Friday, June 26, 2015

Six Self-Defense Commands and Strategies for Families…

Every parent wants to protect their family, children, and loved ones… but few have actually taken the time to plan, prepare, and practice for emergencies and violent encounters with their families. Now please understand that preparing for the possible is not the same as being paralyzed by paranoia. You don’t have to scare your family to death or force your significant other or children into actions or areas they are not comfortable with... but taking a practical, thoughtful approach will allow you to implement some basic commands and strategies for you, your family, and loved ones to use in case of an emergency.

I really began thinking strategically about incorporating the entire family and household into the process back in the 1980s and 1990s when I worked in law enforcement… and especially about age appropriate commands and strategies when my daughter was born in 1995. My elementary teaching wife has been a terrific asset in applying age appropriate pedagogy and strategies... and over fifteen years of teaching shooting sports to 4H youth ages 8 to 18 has really helped me understand the capabilities and limitations of what you can expect from kids.

John Correia over at Active Self Protection occasionally has good video analysis of self-defense situations involving families and children over at Active Self Protection… and my friend, Melody Lauer, has really created some positive buzz with her baby-wearing and carrying self-defense classes. While there has been occasional mention of integrating families, loved ones, and especially children into self-defense planning here and there by the "big name" trainers and schools… there is still not a lot of quality, in-depth information or instructional opportunities out there on these matters for average people… so I intend to begin sharing my experiences and thoughts here on the blog… at least to start some discussion and continue my learning, if not your learning, in preparing for protecting your family, children, and loved ones.

First, let me explain some of the philosophy behind the approach we’ve taken with our family over the years... KISS… Keep It Simple, Stupid! You need to have plans in place in advance and that often starts with developing commands and strategies that will work for everyone... this is not a tactical squad of operators… but every day, average people who are more likely to trip and fall on the sidewalk than run into a marauding band of rioters or armed felons. You need to keep a short list of simple commands that can be easily communicated, understood, and applied in various situations.

Second, you don’t need to create a tense, paranoid, state of fear in your family, children, and loved ones. You can use ongoing visualization, practice, and even “games” to get everyone prepared, trained, and ready to act upon command.  Additionally, you don’t need to get caught in the details and nuances of various strategies… as an average five-year-old should be able to understand, implement, and follow through with your commands, strategies, and plans.

Third, your commands need to be simple... using the tone and urgency of your voice with straight-forward phrases is preferable over a bunch of code-words and clandestine signals that will be hard to remember or understand in a true, high-stress, emergency or critical situation. Your strategies should likewise be simple, adaptable, and easily followed and applied in various situations and environments by everyone involved. This will allow mostly predictable results in completely unpredictable circumstances.

So let’s take a look at Six Self-Defense Commands and Strategies for Families:

Come Here...

Most parents have said this a thousand times to their children, but you need to make sure that your entire family recognizes your voice, tone, and urgency as to when this command is not optional and that they need to employ a strategy of immediately coming to you and positioning themselves as you have predetermined. In most situations while we were out and about... my daughter and wife knew to come to me and position themselves behind and to my left as my gun is holstered on my right hip. My daughter knew to take my left hand upon this command to the point I could simply extend my left hand down and out in a certain, discreet manner and she’d slip her hand into mine within seconds.

In the home, this command would mean to come to wherever you are… the bedroom, the kitchen, the garage, the front porch… it means come here... AND NOW! This applies in the store, in the parking lot, in a crowd, at school, in transitional spaces… no matter where you are, they know what is expected with this strategy when the command is issued.

Get Down...

This command is as simple as it sounds. You need to be able to issue this command and have your family “get down”. Whether you are at the park, the store, a parking lot, at church, in your home, in your yard… you need to have your family ready to hit the ground or floor, lying as flat as possible right where they’re at unless preceded by another command.  Yes, you may casually use the phrase “get down” while telling your child to get off a fence or a couch or a tree... but they will know the tone and urgency of your voice in a self-defense situation or emergency and they can discern the difference.

This command and strategy can be applied in almost any situation or environment. You can even make a game out of it and practice with the whole family, even the kids. Teach them how to fall, dive, hit the ground fast without injury… even play dead! It may involve a specific location and manner to Get Down… like in our home, if I give the Get Down command to my daughter while she is in her bedroom, there is a predesignated place she is to Get Down and stay at until further commands or a change in the situation. In other locations, you might have your family discuss how or where they would Get Down.

Get Cover...

We are not going to argue about cover verses concealment here. Keep this simple… as if you’re working with an average five-year-old child. Get Cover for a tornado may mean going to the basement or under a table or desk for your family, depending upon your situation… but it should be discussed ahead of time so the best places are predetermined. Get Cover for a hail storm may mean get out of the front yard and get into the garage or under a shelter. Have your family, especially your kids, thinking about it... what makes good cover.

Get Cover in a violent or aggressive confrontation might mean running and crouching down by the wheel and tire of a nearby car in a parking lot on the side away from the aggressor or threat. This is something that can be practiced as a “game” in the parking lot at your local Walmart, as we did with my daughter fifteen-plus years ago… on a slow day under careful supervision. It might mean getting down behind a counter and cash register in a check out aisle at the grocery store. It could mean running and taking a position behind a garbage container in a public park. Ask and discuss with your family and loved ones, especially your kids, what they would use for cover and why... and explain why some of their choices are better than others... educate them!

You need to think this through, visualize possibilities, and develop “learning games” for your family. Ask a four-year-old at the grocery store where they would go if you said, “Get Cover!” if a big laser-shooting robot or transformer burst through doors… you’d be surprised at how quickly kids “get it” and you don’t have to scare them in the process. Ask your family as you are pushing the grocery cart to your vehicle, “If someone jumped out with a gun from behind the van down the row there, where would you go to take cover and why?” Also, these games and casual, but purposeful, discussions will get your family and loved ones thinking and you knowing how they think… which can be equally important in a self-defense or emergency situation.

Get Out...

The Get Out command requires two parts. First is the act of getting out of the physical location you are currently in. If you have a child on the first floor in their bedroom, it may be going out the window… and do you have an escape plan and equipment, such as a fire-ladder, to Get Out of a second-story bedroom? Get Out in a vehicle may involve exiting the vehicle… or Get Out may mean leaving the store you’re in due to a threat.

This brings up the need for the second part of the Get Out command, which is having a strategy or plan for a place to Get Out To or rendezvous at. For a fire in our home, if the Get Out command is issued… not that they can’t determine this for themselves in a lot of situations… it means to get out of the house and rendezvous at the front of our barn.

Get Out of the vehicle means to get out of the vehicle and seek a safe location at a safe distance. This may be due to an attempted car-jacking or even due to an accident… like if you are disabled on a busy roadway in a wintery and slippery situation and the possibility of getting hit by another vehicle that isn’t paying attention or can’t stop in time is a real problem. Your loved ones are far better off out of the vehicle and staying way off the side of the road way.

Get Out while at the store during a robbery might mean that your loved ones are clear of danger and can exit the store… so they then go to a predetermined location such as your vehicle or a location that is safer or likely has help to access and communicate to regarding the situation. Again, you need to visualize, think, discuss, and develop strategies and plans for YOUR family!

Hide and Safe... (having a “Safe” code word)

Out of sight, out of mind.  This is another two-part command. When given the command to “Hide”… your family needs to find the best hiding spot they can and stay hidden until given the “Safe” code word, another command, or when it is no longer practical to stay safe in their chosen hiding spot.

Finding and using or getting into hiding places is something that should be thought through ahead of time. You can make this a fun activity for your family and children by trying and testing hiding places to see if they can be easily found. This allows your family members and loved ones to learn about what makes a good hiding spot and what makes a poor choice for remaining hidden. When you are out and about in your travels and daily life, think strategically about possible hiding spots and ask your kids, “Where might you hide right now if you had to?”

The second part to Hide and Safe is having a code word that all of you know so nobody comes out of their hiding place into danger. This also allows your children, family, or loved ones to know if a stranger... whether it is law enforcement, a friend, or other person... is legitimate and not a threat.

Choose a “Safe” word carefully… it shouldn’t be hard to remember, but it should be unusual enough that an average person, criminal, or attacker will not figure it out or accidentally call it out. This is THE WORD that tells your family or loved ones that it is safe and "OK" to come out of hiding.

Let’s Just Drop It/NOW!...

The final two-part command we have developed is designed for when a family member, loved one or child has been taken “hostage” or into the control of the attacker.  This is the classic “gun to the head” or “knife to the throat” human shield situation. You can develop your own command, but you need a “set-up” command that should be something that is deescalating, plausible for multiple or most situations, and known by your family members, children, or loved ones… we like, “Look, let’s just drop it.” That statement is followed up with the second part "trigger" command for the action, which  for us is simply, “NOW!”

If you have a loved one who is being held in the classic “human shield” position with a physical threat from the aggressor… when the situation is appropriate… you get your loved one ready with the correct tone by simple saying your set-up command, in our case, “Look, let’s just drop it.”  Then, on the action command of, “NOW!”… your “hostage” or family member knows to go limp, and let their full body-weight drop and melt to the floor like a “sack of potatos” or “twenty-five limp gallons of Jello”.

Most people, even those with pretty significant strength, can’t hold up or hold onto a completely limp person… even a fifty-pound child… very easily. This trigger action, when used with an additionally planned strategy or defensive action by you can give you the time and or physical opening you need to counter the aggressor or hostage taker. Every situation is different, but this can be practiced easily and you will find that if you pretend to be the hostage taker… it is very hard to hold-up or hold onto a totally limp adult or child.

Adapting to your situation…

Now I realize that these commands may or may not fit your situation, but if nothing else… you should think about how you might implement these strategies or similar ones with your family and loved ones that can be easily understood, initiated, and result in anticipated actions before you find yourself in a crisis situation without any plans or strategies.  You’ll find that regular practice and “playing” will help your family and loved ones think strategically and also help you to know and see how they think and react… so you can be better informed and purposeful about protecting them and having them protect themselves.

Also, I will repeat my advice to keep it simple. In a stressful, tense situation or rapid act of aggression… you and your family or loved ones are not going to remember thirty-nine different tactics, moves, and code-words that are not regularly used or practiced.  Additionally, you cannot have a written, formal plan for every contingency that you may run into, so by having basic commands and strategies that are associated with those commands… and visualizing, practicing, and adapting those commands and strategies to a variety of situations, circumstances, and locations… you and your family will learn how to react and also be able to predict how each other will react in a real emergency or when facing and attack or act of aggression.

Finally, practice your commands and make sure, especially with children, they understand when the commands are not optional… whether that be via the commands or the tone in which the commands are communicated. If you are not sure where to start… review our commands and think about how you would implement them in your home in these three situations: Fire!, Tornado!, Intruder!

So... have you developed any commands, strategies, or plans that you use and practice?  If so, what can you add to… Six Self-Defense Commands and Strategies for Families…


  1. Awesome stuff! Thanks for posting these straightforward approaches! Just yesterday I was planning how to begin teaching my children how to act in situations. We live in a town of 1200 (and while it is pretty 'safe' I carry everywhere), but occasionally we travel to one of the biggest cities in our state; many times just me and my four boys. Even when my husband is with us, I am the carrier in the family. Your way to strike up the conversation with different scenarios is similar to a method we call "What If Dialog" developed by a friend of mine. We use it to teach children appropriate responses to prevent child sexual abuse and other difficult circumstances. Well done! I can hardly wait to go through these things with my boys! I will be a frequent visitor to your blog! God bless!

  2. Very well thought out and informative post. Thanks!

  3. Good points. I do see a lot of self defense tips, but never ones geared towards young kids like this. These are great ways to make sure kids don't panic during a crisis and make sure they're safe.