Lion's Whiskers offers this courage challenge:
As an opportunity to practice what it would be like to put your physical courage muscles to work, we recommend discussing some possible worst-case scenarios. Part of helping your child to be courageous in life is to simulate solutions to both common and uncommon survival situations. By knowing what to do and, as the Boy Scouts say "Be Prepared!," your chances for survival increase exponentially. We've had some fun writing this post. We even found ourselves in hysterics at times imagining some of these scenarios and what we might do--especially if we didn't have a walking stick with us. But we hope that you will take this post seriously about how important it is to review some basic safety tips with your family.
As we've written about previously, we definitely don't suggest marinating kids in fear. There is a difference between talking about possible life-threatening scenarios and how to survive them, as opposed to passively listening to 24-7 newsfeed that can provoke anxiety unnecessarily. What we are suggesting is that discussing survival skills, allowing your child to visualize him/herself as the possible hero in such situations, can help boost their confidence to deal with a larger and larger array of possible problems. Stressing that these kinds of worst-case scenarios are rare will be very important, just as is your discretion with sharing certain of these scenarios depending on the age and particular stage of development of your child. Humor also helps defuse some of the stress when talking about fear-inducing situations! Avoiding talking about survival fitness, and burying our heads in the quicksand, can often perpetuate fear.
Providing inspiring stories and helpful advice for how to handle some of life's challenges--no matter how unlikely--can help us mentally rehearse and thus be better prepared to deal with fear-inducing situations. As Jennifer has written about in "This is your Brain on Stories," specific sensory and motor areas in the brain are activated not only through real-life experience, but also through simply listening to fictional or non-fictional stories and visualizing those story details. Time and time again we hear about survivors of wild animal encounters, car/plane accidents, and natural disasters ascribing their survival to previously practiced safety drills. Fire drills, like the ones we practice at school, help us all mentally rehearse how to react and problem-solve during an emergency, thus decreasing the probability of panic. That's why fire fighters and police officers routinely practice scenarios that will require quick thinking based on rehearsal--scenarios where fear can potentially override the kind of thinking required to save lives.
For example, U.S. Ski Team member Ani Haas encountered a black bear while jogging in a wilderness trail in Montana. Having previously learned the difference between how to survive an attack by a grizzly bear versus a black bear, she was able to automatically respond appropriately and survive the classic worse-case scenario of getting between a mama bear and her cub. You can read the story of her survival here.
You may be surprised by what your children already know--or not--about human survival. Depending on where you live, certain scenarios will be necessary to practice either mentally and/or physically. For example, if you have recently moved to a place where tornadoes are common, your kids will need to know what to do when the sirens go off. When Lisa's family moved from Canada to Upstate New York, for example, they didn't know that you don't bounce on the trampoline in a lightening storm.
With help from The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook, by Josua Piven and David Borgenicht (1999), we offer the following dinner conversation starter for you and your family: Ask your kids what they think would be the best way to handle the following worst-case scenarios.
1. How do you escape from quicksand?
(Here's the answer so you look kinda' smart. First off, you should be walking with a good walking stick. If you don't have a walking stick, good luck. Pray your cellphone works underwater! Plan B: Do you have a straw? Okay, back to the facts. When you start to sink you're supposed to stay calm and not struggle. You lay the walking stick on the surface of the quicksand and align your back on top of the pole. Next you shift your body so the pole is eventually under your hips. Your body and the pole will make a cross across the surface, as you begin to remove one leg and then the other from the pull of the quicksand. Lastly, while floating on your back slowly, gently back paddle to the closest terra firma.)
2. How do you fend off a shark attack?
(When you see a shark approach--let's assume you are in the water and this is a problem--use anything you have to strike at the shark's eyes or gills. Stab, jab at will!They apparently don't like to be punched in the nose though.)
3. How do you escape from a bear?
(Recap: with a grizzly you play dead--cover your special bits. With a black bear you get BIG--wave your arms, make a lot of noise, and don't try to climb a tree. When hiking in bear country, sing, dance, wear a bell on your back or fanny pack, or engage in any other kind of noise-producing merry-making. Carrying a didgeridoo could also help, especially when quicksand might also pose a problem--remember scenario #1?)
4. How to do get away from a swarm of buzzing bees?
(Run away! Don't swat. Don't jump into a body of water. In other words, this isn't one of those cases where you lie really still on the ground, and jabbing at their eyes--all six of them--is futile. Just keep running! )
5. What do you do in case of an earthquake?
(If you are inside, stay inside and get into a doorway, against an inside wall, or under a table. If you are outside, get away from power lines, buildings, or anything else that could fall on you. If you are driving, get out of traffic and off a bridge/overpass and stay inside your vehicle. Don't flail your arms outside your vehicle. Don't stop the car near a rocky hillside. Read our Courage Workout: Playing with Fire for more information.)
6. How can you survive when lost in the wilderness?
(Recall ALL you can from watching Survivorman or Man, Woman, Wild, but not Survivor--'cause we know THAT's not real! Stay where you are. Stay calm. Create some shelter with any/all debris nearby, but without undue exertion - that can lead to sweating and dehydration.)
7. How do you avoid being struck by lightening?
So, now it's your family's turn to generate a few more scenarios (especially those that may be highly applicable to where you live). Use this conversation starter as an opportunity to review home and school safety guidelines. Review the fire escape route in familiar environments, for example. Remind the kids, as they spend more time home alone, about how to cook safely and what to do in the case of a stove fire. Here's an inspiring story about a Texas boy who saved his baby sister when he smelled smoke in his house (click here to read his story). He attributed his quick thinking and survival to having learned fire safety in school.