It is crucial to every parent that their child learns how to be safe, confident, and independent. Parents often have fears about letting their children navigate the world on their own, especially as they reach an age that they want to be independent- but don't seem to take the dangers of the world very seriously. One of the best things you can do to help prepare your kids for independence is to teach them how to have good situational awareness, how to present themselves in public, and how to stand up for themselves against any threat. In this post I share several fun games that parents can practice with their kids to help them develop these skills as early as 2 years old, or as late as "oh my gosh you're going to college already?!"
Some of these games are well known and time tested, and some I designed to accomplish a specific purpose. I really hope you enjoy!
CATEGORY 01: SITUATIONAL AWARENESS
Situational awareness is about being aware of your environment. The purpose is to improve your safety, memory, and general awareness of yourself and what's around you. For safety, being aware of what's around you can help you avoid human and environmental dangers. Think noticing the pot hole in the road while bike riding, a hanging street light, a dangerous animal or insect, or a mysterious car that has been following you. When a person is observant, they have the needed reaction time to avoid dangers. Outside of safety, greater awareness helps a person with memory. Think remembering where you car is parked and what your passwords are, being able to navigate when lost, being that person who always remembers names and birthdays, and keeping sentimental memories longer. Navigation, sense of direction, and threat detection are all things that are improved with better situational awareness. These games are designed to help kids get in the habit of situational awareness, and to start developing their awareness muscles.
Observation Scavenger Hunt
The Purpose: To improve observation and the processing of relevant information about our environment.
The Game: Before going on a journey, create a list of things the players need to find on their path.
Nature walk: a bush with berries, a birds nest, moss, a pine cone, four leaf clovers, an insect, something that doesn’t belong.
Car drive: traffic camera, stop sign, speed sign, a bus station, a dog, a grocery store, a child.
Mall: a person with glasses on, a person with running shoes, a person in a rush, a person who’s waiting for something, a person with a name tag, a baby stroller, mall exits, bathrooms, a store that sells a certain object (plates, birthday cards, etc.)
Methods: You can make it a competition among players, or make it a checklist that everyone is working together to complete by the end of the journey.
The Purpose: Our memory is like a muscle that can be strengthened. With better memory skills, we save time, stand out, and improve our safety.
The Game: Before going on a journey, let the players know that their observation skills are going to be tested along the way. Along the path, stop to ask them questions about their environment. ‘What color car was parked beside us?’, ‘How many exits were in the store?’, ‘What color shirt was the cashier wearing?’, ‘What exit did we take on the highway?’.
Methods: you can make it into a grading system where if a player gets 7 right out of ten, they get a 70% or a B. Let the kids quiz the parents sometimes too! Advance question difficulty as players improve.
The Purpose: To gain navigation awareness and gain a sense of direction. This game will increase the players sense of independence, and if they even get lost they will be able to stay calm and find their way.
The Game: After leaving a common destination, ask the player to direct your back home. The player should use landmarks, street signs, and directions like N/E/S/W or left and right to guide you. You can also go for walks and bike rides, and on the way back ask the players to guide you home.
Methods: On the first route note the percentage of the path they got right. It’s not about perfection, but about growth. Be willing to walk or drive the wrong way if they make a mistake. It will be an opportunity for them to problem solve, re-orient themselves, and learn. After they get 100% on one route, you can ‘unlock’ a new level, and pick a harder route. Like a video game :D!
Grocery Store Challenge
The Purpose: Improve memory and observational skills.
The Game: Draw a blueprint of your grocery store and write or draw what foods are in each isle. Every time you go to the grocery store find the foods you can’t remember. When you get home, add that to the drawing. After this game your kids will know the grocery store like the back of their hand. They will feel a sense of awareness and competence, and will be of much better assistance when grocery shopping!
Methods: Make sure when you draw the blueprint to leave space in the isles to either draw pictures of the foods, or to write them in. Make it fun with color, drawings of the cashiers, the sign out front, maybe even your car in the parking lot! Can be repeated with malls.
Plan A Trip!
The Purpose: It is very important to be aware of cultural and environmental differences when traveling to new places. Every country has different norms, dangers, and safety protocols.
The Game: Have your players pick a destination, or assign them one. They must learn about the geography, environment, cultural norms, and the potential dangers. On your governmental website there will be a page with travel advisories. That is a great place to start! Fill out a Travel Sheet and report information into different columns: environmental, cultural, crime, language, population, currency, emergency response, most dangerous areas. In a different column, not positive things like best foods, attractions, inventions, famous people. Be as creative as you want with categories.
The Purpose: This is a really fun game that is a huge hit in all our camps. The purpose is to help the ‘it’ person practice using their senses (other than sight) to analyze their surroundings, and for the other players to use strategy and discretion.
The Game: The playing area is divided into 4 quarters, and each quarter is given a number 1-4. The person who is it sits in the middle of the room at the intersection of the 4 parts and closes their eyes, and counts to ten out loud. The rest of the players move around the playing area and stop at the end of the count down. The 'it' person calls out one of the quarters, hoping to pick the box that has the most people in it. Anyone in that box is out of the game. You play as many rounds until there is only one player left (winner!)
Methods: you can totally do this in your living room or backyard! Find a rope or something to put on the ground to symbolize the 4 squares.
Find The Exits!
The Purpose: My dad always taught me to note where the exits are wherever I go. This was so that if there was danger and I needed to exit quickly, I could avoid the stampede and escape safely. Furthermore, there is a strategy with where you place yourself in a room. For instance, I could choose a table at a restaurant that allows me to see the front door, and where I am not too trapped in by anything. This game is a fun way for the whole family to learn about noticing exits.
The Game: Draw a blueprint of your house or school. Circle all the exits and entrance points (can be a window). Identify escape routes from each room in the building. Identify what rooms lead to a dead end with no way out- a room you would not want to be stuck in.
Methods: Use different colors for each thing: exits, windows, escape route lines, dead ends. To make it more challenging, you could also make a full on miniature model of your house with cardboard and other craft material.
The Purpose: Improve your ability to notice differences, and what doesn't belong.
The Game: Choose an arena- it can be a living room, a backyard, or a kitchen, etc.
Round 1: The player has one minute to observe the arena, noticing as many details as they can. At the end of the minute, the player must leave the arena and write down as many details about the room as they can remember.
Round 2: Have a non player add some items, take some away, and move some things around. The players enter the room again for one minute and at the end they write down what they noticed had changed.
Methods: Tally up the correct items on each players list to determine the winner. To increase difficulty, change arenas, increase changes, and decrease time allowed.
CATEGORY 02: CONFIDENT PRESENTATION
There is so much data that shows us how important it is for us to present ourselves confidently. For self defense, this plays a role in deterring predators and bullies who look at someone who stands tall and strong and thinks ‘that person will put up a fight, no thanks!’. Both bullies and predators are known to target those who seem most vulnerable. Although unfortunate, the information helps us learn how to conduct ourselves so that we deter people from trying to take advantage of us. Outside of self defense, confident presentation helps a person navigate their life successfully. Through job interviews, social gatherings, presentations, and even personal relationships, the way a person presents themself (body language, gait, voice) determines how they are perceived and often treated by others. We benefit the most from any situation if we present ourselves as confident and capable.
How do we do it?
Confident body language (OPEN body language): standing tall with shoulders back, and head up high. Hands are comfortable at your side. Legs are shoulder width apart. When walking, you take wide strides and move like you have a place to be, and hands sway at your sides naturally. The vibe is powerful and competent.
Vulnerable body language (CLOSED body language): shoulders hunched, head down, eyes on the ground. Hands and/or arms crossed in front of your chest, in pockets, or fiddling with clothing. Legs are crossed, or very tight together. Facial expression is sad/scared. When walking, take small steps and move slowly. The vibe is aimless and defeated.
Fix My Posture!
The Purpose: Learn how much your kids instinctively know about distinguishing confident from vulnerable body language. Then teach them about both.
The Game: Get into a poor posture and have the players call out ways to fix your stance. Slumped shoulders, head down, arms crossed or in pockets, legs tense, feet turned inward, hands fiddling or tensing up, sad or scared facial expressions, shoulders tense.
Don't teach them the proper posture first, you will be surprised to see how much they already know. After all, posture as an indication of status is a phenomena that is noticed in most animal species, including lobsters, who have inhabited the earth far longer than dinosaurs! After standing still, add walking and have the kids direct you into walking more confidently. Every time they suggest a change, implement it into your act until they run out of suggestions and you are walking powerful and confident.
Further Challenge: For a week, tally all the times you see the player walking confidently and an X for all the times they walk non-confidently. Add prizes for different levels achieved.
The Game: Have your kids draw a ‘before’ and ‘after’ confidence training picture of someone walking about. It could be a girl, boy, tiger, dog, bird. As I said, body language is an animal thing too! Kids might find it fun to draw a ‘vulnerable vs confident’ hippo.
Methods: this one doesn’t really need a contest, but you could give the animal or character a name, and use that as a cue in real life. “Don’t be a vulnerable Sally the Salamander”, or be a “Confident Gerry the Giraffe!”.
Here's an example from one of our clients of these cues working in real life:
"My daughter would get upset when I said that to walk hunched and with arms crossed is a sign of weakness. Now I can say 'Walk with confidence how Gemma showed you' and my daughter immediately stands tall and owns her space."
- Barbara S (Google)
The Confident Cat Walk
The Purpose: Practice different types of body language and distinguish between them.
The Game: Make a runway in the living room or kitchen. Up beat music is must. Give the players different characters or scenarios they have to embody when they walk the runway. Examples include ‘a Disney princess in love’, ‘a spy’, ‘a transformer who transforms into a robot’, ‘a ninja dodging laser beams’, ‘Ariana Grande performing’, ‘a rapper’, ‘a dog whose owner just got home’.
Among the fun ones, add confidence walks. ‘The least confident person at school (exaggerated)’, ‘A somewhat shy kid at school’. Then switch it up to ‘The most confident kid in the world’, to ‘your best confident walk’.
Methods: This one can be just for fun, or you can vote for the person with the best walk each round.
CATEGORY 03: ASSERTIVENESS
Assertiveness is the ability to stand your ground or speak up for yourself without necessarily having to be aggressive or forceful. Assertiveness can be as simple as being the first person to put your hand up to ask a question when others are too shy too, or putting yourself at the front of the line or the classroom, or walking up to someone in your class and asking them to be your partner, instead of passively waiting for someone to come to you. When I ask someone to go lighter during training because they are being too dangerous, I am asserting (speaking up for) myself. When I tell a close friend that I don’t want to participate in drugs or drinking with them, I am asserting myself. When I explain to my boss why I deserve a promotion, I am asserting myself. These are examples of using assertiveness in often awkward moments where we try to keep the peace by being overly agreeable at the cost of our own benefit.
So what is assertive speaking?
There are some pointers, but you know it when you hear it. Often with kids, and more specifically girls, they speak so quiet that you can barely hear them. They won't be decisive. “I don’t know, I don’t care, I have no preferences or thoughts about it” - is the common answer to simple questions. They end with an upward inflection like it is a question and not a statement. They don’t hold eye contact. They lack confident body language. Essentially, they come off unsure, passive, and not confident when speaking. This is a huge problem because you must have the ability to speak confidently, seriously, and decisively when needed.
Don’t Touch My Horse!
The Game: Make a circle.
Serious round: Players must make eye contact with someone else, stand confidently, and say a statement with assertiveness. Some serious statements I use are: “Stay away from me”, “Get out of my way”, “Leave her alone”, “Don’t ever speak to me like that again”. Go around the circle, and allow the other players to give input.
Silly round: The point is to maintain the tone and assertiveness, but to use funny words that make other players laugh and get them ‘out’. Typically, the phrases stay the same, but you replace one of the words for a funny/random word to make a ridiculous statement. “Leave my moustache alone”, “Don’t touch my jube jubes”, “Stay away from my horse!”. Last one to laugh, wins!
Methods: You can have the players give the ‘actor’ a rating out of ten, and include what they did well and what they could do better. For instance, maybe they spoke clear and strong, but broke eye contact half way through. Or maybe they did everything well, and at the last second they broke character and went back to a ‘closed posture’ to make up for their bout of ‘aggression’ (often assertiveness is wrongly taken as aggression in people who have no experience standing their ground, or think that it is ‘mean’ to do so). You will see a huge improvement after some practice.
Further Challenge: Get them to say things throughout the week in their ‘assertive voice’ on demand. If they succeed throughout the week, they can get a prize.
The Purpose: to practice using both confident body language and assertive voices in a real life situation.
The Game: Players are auditioning for a part in a big movie and they must audition for two stages in the characters journey: the shy vulnerable stage, and the triumphant confident stage. The plot: ‘The main character, Chloe, had a tough past and lacks confidence. She is starting at a new school and is super nervous. At first, she walks around defeated and scared. Then with the help of a kind but tough-love teacher, Chloe embarks on a journey to become her best self. By the end, she stands up to the bullies, and everyone applauds her for her strength.
Audition 1: Chloe’s first day at school: you’re walking through the hallway to get to your locker when someone bumps into you by accident, and you react in character- shy and defeated.
Audition 2: Chloe’s pivotal moment: you finally have the confidence to try out for the soccer team, so you are adding your name to the sign up sheet. A bully comes up to you and says something like ‘You really think you’re gunna make the team? yeah right!’. Instead of backing down and giving up, you face the bully, standing straight with shoulders back, hands at your side. You hold a fierce eye contact and let the bully know you cannot be broken. You say, in your assertive voice, something that stands up for yourself without resorting to being cruel back. “Watch me”, “I can do anything I put my mind to, and i’m going to make it’. You can be creative with the lines- what’s important is the body language and the voice. The bully is in complete shock- they have never been spoken back to like that. They scoff and walk away as the other students look at you with respect.
Methods: This game is all about creativity, expression, and drama! Be as creative as you can, using props, costumes, facial expressions, etc. In audition one you may be carrying books that you drop on the floor, and in audition two, you might have a pen. Actors can be given a rating out of ten. Give them a few takes so that they can implement feedback.
The Stare Down
The Purpose: In professional boxing, before a match, the two opponents have a ‘stare down’. Fighting is just as much about the mental game as it is about the physical. If you can make your opponent believe they are going to lose before you have to battle, you will have a significant advantage.
‘Excellence lies in defeating the enemy without having to fight’- Art of War.
All of this to explain that if a person can fight, they usually don’t have to. This is because others can sense that, and they wont pick on you or try to take advantage of those who look prepared to stand their ground. This is why it is true that martial artists, people who are adept at fighting, are less likely to get into real fights than the untrained. Funny right? To practice our ability to stand our ground, we take from the fighters. Holding eye contact is something that is really uncomfortable for a lot of people, especially young girls who have to be assertive for their own sake. Learning to be confident and comfortable maintaining eye contact is a great way to gain a sense of toughness.
The Game: Two players stand on opposite sides of the room. The announcer calls out their names like in a boxing match. ‘Claire Francis Versuuuuussss Aaron Dell!” The two fighters walk towards each other, maintaining a tough character, and meet in the middle. They assume a tough, strong, stance with good posture and open body language. They can put their hands up if they want to. The goal is to intimidate the opponent before they intimidate you, to be the last to look away or back down, to stand your ground and never let anyone push you back. The first to break eye contact or laugh loses.
Methods: I like to do a ‘championship’ to find the stare down champion. It’s basically an elimination game that includes all players until there is only one left. At home, you can do this with the whole family. It will be good practice to do this with people of different ages, sizes, and relationships.
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By Gemma Sheehan,
Founder of Girls Who Fight.
Girls Who Fight is a self defense and MMA program for women and girls in Dallas Fort-Worth, Texas.