The heat waves swelling over the country in the last few weeks have prompted all sorts of talk about summer plans. In my Facebook newsfeed, I’ve seen at least three articles pop up about the dangers of leaving children in cars. Mama groups are debating over what temperature to keep the baby’s room, interspersed with occasional requests for swim-lesson recommendations. Taking precautions in child safety is always a topic of dialogue and weather is just another, easy conversation starter for social media buzz.
At El HaLev, we like to ask parents these important questions about safety. Do you teach your child to look both ways before crossing the street? Do you teach them to wash their hands for germs and to wear a helmet when riding their bikes? We tell our children to stay away from the “ledge,” put on sunscreen before a day at the beach, and cut their up their food before serving. We want them to be safe; we want them to be healthy, and we want them to be equipped with tools to stay safe. With this same understanding, the Talmud instructs us that we should teach our children to swim. How unthinkably awful would it be for our child to get hurt from a preventable circumstance?
So why not teach our kids self-defense. After all, it is often other people in this world who can hurt them the most.
Summer also marks the question of where or if to send your kids to kaytanot. The El HaLev summer program for kids tackles the difficult topic of why children need self-defense with engaging martials arts and personal safety workshops, that keep them on their toes and giggling. Daniella Shames Levi has been an El HaLev instructor for over seven years, and helped design El HaLev’s KidPACT program (IMPACT for children). Her mother, Jill Shames, is one of the co-founders of the Jersualem based non-profit. When Daniella first got involved in teaching children self-defense, she became frustrated at how much focus and responsibility was being put on the children themselves. “It’s important,” she says, “to empower parents to talk about safety with their kids, because it is the parents who are ultimately responsible for their safety.”
Parents are asked to engage with their children in programs, and instruction is provided on how to initiate and have conversations with their kids, that many find uncomfortable. A child’s innocence is seen as precious, and we fear that we may ruin it by exposing them through dialogue to terrible realities such as sexual assault and verbal and physical abuse. At El HaLev, we don’t believe the instructor’s job is to teach other people’s children about these realities, but rather to teach children how to respond to various situations, and feel confident doing so. Our role with parents is to help them know how to approach these topics on their own terms. Daniella makes sure to “keep it light” in her classes, which she feels is the most important quality to maintain when working with kids. Much like the adult self-defense classes, situational simulations are also used to teach them personal safety techniques. Daniella describes a game where she puts three colored carpets on the ground. Blue is safe, Yellow is unclear, and Red is unsafe. Using props like silly glasses and hats, Daniella pretends to be a stranger, sometimes a familiar character, and presents scenarios to the children. It’s up to them to decide if the situation is safe, not clear, or unsafe. As part of the El HaLev method, respecting diversity is a priority. By enabling children to judge for themselves how they feel about certain situations, after giving them clear guidelines, they become more capable of handling difficult and uncomfortable situations.
The kids in the program come from all different socio-economic and religious backgrounds, and in some cases, from unstable homes where there is no safe adult to turn to. With a philosophy that places the responsibility on the parents/care-givers for children’s safety, these sorts of circumstances are particularly challenging. Yehudit Sidikman, CEO, co-founder and senior instructor at El HaLev explains how for those situations, “we have to teach them how to find a trustworthy adult and how to use their intuition and judgment to know who can help.” There are “good secrets” and “bad secrets”, she explains; to tell the difference between the two can be tricky for children. With bad secrets, “we reiterate to the kids just how important it is to tell,” so that those secrets do not become dangerous.
Helping kids become empowered to stand up for themselves with bravery and a positive outlook is the main goal. As temperatures rise, and parents look for opportunities for their children to learn new things, stay safe and have something to do in the summer, El Halev has programs to meet all of these needs. For more dates, information and to sign up, visit the website.