Children and Survival by Gary Benton
Have you ever talked to your about child survival? I mean, what to do if the car breaks down during bad weather, or what to do if suddenly forced to survive for any reason. I have, and the results surprised me. While most of you may think a child would not be interested in survival, they are, or at least the ones I spoke to were. The children I have spoken with were my own, as well as others in a classroom, and believe me, they all showed an interest. The classrooms I have spoken in were always quiet as if they were hanging onto each word as I spoke.
If you are out with children and suddenly find yourself in a survival situation, stay calm. It the children are very young, they may not notice any changes in your behavior. But, there will be changes and older kids will pick up on them. Just the sudden realization that you may have to survive will cause a slight, or great, change in all of us. However, older children may pick up on it immediately. While each situation, as well as each child, is different, I do have some suggestions.
Stop. If your car breaks down, you won’t have a choice here, but if you are hiking or walking you do. Stop and think about your situation. Do you have an idea where you are? If not, don’t panic. You must, at this point, use your mind to survive. If you do panic and begin to meander around in the woods, you may die and those with you as well. Stop and think. Who knows where you are? Who knows when you should return? Who did you tell about your trip? All of these things should have been told to someone before any hike in the woods, or even a simple car trip in isolated country.
Next, if the children are old enough to understand, explain what has happened. I would suggest you simply say, “We have to stay here and wait for help. I am not sure where we are and I need you to help me.” Older children, in their teens, can be told openly, “We are lost and need to stay here until we are found. I need your help to make us comfortable. Can I depend on your assistance?” The last statement will make them feel needed as well as part of the “group.” Depending on the child, you may use different phrases, but the idea is there. Convey you need to stay where you are, you need to wait for help, and that you need them to help you.” With the younger kids you might even be able to make a game of it all, or perhaps say very little.
Attempt to gain control over your initial inner fears. It is important for you to stay strong and to provide good leadership for the group. Of course, I realize you may not be a survival expert, but you don’t have to be. The key here is to maintain the image of trust the child has for you already. As children, they see us as those who provide food, water, comfort, and safety for them. While the sudden responsibility to care for a child in a survival situation will be very stressful, you must do all you can to keep an adult image portrayed at all times.
If you need to cry or feel as if you are going “to pieces” leave the group. Insure an adult is with the child at all times if you leave. So, leaving may not be possible. Make the excuse of needing to using the “toilet” or to gather firewood, then walk off a little ways. Do your thing and then return once your composure is gained. Survival it tough and it is rare an individual does not break down if they are out there long enough. If you are a religious family, then pray together. Most survivors pray at some point in their situation if they are out there long enough.
Ok, now that you have control and are maintaining your image, now what? Due to length restrictions and the complexity of this article, lets use older children in our situation, 8-14 years old. As I stated earlier, you can make a game of your situation. I would suggest you and the child go through your equipment, all of it. You will be surprised what a child may have in a pocket or a backpack. Often you will find gum, candy, a knife and other goodies. I know a man who found a small pocketknife and two cans of soda pop. Regardless of what you will find, inventory all of your equipment. Have the child assist you. I would have the child go through my pack as I went through theirs. Then, change packs and do it again.
As you find gear, ask the child what it could be used for, besides the obvious. Remember, just because they are younger and smaller does not mean they can’t have some very good ideas. I think you would be very surprised what they can come up with. See, they don’t know that certain things are expected to be used only in certain ways. Consider all of their ideas. Discuss the practical uses of the equipment with them and make sure they know exactly how to use each piece. This step is critical in the event you sustain a serious injury or death.
One aspect of being in the woods with a child that I feel is very important is being prepared. Once you are forced to spend the night in the woods with a child is not the time to discover you don’t have matches. Or, that you don’t know basic first aid or how to use some of your survival gear. Prepare. Be a scout and remember the scout motto, always be prepared. I never go out without my survival kit with me. No, it is not very big and it does not weigh much, but it could prove to be a life saver. I actually carry most of it in a small plastic box about three inches wide and about five inches long. I have it in my right pants cargo pocket at all times, or in my car. What do I have in it?
1. A quality penknife or jack knife.
2. Un-lubricated condoms Playtex gloves or baby bottles for water storage.
3. Water proof matches.
4. Flint and steel or a metal match.
5. Water purification tables.
6. A long strip of heavy-duty aluminum foil folded up to cook with.
7. Fishing kit, i.e., hooks, sinkers, and some line. Nothing fancy.
8. Commercial back packing first aid kit, with instructions. I carry a very small one.
9. One small pack of gum and one of hard candy for energy.
Also, I carry three other things on my person. I carry a good quality space blanket, a casualty blanket, and about twenty feet of cotton cord. I have found I can survive with the above items. And, all of this stuff weighs almost nothing. I carry it all in one cargo pocket and still have lots of room left. It is my insurance policy.
One other area I need to discuss is how you and the child should dress when you are in the woods. I usually wear military cargo pocket styled pants and shirts. These can be purchased for you and older children in surplus stores at a good price. I also suggest good boots, warm socks, and you both should have a belt. I wear a wide brimmed hat to shade my eyes from the elements and the child should have a hat of some kind, the head looses a lot of body heat when it is not covered in cold weather. Of course you know I also have a poncho but not much else is really needed. If you want to get the two of you a fanny pack and wear jeans, all of the equipment I have listed will easily fit into one container. Once you are in a survival situation with a child is not the time to decide you need the gear. You have it with you, or you will do without.
Establish some very general, but important safety rules for the child. You may expand or change this list as you see needed depending on your individual situation.
Never leave the campsite alone.
Do not drink any water that is not in a container, streams, rivers, ponds, etc. Report all injuries, regardless of how small to the adult.
Clean and cover all injuries to avoid infections.
Only the adult is allowed to make a fire and maintain it.
Older children may be taught to start a fire and “feed” the fire with supervision. Make it clear to the older child they are to do this alone only in an emergency.
Make sure the child knows not to eat any plants, insects or animals without your approval. Some plants may be poisonous, some insects may bite or sting, and some animals may injure the child.
Do not scare the child with stories about snakes, but cover the subject. Make sure the child knows to make lots of noise, not to place their hands in holes or under dead trees. Warn them to report immediately when they see a snake. Two reasons here, you don’t need a snakebite and second, you can eat the snake if needed.
Keep the child and yourself busy, this helps avoid the “poor me” syndrome. As soon as the gear is inventoried, have the child assist you in making a fire. The two of you should gather twigs, small pieces of dead wood, and other kindling. Then, working together, gather up as much dead wood as you can find near you. Stack the wood in a pile no closer than 10 feet to your fire pit. Show the child how to stack the twigs in a teepee shape over dry moss or small torn and crumpled up pieces of paper. Only the adult should light the fire. The child, nonetheless if old enough, should be shown how to do it. Make sure, if possible, you keep a source of water near by, or loose soil or sand, to assist you in putting the fire out quickly if you have to. Instruct the child on the purpose of the soil, sand, or water.
Once the fire is going, have the child assist you in preparing a shelter. You will be surprised how quickly two people can make a place to sleep. I suggest, if the weather permits, you run a rope or vine between two trees about three feet off of the ground. If you have a blanket, poncho, tarp or casualty blanket, you can then drape it over the line and secure the ends in the dirt with wooden stakes. Make sure your door faces your fire and that your fire is not too close, less than 10 feet in my opinion. Then, the two of you should cut fresh pine boughs, most states have pine trees or leaves can be used, to line the floor of your shelter. This will insulate the shelter floor and help you stay warm as you sleep. Remind the child to keep a look out for snakes, but don’t scare them.
You may or may not have sleeping bags, depending on how you reached the situation you are in, but if not, feed the fire as often as you need to. In warm weather you may not even need a fire to survive, but I strongly recommend one for psychological reasons. Both you and the child will feel much better with a fire burning. There is some deep unexplained satisfaction about a fire at night. Perhaps it suggests safety from harmful animals or just having the light may make us feel as if we are in control of our situation. At any rate, always have a fire at night.
Perhaps, if the child is not ready to sleep, you can tell “good” stories, or share a piece of candy. Avoid the typical ghost or scary stories if you are in a survival situation. This will assist in keeping the child’s fears of uncertainty down. Most likely, I would even sing a few songs to convey that things aren’t that bad. If the child is scared or terrified, you may have a very difficult time of it. Try a few words of love and a maybe some hugs. I am sure some children, perhaps those that hike or camp a great deal, will adjust to your situation very quickly. They may even enjoy the great adventure!
Water may or may not be a problem. There are many variables involved with water procurement. You may have water with you, or you may have to find it. If you can, boil any untreated or unknown water. You must do this regardless of how clear and clean the water seems to be. Explain to the child that the water, if not treated or boiled, can harm them. Be sure and drink plenty of clean water. Dehydration can be a real problem in any survival situation. Instruct the child to tell you when they have dark or brown color urine, a sign of dehydration. Then, increase the child’s water intake.
If you backpack a lot, carry water purification tablets with you. A small bottle of 50 or more takes up very little space and weighs little. Have the child assist you in water procurement and treatment regardless of what procedure you have to use. They need to learn how to do it properly.
I think by the end of the first day of survival, your little helper will be worn out. It takes a lot of work to prepare a proper survival site. Keep the child active in assisting you. This helps wear them out and that helps them sleep better. But keep in mind; one of our goals is to also teach them. As a child, they may not think they should give suggestions or help an adult. Attempt to draw out what they are thinking and feeling as often as you can. Involve them in your survival plan and your actions. Help them to adjust to the trauma of survival as well as you can. You may not have the right words, or even know what you are doing at all times, but if you honestly listen to the child and try to do the right things, they will know. Honesty and a good hug will go a long way.
The thought of survival with a child is frightening to most people. Even the thought of survival with adults scares most of us. Survival is never easy and the added stresses of having a child along can be overwhelming for most people. You must face the psychological and physical aspects of your situation.
Remember to make the child a part of your team. You should strive to build teamwork. Involve the child, listen to the child, and most importantly, be yourself and do the best you can. The stark reality of all of this is, you have no choice. You must do whatever needs to be done so you and the child can survive. Finally, keep in mind that most survival situations in the United States will last less than 48 hours. This is hardly long enough to starve to death, or die of thirst. Your only goal is for you, and the child, to stay safe and survive until found. You can do it.