.

Since we don’t want to alarm our children, it can be difficult to talk with them about what to do if there is an emergency. After all, children need to know they are safe, and we parents want more than anything to make sure they both feel safe and are safe. But we need to prepare our children for when they encounter something awful, such as a fire, natural disaster, or a mass shooting. A way to do that is to make it fun and non-threatening for a child to learn disaster preparedness skills.

One of the most awful realizations for a parent is that we cannot always be there to protect our children. Therefore, the best we can do is to calmly but consistently teach them the skills they need to stay safe, and I firmly believe this topic has a place for all parents, whether you consider yourself to be a “prepper” or not.

Of course, not all conversations need to be formal. An open dialogue about safe versus dangerous situations should happen continually.

Something I do with my very young daughter is to discuss this while she watches a favorite animated movie. For instance, there are a few dangerous scenes in the movie Finding Nemo, such as when a predator fish attacks and eats all eggs other than Nemo in the opening scene, or when Nemo disobeys his father and swims in the open sea to a boat.

My young daughter has an adorable habit of putting her hands over her ears while keeping her eyes open anytime she witnesses something that alarms her, and this visual cue tells me when I can reassure and educate her at the same time. As needed, I explain that any creature can be a predator, whether it’s a fish, chicken, fox, or human. We’re never too young to learn the difference between good guys and bad guys. Look for situations that are right for you and your children.

Here are some ideas that I hope will be helpful.

  • Speak to your children about personal safety in small doses at first. Be careful to use a calm, non-threatening tone so you don’t scare them. Instead, tell them that, while many people are good and trustworthy, not everyone is. As they become more comfortable, create drills to increase their awareness of their own instincts, when to say no, and when to run and seek help. If you don’t think you can do this, you can. You’re their parent and it’s your job.
  • Speak openly about safety issues. Children will be less likely to come to you if the issue is enshrouded in secrecy. Children need to know that they can safely tell you or a trusted adult if they feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused at all.
  • Don’t confuse children with the concept of “strangers.” Young children don’t have the same understanding as an adult might of who a stranger is. The “stranger-danger” message is not effective, as danger to children is much greater from someone you or they know than from a “stranger.” Of all children under age five murdered from 1976 to 2005— fathers killed 31 percent, mothers killed 29 percent, male acquaintances murdered 23 percent and other relatives killed seven percent. Strangers killed only three percent.
  • Older children and teens may think they already know all this or they are “too cool” for lecture. They aren’t, and teens are equally at risk from victimization. Speak to them about the situations they put themselves in and if possible, allow them participate in the conversation with younger siblings. This will reinforce issues they hopefully already know.
  • As for parents, we need to know where our children are—at all times. If you can’t be with your child, there are many GPS trackers available for children so you can know their location, and receive alerts if they go out of approved areas.
  • Above all, teach your children that it is more important to get out of a threatening situation than to be polite.
  • An example of a video that may help you to teach young children is at In this social experiment video created with parent’s permission, an ice cream truck operator demonstrates how frighteningly easy it is to abduct children. As a father of a young daughter, it’s difficult to watch with her, but what could be more important than teaching our children about safety? The time to begin developing their survival mindset is as soon as possible.
  • Practice what you talk about. You may think your children understand your message, but until they can incorporate it into their daily lives, they may not clearly understand it. Find opportunities to practice “what if” scenarios, demonstrate and model excellent situational awareness, and show them that you value personal safety by being diligent every day. For younger children, be sure to make it playful and fun.
  • Lastly, one great thing you can do for your family is to get them working out together. Martial arts and self-defense classes can be found in just about every city, but if this is not feasible, don’t give up. There are many books and videos that show you how to practice right in your own home. This will not only develop a value of fitness but will teach your children lifelong skills.

I believe it is critical that we discuss the issue of safety with our children, and do so often. Not to scare them, but to heighten their awareness of the world that surrounds them.

Now—let’s get on to the games!




Build your children’s observational awareness skills by encouraging them to take a mental snapshot of their environment and recalling as many details as they can.

Concepts Taught

Situational awareness.

Materials required


Before the Activity

Look around at what you will ask your child to observe. Think about what they are likely to remember and choose a few details you consider important to their safety that they are likely to miss, such as exit signs, windows, hiding spots, etc. If they have missed these items at the end of the game, you will point it out and discuss why it’s important (you can also connect this to news stories).

How to Play

  • Stop all distractions, i.e., turn off radios, stop walking, etc.
  • Tell your children to look around and take a mental picture of everything around them. Give them a time limit (one minute, 10 seconds, etc.).
  • During the time limit, make your own notes of what is important for them to see.
  • When time is up ask them to close their eyes and describe their picture to you. Pay attention to the types of details they notice.
  • With their eyes still closed, draw their attention to something you thought was important that they missed. Prompt them to try to remember more. For example, ask them, “Did you notice any exits in the room? Where are they?”
  • When done, ask them to open their eyes and discuss what they remembered. This is a great time to coach them on things that are good to pay attention to.
  • If you have teenagers, you can encourage them to play this game with younger siblings, thereby teaching both at the same time.


Each time you play, see if your children recall the environment in greater detail. If they don’t assess a threat right away, that’s fine—just be sure they increase their awareness and continually improve. Encourage them to focus on details that relate to safety.

Continually challenge them as they become proficient observers by asking them to take a snapshot in busier and more active places, or simply introduce distractions.

Also, let your children turn the tables on you! Tell them that they can pick a place for you to close your eyes and recall what you remember. This gives them the power to put you in the “hot seat” while still accomplishing your goal of increasing their observational awareness. After all, they’re trying to find threats that you missed.




Teach your children how to blend into their environment by camouflaging objects and eventually themselves.

Concepts Taught

Camouflage techniques.

Materials required

You will need some toys to manipulate with camouflage material. For example, your child may not mind covering a washable plastic duck toy with dirt, but may panic if you scuff up her favorite princess doll. Alternatively, if anyone in your family is a hunter, borrow camouflage clothing.

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