I spent three years working as a firearms instructor at the Federal Air Marshal Services training center in Atlantic City, New Jersey. In that time, I helped to train over five hundred of the world's finest shooters. Some of the students we received had previous experience with a handgun; others had never even held a firearm before they began their training. Regardless of their skill level, the core curriculum remained consistent. We always started out with the basics. Establishing a proper stance and grip, then slow and steady draw strokes from concealment. Then we followed up by reinforcing sight management, trigger control, and follow through. This progression was repetitive and slow. If we saw something falling apart at this stage, we would immediately stop to make the proper corrections and reset the process. Once the fundamentals were understood and could be performed properly and consistently, we started putting students on the clock.
By slowly compressing the amount of time they had to complete a task, we would purposely "rush" the student to induce stress. When the fundamentals of marksmanship could be performed under these minimal levels of stress, we would find new and torturous ways to increase the stress levels until we were certain the student could execute the basics under any circumstances. Only then were they allowed to move on to the "advanced" portion of their firearms training.
We did these things not to make life harder for our candidates but to instill in them one simple principle. At thirty thousand feet, pinpoint accuracy under extreme pressure was the only acceptable standard. The only way to ensure that standard was met was to continually stress the importance of the basics and to reinforce those fundamentals through training.
Start with the Basics
Although much less stressful, teaching your child a new skill such as situational awareness is no different. You need to start with the basics, and then work your way slowly into the more complex aspects of situational awareness.
I generally recommend starting the conversation with your children about situational awareness between the pre-school ages of three and four. At this age, your children should be ready for a little more independence. By now, they're developing their organizational, social, and communication skills to the point that they can make themselves understood to others, even in times of crisis. Given the fact that your child will be spending more time separated from you, it's crucial that they can memorize and recite a few details about the adults in their lives. This will allow them to accurately relay that information to others in case of an emergency, so it's always a great place to start.
Here are the five pieces of information that I recommend focusing on first:
1. Parents' first and last names: My wife used to work with small children as a nurse. Often, when she would ask a child the name of their parents, they would respond with "Mommy and Daddy." Make sure that as your children get older, you teach them the right way to interact with the other adults they may come into contact with, especially those who may be there to help out in an emergency. Make sure your children know the proper first and last names of both parents and of anyone else in the family who may need to be contacted if something unexpected happens.
2. Phone number: This one was always a big one for my wife and me, especially once the kids were old enough to have their own phones. It's easy for them to put your number in their contacts list and forget it, but what if they need to dial you from a friend's phone or, God forbid, a hospital? When my kids were young, my wife would always sing the number to them in a catchy little jingle that she'd make up. Those can seriously get stuck in your head, and they'd often have several numbers memorized in a matter of hours. You can also have them practice dialing the number on a toy phone to help with the memorization.
3. Home address: Depending on the age of your child, this one may be harder to learn and can be broken down into smaller segments. Start by teaching your child the house number and street name. Once they can easily recite that, move on to the city, state, and zip code. When you're instructing your children about these more complicated pieces of information, be sure to help them whenever they get stuck and praise them often.
4. Mom and Dad's place of work: Some parents may not be able to take their phones into their place of employment. When I worked for the Bureau of Prisons, no phones were allowed inside the fence. If someone needed to get in touch with you, they would have to either know the number or be capable of looking it up. Kids may not have the number memorized, but they should be able to communicate the name of your work- place to someone else.
5. A relative or trusted neighbor: Let's face it. In the majority of cases, both parents are probably working and not always available during the day. Make sure your child knows at least the name and phone number of a close relative or trusted neighbor so that they can pass that information on to others in case of an emergency.
As your child is learning, make sure you have a back-up plan in the event they forget some of the details they've memorized. For instance, it's always a good idea to have this information written down and stored inside their backpack just in case. Make sure your child knows exactly where it's located, and don't keep it somewhere that's visible to others. Once your child is proficient at reciting everything, you can rest a little easier knowing that they can communicate effectively with other adults, or at least give them the necessary information they would need to contact a parent.
Now that your child has some basic identifying information memorized, it's time to start thinking about what specific skill sets they need to properly develop their situational awareness. Awareness in general can be broken down into three essential components:
Identification, Comprehension, and Anticipation
• Identification is the process of reading your environment based on the established baseline and identifying any behaviors that fall outside of that standard.
• Comprehension is the ability to quickly identify specific baseline anomalies and understand why that anomaly poses a risk to your security.
• Anticipation is the ability to visualize various possible outcomes based on the behaviors of the anomaly. Develop spontaneous plans of action based on the information you've gathered, and quickly choose the safest course of action.
This raises an important question: what specific skills will my child need to acquire and implement these essential components of situational awareness? The good news is that your child already does these things on a daily basis. Take, for instance, a child who just learned to ride their bike. That child is concentrating fully on one single task. As they peddle on their own, they scan their environment for anomalies. If the child identifies a problem, say an obstruction in their path, they comprehend the fact that if they strike the obstruction, they could be hurt. Now they start developing plans of action. They could strike the obstacle and risk injury, try to steer around the obstacle and risk losing control of the bike, or apply pressure to the breaks and steer the bike toward the soft grass on the edge of the path. The decision they make will be based on their ability to control their fear and focus on the end goal: personal safety.
As a parent, there are certain things you can reinforce in your child that will help them to manage fear and keep them focused on making the best decision. Spatial awareness, problem-solving, and analytical thinking are the cognitive skills that heavily influence their ability to make the right choices. Let's take a closer look at each.
• Spatial awareness is your child's ability to know where they are in relation to other objects in their space and in what way those objects change in relation to how your child moves within that environment.
• Problem-solving is the process of finding solutions to complex issues. We do this by defining the problem; determining the cause; identifying, prioritizing, and selecting from among alternative solutions; and implementing the solution that works best.
• Analytical thinking is a critical component that gives one the ability to solve problems quickly and effectively. It involves a systematic step-by-step approach to thinking that allows you to break down complex problems into single, manageable components.
• Making a decision is the process of picking the best solution to a problem based on environmental conditions and taking action on that solution.
This may seem like complicated information for a child, but for now, we're not going to try to force-feed them this information and certainly not in these terms; we're going to package and present these skills in a way that children can both appreciate and enjoy ... through play.
The above is an excerpt from Spotting Danger Before It Spots Your Kids: Teaching Situational Awareness to Keep Children Safe by Gary Quesenberry, Federal Air Marshal (Ret.), pub date May 2021, YMAA Publication Center, ISBN: 978-1-59439-811-7