Teaching Kids Self Defense Against Bullies and Strangers

T recently took a self-defense class for kids. In classic T fashion, he had a rollicking good time. But more importantly, he learned some practical techniques to fend off bullies and strangers. With regular practice via role-playing at home, we hope that he will be well prepared for the statistically-unlikely-yet-still-possible icky situation and will know exactly what to do to get out of it safely.

Teaching Kids Self Defense

Doesn’t get any scarier than this. How have you handled the issue of “stranger danger” with your child?

I just realized that I’ve written two posts within the last few weeks that allude to Stranger Danger. First was in my post about kids getting lost, and then again in my post about kids playing without adult supervision. Apparently, I’ve got it on the brain. In fact, I’ve been thinking about this very topic for a couple of years now, but I haven’t really broached the issue of strangers with my son until recently. I just thought he was too young before. I didn’t want to mar his innocence. I didn’t want to scare him too much or make him believe that the world was full of scary people wanting to snatch him up and take him away.

So I waited until now. I still wonder if it was a bit premature (he is almost 6), but I have no regrets about encouraging him to become more aware.

We took the class from a San Diego organization called Play It Safe (the homepage has a couple of great videos on teaching kids self defense against strangers and bullies). And no, I’m not getting any perks by blogging about it here. I’m sharing it simply because I was impressed by the class and the instructor. The class was at capacity with at least 20 kids present, and the ages ranged from about 5 to 10 years old. The instructor, Tracie Arlington, was engaging, clear, and motivating. The kids and parents really responded to her.

Here were our key takeaways from this program. Many of them can be used with both bullies and strangers, and can be employed by kids and adults alike.

Tips for Teaching Kids Self Defense

  • Project confidence and power: Stand tall, hands to your sides or behind your back, feet apart, chin up.
  • Defend yourself against physical aggression: Always keep 2 arm’s lengths between you and the bully. If they get too close, put your hands up by your face to protect your head and yell, “Back off! Leave me alone!”
  • Know the difference between being a tattletale and reporting. You are not a tattletale if you are reporting an incident that could hurt someone.
  • Know how to be a W.I.N.N.E.R. when dealing with a bully:
    Walk away from the situation
    Ignore the comment
    Have No attitude or sassiness (Agree with the bully. Don’t say “whatever,” “who cares,” or “no”…these types of comments only anger bullies more.)
    Say something Nice (“Hey, cool shirt!” Bullies have no idea how to deal with a compliment or smile!)
    Escape. Refuse to fight. Turn and walk or run away to protect yourself.
    Report the incident to an adult
  • Use your biggest powers: Your loud voice, your strong legs, and your confidence
  • Always keep strangers at least 5 arm’s lengths away. This includes strangers in cars.
  • Always walk or jog with at least one buddy. And always walk or jog against traffic so that a) you can see if a car is following you and b) you can more easily run in the opposite direction.
  • Never get in a car even if someone is pointing a gun at you. You have a 1% chance of coming home if you do.
  • Never follow a stranger who asks for your help. Normal grownups never ask children for help. Only dangerous strangers do.
  • Trust your gut. In other words, if you get a funny feeling around someone, that’s probably your “creep alarm” going off and it’s telling you to run away.
  • Strangers are not always creepy looking. In fact, dangerous strangers can look nice and be well dressed and polite.
  • When meeting someone new, shake hands (if you wish), and then take a step back. A creepy stranger will continue to come forward and invade your personal space.
  • If grabbed, Play It Safe recommends going “Chihuahua Crazy!” Make tiger claws with your fingers and jab at the person’s eyes, then kick their shins, wiggle and squirm, do “windmills” with your arms, drop to the floor, kick, and scream, “Stranger! Stranger! 911!” If your feet are grabbed, do an “alligator roll” to break their hold and continue to kick. (There’s an excellent example of this on Play It Safe’s website.)
  • Protect your body. If someone (even someone you know) tries to touch you inappropriately, yell, “Stop! Don’t touch me there! This is my No-No Square!”
  • Parents/caregivers: If your child becomes lost, do not tell them to stay put because they may become a predator’s target. Instead, they should actively seek out help from a worker (or group of workers) or another mom with kids immediately. Teach them to approach someone who they see first (not someone who sees them first). And report a lost child immediately; do not waste valuable time going around in circles looking.
  • Role-play, role-play, role-play.

The last one is of utmost importance. Just because T attended a two-hour workshop does not mean he is now and forever bully- or stranger-proof. As his parents, we need to reinforce what he’s learned so that it becomes second nature. We plan on plenty of practice sessions. Should be fun. (Remind me to remind my husband to wear a cup. There’s lots of kicking during these scenarios.) I hope you’ve picked up a few self-defense tips that you can share with your child.

Have you or has your child ever been bullied? Or been in a dangerous situation with a stranger? What happened? How did you or your child come out of it safely?

Zui Mom

Sophia savors all the joys (and challenges!) of family life with her husband and two kids in San Diego. Read more of her (mis)adventures in mothering at MamaSayMamaSo.

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8 Responses to Teaching Kids Self Defense Against Bullies and Strangers

  1. Mark says:

    For the bully side Gracie Bullyproof is definitely worth checking out. I would never teach my kids “WINNER”. I’m not saying it’s all bad, but they’re taking in consideration that the bullying is going to stop. It won’t and your kid will continued to be bullied up until and maybe even into adulthood. Bullyproof teaches kids confidence, how to avoid the fight, then what to do if the bullying doesn’t stop. It’s also a great bonding program with your kids, very fun to do together!

  2. Sophia says:

    Hey Mark,
    Thanks for the Gracie Bullyproof tip. I’ll go out on a limb and say that every situation is different and no one technique is going to work all the time. I think it’s every parent’s responsibility to investigate all ways possible to help their child if bullying becomes an issue. I realize that many instances of bullying is just a matter of kids trying to find their way in our strange world, but really… can’t we all just get along??

  3. Some really good information here. Like “Have No attitude or sassiness” in particular. It results in a bit of confusion for the bully as they are not getting a reaction, but at the same time shows no fear. Also like “trust your gut”. Kids can smell a creep a mile away. Karate or other self defence arts build confidence and deter bullies.

  4. Marcy says:

    Such a terrifying thought. But those are definitely some great tips. Thank you Sophia. We’ll have to look into that for sure.

  5. Great article! Thank you for your kind words of support(<: Just to clarify the 'Winner" techniques, or power protectors; these are techniques used for verbal defense against "mean behaviors; teasing, name calling, excluding etc. These techniques also work great with elementary school age children. We call it verbal karate. If the situation gets physical, or a child is dealing with an aggressive bully, these techniques might not work all the time, especially in middle school.
    I also agree, if your child is interested in a martial arts program, go for it! The martial arts give a child consistent confidence training. Thanks!

  6. Sophia says:

    Thanks for clarifying when the W.I.N.N.E.R. technique might work best. It’s so hard to say what will work when and for whom…. The way I see it, walking away and ignoring is the best FIRST defense against verbal insults. But once things get physical…well, I guess that’s when some defensive martial arts moves may come in handy. Aikido, anyone?

  7. Brooks says:

    OK. Yeah, my child just won’t get through how dandrous the world is. :(

  8. I like what you have published, Keep up the good work

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