I am often asked if there is any point in teaching toddlers and pre-schoolers self-defence. “Surely,” these people say, “there is nothing a 3 year old can do to escape an abduction!”
Well, I look at it from three angles:
First of all, this kind of comment assumes that the primary situation we are trying to avoid is abduction. And while abduction is a terrifying and catastrophic event which is every parent’s worst nightmare, there are other situations that endanger children too.
Indeed, there are four main situations that children are exposed to, with two types of attackers:
When the attacker or aggressor is another child:
• Rough play – an extremely common problem in the playground and at home, especially for very young children. Friends and siblings are developing their strength and physicality, and are also learning how to share and cooperate, and can unintentionally hurt each other. Examples include play wrestling, ninja or Jedi fighting, fighting over toys etc.
• Bullying – the repeated aggressive and malicious behaviour by one person or a group of people towards another that is intended to cause harm, distress or fear. Physical bullying can involve pushing, punching, kicking, hair pulling, shirt or bag grabbing etc. Bullying can also be verbal, social and psychological. Cyber bullying is becoming increasingly common.
When the attacker or assailant is an adult:
• Child abuse – physical abuse includes hitting, kicking and hair pulling, and sexual abuse defined as the use of a child for sexual stimulation and includes pressuring a child to engage in sexual activities, indecent exposure or using a child to produce child pornography.
• Abduction – parental child abduction which refers to the unauthorised custody of a child, and abduction or kidnapping by strangers which is usually for the purposes of extortion, illegal adoption, human trafficking, sexual abuse or murder.
Young children, even as young as 3 years old, can learn self-defence solutions that DO work, especially against rough play, bullying and even sexual abuse.
Secondly, there ARE things that we can teach a 3 year old to help them stay safe from an abduction because we don’t subscribe to the view that self-defence is only about a physical solution. In fact, our best line of defence is prevention. So we teach children, even as young as 3 years old, to be aware of their surroundings, to maintain eye contact with their mum and dad, and to always stay with people they trust. These strategies have the best chance of keeping little ones safe.
And from a physical perspective, we concentrate on teaching kids to use their voice because it is their greatest and most powerful weapon. The amazing thing about the voice is that it works in every dangerous situation, from rough play to bullying to child abuse to abduction. Yelling, or sometimes even just the threat of telling, can keep kids safe. We give kids confidence to use their voice to protect themselves.
And thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, teaching self-defence is a lot more holistic than just self-defence techniques. We spend most of our effort helping develop the physical and life skills that are important for children for their future.
For instance, we work on gross and fine motor skills such as:
• Coordination, including hand-eye and foot-eye
• Strength and power
• Cardio fitness and endurance
• Reactive power and
• Bursting power.
And we work on life skills including:
• Group behaviour / sharing / competitiveness / ability to handle loss
• Listening to orders
• Spatial awareness
• Basic anatomy
• Basic nutrition
• Basic hygiene and
• Safety awareness.
So, when I’m asked if there is any point in teaching self-defence to 3 year olds, the answer is a resounding “YES!”.
Of all of the people in our society, children are our most vulnerable. They are exposed to the broadest range of dangerous and threatening situations and they have the fewest tools to protect themselves. Teaching toddlers self-defence in a fun, child-focussed way helps them develop valuable physical and life skills to keep them safe, whether they are 3, 13 or 30.