By Uli Gebhard, Suarez International Staff Instructor
November 5 marked a somber anniversary. One year ago an estranged husband ambushed his wife, who had filed for divorce, outside her family's home, and killed her and their daughter before taking his own life. We read headlines like these way to often. However, this one hit very close to home. Eight-year-old Madison was in my son's martial arts class. We did not know them outside training, but still two people that we saw once a week were gone.
What struck me after the shock of this senseless act of violence faded was that the kids were in their class only 24 hours before Madison and her mother were brutally murdered.
The anger of the shooter must have already been building back then... and 24 hours earlier he was most likely already planning to ambush his wife and daughter when he would be able to find them at a given time and place. He could just as well have carried out his attack in or around the gym.
How alert was I the last couple of times when I took my son to and from training? Would I have been able to spot the onset of an attack and either intervened or at the very least been able to protect my own child? Truth to be told, while I positioned myself in the dojo so that I could see all entrance points, I was occasionally distracted by the parents of my son's training buddy.
After class, our boys burned the excitement of the last sparring rounds by running wild on the lawn outside while we chatted...
All of us who have kids will be able to tell you that maintaining a high level of awareness while we are out and about with them is hard. What can we do to make sure that we stay alert despite all the distractions that come with young children and their needs?
You have a number of options to improve your awareness. The first one is to build and foster good habits:
Does your Smartphone render you ineffective?
Let's start with one that should be obvious – don't let your smartphone render you dumb. Yes, you have a ton of cool applications (believe it or not – the word still exists) on it but they are worthless if you spend so much time texting, twittering and checking the youtube video from the last party that you do not see the pervert who is striking up a conversation with your pre-teen daughter. And folks, you set the tone for your kids: They will pick up on your habits of answering calls, responding to texts and posting on social networks via phone. It is up to you to set an example for your kids and to make sure that they stay on track. Way too many parents spend an insane amount of time glued to the tiny touch screen of their phone. Every day I see students from the high school down the street walking home, eyes glued to their phones and thumbs darting back and forth – the personification of an easy mark! I'll get back to this topic in a bit.
Does she know that her daugther is darting off? Phones with all their features can be a major distraction.
What can you do actively? frequently scan the area. When we do after action assessments in our shooting classes, we check left and right looking for additional bad guys and helping with breaking tunnel vision. When your family is out and about, scan the surroundings periodically. A calm sweep for anything that may be out of place within your reactive perimeter, within the distance where you will have to take immediate and decisive action if a threat materializes. While you look – listen as well. Shifting your position, taking a couple of steps at an angle will help to get a full understanding of the things in front of you and behind you.
The key for me was to form this scan into a habit and cultivating it. It does not matter where you are, whether in a food court, on the playground or in the checkout line. There will always be things that will mandate your attention for a given time – get it done swiftly and check your surroundings again. Personally, I always felt very uncomfortable when I was strapping my kids into their carseats. As long as they needed help and I was by myself, I only buckled one of them up at a time and looked around in-between.
Team up with your spouse
In the first article of this series, I referred to parents as the protective detail for their kids. Team up with your spouse or other parents: this can be done by both parents being the watchful eye or by alternating duties – one watching out, the other getting the juice pouch for junior all the way from the bottom of the backpack. If your wife or husband has a protective mindset you will most likely find that both of you will complement each other with ease.
An extra set of eyes - your kids can be your best allies
Once your kids get older and develop their own awareness skills, you may have an extra pair of eyes and ears to back you up. Our kids never had portable video games. Yes, my wife and I are those cruel parents that deny them these games that quite a few of their friends have. Instead of hunkering down over the handheld console, they take in what's going on around them. It may surprise you how many details pre-teen kids can and will spot. Encourage them to tell you if something seems odd or out of place and acknowledge what they tell you. Let them know that you are listening and that you appreciate the input. It's very likely that they will point out quite a few additional details.
On the same token, kids need to know when it is time to be quiet and let their parents focus on what they are doing. “Kid's, hold that thought – I really need to....” fill in the blank.
Once junior works with you on this you have a very powerful tool in your tactical toolbox. The following points are critical about this tool: Only use it when you need it and let your kids know that that you appreciate their help after they tagged along.
It should be obvious: if you use this phrase only once in a while, the kids will recognize it as a somewhat out-of -the-ordinary situation and will most likely be up to help. If on the other hand this phase is used frequently just to get them to be quiet, chances are that they will not take you seriously when you need them to. Stick with it as a option for special situations and your kids will know that this is not the time to debate and that you will pay attention to them again as soon as you are done with whatever you need to deal with. They will also know that you value their help. If they have any questions afterwards, explain to them what they want to know. It has been working very well for our family, from getting through a rough spot in traffic to dealing with first aid situations.
Overall, you have a lot of tools that can help you improving your awareness – check them out and practice the ones that work for you. If possible, integrate the whole family into being additional eyes and ears. With kids, consider it the tactical version of “I spy....”
Uli Gebhard is Suarez International Staff Instructor in the Los Angeles Area. He lives with his family in Orange County, California.
Please follow this link to find out more about his classes.