Teaching Your Children About Survival

As parents, one of our prime responsibilities is to train and teach our children, preparing them for life. To at least some extent, that means preparing them for the problems of life. As people who are concerned about survival preparedness, we know better than most just what that means. So it’s only natural that we would want to teach our children about survival.

There are two problems with this: First of all, children’s ability to learn varies, depending on their age and individual aptitude. Secondly, children are incapable of keeping a secret. So the moment we tell them that we are preppers, they’ll start spreading the word to everyone in the neighborhood. That blows our OPSEC (operational security) all to pieces.

On the flip side of that coin, we want our children to be prepared, should they ever be caught in a survival situation. It’s not safe to assume that we’ll always be there, when such a time might happen. We could be caught at work, on the other side of the river or they could get lost in the woods. either way, they will need to depend on what they know, not what we can do for them.

The trick is, we need to find a way around this; and fortunately, such a way exists. Many of the survival skills that we would teach our children are simply bushcraft skills; the kind that used to be found in the old Boy Scout manual. We can teach them to our kids, without mentioning a word about survival.

Age-Appropriate Survival Training

Small children can only learn a limited number of survival skills. But that doesn’t mean that we should ignore teaching them. There are a number of important skills that even very small children can learn, which will greatly increase their chances of survival.

A number of years ago, I friend who taught kindergarten came to me, asking what she could give her students, as a small gift, which would help them survive. I was living at the foot of the Rocky Mountains at the time and it was common for families to spend their vacations in the mountains. Every year, children would wander away from their families and get lost in the woods. That was the specific concern she wanted to address.

It is unrealistic to expect a child that small to start a fire, build a shelter and hunt for their own food. But that’s not to say that they can’t do anything. I told her to buy the children whistles and hang them on a lanyard to go around the children’s necks. Then there was the instructions to go with the whistle. If the children got lost or separated from their parents, they were to blow as hard on that whistle as they could, and keep blowing until someone came to find them. Since they knew how to count to ten, they were told to blow in groups of three, the international signal for distress.

When night was getting close, the children were taught to find the biggest Christmas tree they could find and crawl under it for shelter. Large pines, whose branches sweep the ground, make one of the best natural shelters you can find. So, those five-year-olds had enough knowledge to find good shelter and a way of signaling for help.

As children grow, they can learn more and more skills. In the American frontier days, children of 10 years old were expected to start the fire every morning and tend to it throughout the day. They also found their own tinder and brought wood in from the fire. But they weren’t big enough yet to cut and split wood, just to gather sticks for kindling.

By the time a child is 15, they should be able to do just about any survival task you can think of, assuming they have the physical strength to do so. Depending on the laws where you live, they should even be able to hunt, fish and clean their game.

Creating Training Time

Probably the best survival training time you can come up with is a camping trip. If you make camping a regular part of your family’s recreational activities, you can fit one or two new survival skills into each trip, while giving your children time to practice skills they had learned before.

Of course, to turn those camping trips into training time, you’ll need to be doing what I call “real camping,” rather than trailer camping. While a camper trailer is nice and a lot more comfortable than a tent, they aren’t really conducive to survival training. It’s more like living in a small apartment, than camping. You’re much better off in a tent, preferably in a more primitive camping area.

Adding hunting and fishing to your camping trips can serve to teach them these valuable survival skills as well. My dad started me fishing when I was barely old enough to hold a simple bamboo pole, without a reel. I started hunting at 12, which was the minimum age I could get a hunter’s safety certificate.

Prioritize the skills you teach them, based on how important they are to survival, as well as the age appropriateness for each child. This might mean that you are teaching different children different skills on each trip. While your 8-year-old is learning to start a fire, your 5-year-old may only be learning how to find tinder for the fire.

As your children learn new skills, reward them by buying them the survival gear for their own kit. In this way, you can help them to build their own survival kit, without the major expense of buying everything at once. At the same time, you can be sure that they will know how to use the various pieces of survival gear which are in their kit.

Shooting & Self-Defense

The ability to shoot a gun or bow, use a tomahawk and generally defend themselves are also important survival skills for your children to learn. However, these aren’t skills to teach while camping; but rather, skills to teach at home, the local shooting range or the dojo.

One of my friends is taking taekwondo with his two boys, so that they can learn how to defend themselves. While he could just send them to class, by taking it with them, he is able to help coach them and encourage them in their progress. Working together also helps create the bonding necessary between a father and his sons.

I have taken all my children to the shooting range and taught them how to shoot. One man I know has worked with his son to the point where he is now a competitive tactical pistol shooter. While that started out with the purpose of teaching him to defend himself, the son has now surpassed his dad’s skills.

A number of other weapons can be worked on at home. My son and I have worked together with bows, tomahawks, and the bo staff, using them all in the backyard of our home. We just made it a regular habit to go out and work with these weapons on a regular basis, to the point where I felt he was competent. He’s not at competition level, but then, neither am I.

A Final Thought

All in all, you want to make the survival skills you are teaching your children seem a natural part of their lives, rather than having them realize what you are doing. These are enjoyable things to do, so your children should readily accept them. Telling their friends that they went shooting or learned how to start a fire with a Metal Match won’t be a problem, because it won’t be shared as a “survival skill,” but rather, as something neat that they got to do. In this way, your OPSEC won’t be compromised.

Rich Murphy

Rich is a long-time survivalist, having gotten started in his youth, during the latter part of the Cold War. Yet the collapse of the Berlin Wall didn’t put an end to his survival instinct. He has since added military experience and a career as an engineer to his survival knowledge. This has allowed him to design and build his own survival equipment. He is an accomplished author, who has written over 100 books on all aspects of survival.

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