KIDPOWER! Teaching KIDS to Use Their POWER To Stay Safe
KIDPOWER Executive Director/Co-Founder Irene van der Zande

Thank you to KIDPOWER TEENPOWER FULLPOWER International and author Irene van der Zande for permission to use their copyrighted written and visual material. For more information about KIDPOWER please go to or call 1-831-426-4407 (outside USA) and 1-800-467-6997 number for the USA only. Copyright 2005. All rights reserved.


If you had told me in 1986 that I would someday be leading an international organization that taught self-defense, I would have told you that you were crazy. My background is in nonprofit organizational development and in child development. In 1986, I had just finished writing a book called 1, 2, 3's The Toddler Years that is used in early childhood education programs around the country. By now, I would probably be writing a book about The Roaring Twenties: The Young Adult Years if the experience that brought me into this work had not taken place.

In early October in 1986, I took a group of eight young children, including my seven-year old daughter and my four-year-old son, on a field trip to visit the art museum in downtown Santa Cruz, a small city on the coast of California. On our way back, at the bus station, a man started charging towards us yelling, "I am going to take one of these girls to be my bride!" This was a public place in the middle of the day with people standing all around.

Even all these years later, I still have a vivid image on the immobile frozen faces of the bystanders. I can still see the terrified huddle of children, with my little boy trying to squeeze his body behind his big sister because he was so scared. And I can still see the contorted face of our attacker, who was reaching out to grab one of the children.

I did what I imagine any of you would do in my shoes. I put my body between the man and my kids ' at that moment ALL of them were MY kids -- and I shouted at him. I yelled, "YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO SCARE CHILDREN!" Later, I realized that this was not the most intelligent thing I might have said, but it was all I could think of at the time.

The man stopped and yelled back, "I can do anything I want." He smelled of sweat, or worse, and his spit spattered onto my forehead. We got stuck in a face-to-face shouting match that seemed endless. Finally, I ordered a man standing nearby with his mouth dropped open to, "GET OVER HERE AND HELP ME! Can't you see these kids are scared?" When the man reluctantly came over, the attacker ran away.

The kids were fine because what they saw was that I yelled and the bad guy ran. But I wasn't fine. I kept asking myself, what if he knocked me down and grabbed one of the children? I am relatively small and not very adept physically. I knew I would try to stop him but I didn't know how.

To answer my question, in 1987, I took a Model Mugging Women's Self-Defense Course from the original program started by Matt Thomas. This program was taught with a head-to-toe padded instructor to give students the opportunity to practice really hitting and really kicking. Not only did I learn how to protect my children, but I also became more confident about standing up for myself.

I then became very involved in helping the Model Mugging organization because I wanted to be sure that there would be a class around when my children were old enough to take one. I kept meeting adults who would say things like, "If ONLY I had had training like this sooner!" When my church group leader dropped all the other kids off first and then touched me in a way that my parents told me NEVER to let a man touch me, "If ONLY I had even known the words to say to stop him! If ONLY I had known how to explain to my parents what had happened! My life would have been so different."

Those statistics about one in three girls and one in four to seven boys being sexually abused before they are eighteen years old stopped being numbers to me and started being real people. I looked at the fifteen girls in my Girl Scout troop and thought, "One in three." Which FIVE of these girls is it okay with me that this happens to?" The answer of course, was NONE OF THEM!

Eventually, on an organizational level, it became clear that people in Model Mugging needed to do their work separately instead of together. However, many of the people connected to Model Mugging continued to work with me then and are still helping our organization now. For example, Mark Morris, one of the Co-Founders of Model Mugging, co-led instructor training for teaching full force self defense to women with me in Los Angeles for five years and still builds our padded suits. Today, full force self defense with the head-to-toe padded instructor is taught under many names in many formats around the world.

In 1988, as I was thinking about developing training for children, there were a series of abductions in the Bay area. TV interviews showed

That was it.I realized that I just could not wait any longer. I enlisted my friend Timothy Dunphy, the Master Instructor of Watsonville Taekwondo Academy and a former Model Mugging trainer, to join with me to start a program for kids. Timothy and I gathered with many other people including educators, law enforcement experts, mental health professionals, and parents to develop programs for children that would be fun, effective and empowering. Timothy is now a sixth degree Black Belt, international champion in Taekwondo and the other Co-Founder of KIDPOWER.

I also recruited my friend Ellen Bass whose daughter was in that group of children to be the Founding Board President for a nonprofit charitable organization called KIDPOWER. Ellen is the Co-Author of the groundbreaking book, The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse and the winner of many prizes for her poetry.

Our organization is now named KIDPOWER, TEENPOWER, FULLPOWER International.


KIDPOWER TEENPOWER FULLPOWER International (shortened to KIDPOWER) is a private nonprofit organization started in 1989. KIDPOWER's mission is to help people of all ages and abilities learn how to stay safe, act wisely and believe in themselves. During our 15-year existence, KIDPOWER has trained over 150,000 different individuals from many different cultures and walks of life.

Emotional and physical violence and abuse threaten all of us, especially children, teenagers, women and people with disabilities. Statistically, people are more likely to be attacked than to be in a serious car accident in their lifetime. To combat the sense of fear and helplessness this threat brings, people need to learn real skills to deal with these real issues.

KIDPOWER brings self-protection skills and confidence to people of all ages and abilities. Law enforcement officials, mental health experts, and educators recommend our services because we give students the opportunity to be successful in practicing personal safety skills that can protect them from most bullying, harassment, molestation, assault and abduction. Even though the subject is serious, learning personal safety skills can be empowering and fun.

KIDPOWER has 25 established and developing centers, offices and specialists in Belgium, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States. We adapt our services to meet the needs of different cultures. In Pakistan, we are working with a psychologist at AMAL, who life skills to children who are living and/or working on the street. With the Youth Education Services of the National New Zealand Police, we have developed Confident Kids, a pilot program that is bringing many of our KIDPOWER practices in the New Zealand schools nationwide.

Our instructors travel to places where we do not yet have centers, and we have a comprehensive program for training new instructors and program organizers to establish services in their own communities. We also have an ongoing system for upholding quality to ensure that we sustain our commitment to excellence as we grow. In addition, we provide consultation by email to people around the world about how to use our skills to resolve specific problems.

Hundreds of highly dedicated talented people teach our programs, organize our workshops, lead our centers and serve on our Boards of Directors. These individuals are leaders in their own communities. They include social workers, attorneys, physicians, architects, therapists, martial artists, educators, police officers, and business people. They include parents, other adult family members, neighbors, employers, and friends.

Everyday Safety Training allows students to practice strategies that will help keep them safe every day with people they know, peers, bullies, and strangers. Full Force Training offers students the opportunity to practice self-defense skills full force with a head-to-toe padded instructor.

Services include: KIDPOWER personal safety skill training for children from 3 to 12 and their parents, teachers or caregivers; TEENPOWER for teenagers; FULLPOWER for adults; WORKPOWER for work place safety programs; COLLEGEPOWER for college students; POLICEPOWER for law enforcement staff; and SENIORPOWER for older people. We also offer ADAPTED PROGRAMS for people with special life challenges such as having a disability or being a survivor of violence and abuse.

PROFESSIONAL STAFF TRAININGS for schools and agencies serving youths and adults help their staff learn how to teach personal safety skills on their own and how to incorporate our system of teaching into their own curriculum or standard practices. TEACHERPOWER provides nonviolent aggression management skills to professional educators. ADVOCACY IN ACTION prepares young people and adults in a wide variety of settings to advocate effectively for themselves and others. We also provide consultation and training to people who wish to add experiential learning to their own training presentations through our program: EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING: HOW TO TURN PROBLEMS INTO PRACTICES.

We are often asked for proof that our programs are effective. For years, we have had very positive evaluations and feedback from our participants, including many success stories of people using these skills both in their every day lives and to stop dangerous situations. Recently, the effectiveness of the KIDPOWER approach for young children was documented through an outside professional evaluation conducted by LaFrance Associates with funding from the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health. Almost 95% of the parents and caregivers of over 550 Head Start children from multi-cultural low-income families said that their children were safer because of their KIDPOWER training. Parents and caregivers reported that the majority of these three to five-year-old children remembered most of the skills four to nine months after the training. Over 90% said that they personally felt better prepared to explain personal skills to their children.

To benefit from KIDPOWER's resources:
1. Learn more by visiting our web page at and subscribing to our free monthly e-newsletter. You can also call our office at 1-800-467-6997 (USA) or (0) 1-831-426-4407 (international).

2. Organize a workshop for your family and friends, neighborhood, school, workplace, or community organization. Our programs are short and tailored to fit your needs.

3. Apply to train as an instructor and/or organizer to bring services to your community.

4. Visit the Learning Center on our web page to read our free articles. Consider purchasing the KIDPOWER Guide for Parents and Teachers, the Wake Up! Video, the KIDPOWER and TEENPOWER/FULLPOWER Comprehensive Program Manuals, and our other educational materials.

5. Make a tax-deductible donation to help KIDPOWER to help others.


Personal safety skills can help children protect themselves from most bullying, molestation, assault, and abduction. Below are the basics about what you need to know about personal safety for the children in your life. These statistics are for the United States but this information is relevant for most countries.

1. Personal safety means keeping your feelings and body safe if people act thoughtless, mean, scary, or dangerous. Personal safety means being in charge of yourself so that you act safely towards others.

2. Violence against young people is a leading health issue of our time. According to the National Criminal Justice Council, an estimated 85% of today's twelve-year-olds will be attacked in their lifetimes. This means people are more likely to face an assault than to be in a serious car accident.

3. Most of the people who harm children are NOT strangers. According to the National Victims' Center, 95% of sexual abuse happens with people children know. Of these, one third are family members ' stepparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, siblings, grandparents and parents. Two thirds are other people known to the child ' neighbors, youth group leaders, teachers, other children, religious leaders and friends. Experts estimate that one in three girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they are eighteen years old.

4. Molesters will often spend up to a year cultivating a trusting relationship with a family, a school, a religious community, or a group of friends before they make their first move. They will start by systematically creating an emotional connection with a child, pushing the child's boundaries and ensuring that the child won't tell before they do anything that is sexual. This means that children who have skills for setting boundaries and getting help are less likely to be targeted by a molester.

5. Federal agencies estimate that there are 100,000 attempted abductions by strangers each year in the United States. About 2,000 children a year are kidnapped by strangers. Although this is important for adults to know, it is not healthy for children to believe that the world is full of dangerous people called strangers. Instead adults can tell children that most people are good but, if we do not know them well, there are safety rules to follow.

6. One out of seven school children have either been victimized by bullying or have bullied others. Most children have witnessed bullying. Bullying is harmful. Adults are responsible for noticing bullying and making it against the rules.

7. Just telling children about the bad things that might happen makes them anxious. Being successful in actually practicing skills helps them to become more confident and capable.

8. Children are often very literal, and we need to be sure that they understand what we mean. Telling children, "Never talk to a stranger" is untrue because we ask them to greet people they see as strangers all the time. Telling children, "Never let anyone touch your private areas" is also untrue because it is normal for adults to pat children, pick them up, and help them stay clean and healthy. This is why KIDPOWER focuses on using language that is clear, truthful, consistent, and positive.

9. Children can learn to protect themselves by knowing their safety rules and following their safety plans. Most kidnappings can be prevented if children are able to be aware, move away from someone they don't know, and check first with their adult. Most sexual abuse and most bullying can be prevented if children can set personal boundaries and ask for help. Most assaults can be stopped if children yell and run to safety when they are scared.

10. Positive practical programs like KIDPOWER help children and adults learn how to use their own power to stay safe. Give yourself the gift of peace of mind by taking a self-defense class for yourself and by taking your children to a class.


The quality of the program and approach of the instructor will make a huge difference in the results of any kind of training and self-defense is no exception. Done well, self-defense workshops can be exciting, empowering, and useful. Done poorly, they can be boring, discouraging, and destructive. Whether a training is about self-defense or any other important life skills, the potential benefits are real and so are the potential dangers. It is worth taking the time to make a thoughtful decision.

*Below are some questions to consider when evaluating a self-defense program

1. Is the content positive, accurate, comprehensive, and appropriate for the ages and life situations of the students?

The best programs will teach a range of personal safety skills for being aware, taking charge of the space around you, getting help, setting boundaries with people you know, de-escalating conflict, and staying calm and making choices instead of just getting upset when you have a problem. Physical self-defense skills will be taught in a context of having done everything possible to get out of a situation safely without fighting first.

...Look for programs that focus on the skills to learn rather than on reasons why we have to learn these skills. This is especially true for children, who can become traumatized by scary stories about bad things that happened to others. Children learn best if their teacher has a calm matter of fact approach which makes it clear that they can keep themselves safe most of the time by learning how to do a few easy things. Remember that most of the people who bother people of any age are people they know, so that boundary-setting skills can be even more important than fighting skills in ensuring safety.

...Look for programs that use research from a wide variety of fields including mental health, education, crime prevention, law enforcement, and martial arts
...Look for endorsements from real people and credible organizations.
...Look for programs that are willing to give credit for what they have learned from others rather than saying that they have invented "the best and only way to learning true self defense."
...Be wary of programs that give simplistic absolute answers such as "If you wear a pony tail, you are very likely to be assaulted" or "If you train with us, you will never have to be afraid again."

2. Is the teacher clear, respectful, in charge, enthusiastic, and able to adapt?
You and the children and teens in your life deserve to have teachers who are helpful rather than discouraging. Good teachers do not make negative remarks about their students or anyone else and do not allow others to, even as a joke. Avoid teachers who use the fact that you like them and appreciate what you have learned from them to try to get you to do something that seems inappropriate or unfair.

...Look for teachers who use their students' time well by starting on time, keeping things moving, and ending on time as much as possible.

...Look for teachers who know how to be both firm and respectful when they set boundaries with students who are doing things that detract from the class.

...Find teachers who can explain concepts and demonstrate skills in ways that are easy to understand. Classes will be more interesting if teachers sound and act like they care about what they are doing and have a good sense of humor.

While there will be consistency in their presentations, the best teachers will change what they do to meet the needs of their students rather than having a standard canned approach. Role-plays to demonstrate or practice skills should be described in terms of situations that students are likely to encounter. The way something is presented should be in terms that are meaningful to a student. Instead of telling a blind student to look at a potential attacker, for example, a teacher who knows how to adapt will say something like, "Turn your face towards the person so that he knows you know he's there."

...Good teachers will listen to your concerns with appreciation for your having the courage to raise them rather than with defensiveness. When possible, they will change what they do to make the class work better for you. At the very least, they will explain their reasons for what they do and why they cannot accommodate your wishes.

3. Is the approach more action-oriented or talking-oriented?
In general, people remember more about what they have seen than what they have been told. People are more likely to be able to do what they have practiced them selves than what they have been shown to do or told to do. Look for programs that involve showing more than explaining and that provide lots of opportunity for learning by doing.

4. Is the learning success-based?
It can be destructive to students' emotional and physical safety if they feel as if they are failing when they are trying to learn self-protection skills. Success-based learning means that students are guided through what they need to learn in a highly positive way. Practices go step by step starting with where each student actually is. Success is defined as progress for each individual student rather than as perfection according to some standard of the teacher. Students are coached as they do the practices so that they can do them correctly as much as possible. They are given feedback about how to improve in a context that communicates, "mistakes are part of learning." As soon as a correction is made, a student is given the chance to repeat the practice right away rather than being left with a feeling of not having done it right. Students are encouraged through compliments and cheering. If students have a hard time, they are given support and acceptance for whatever they are feeling while being helped to keep trying.

5. Is the approach more focused on traditional martial arts or on practical self-defense?
Martial arts programs, like other activities involving interactive movement such as sports and dance, can be wonderful for building confidence, character, and physical condition. However, for teaching personal safety skills, the approach of most martial arts is like long-term preventative health care. Practical self-defense is like emergency medicine -- teaching in a few hours skills that are very focused on preventing abduction, assault, and abuse from strangers, bullies, and people we know.

6. What does your intuition tell you about this program?
The most important skill in choosing a good self-defense program is being able to act on your intuition without being stopped by feelings of confusion or fear. It can be hard to stay clear about what your needs are or what the needs of your children are when you are bombarded by often conflicting advice from experts. If something someone does seems wrong to you, even if you can't justify your feeling logically, walk away rather than staying in a potentially bad situation. Keep looking until you find the type of program that answers to your satisfaction the kinds of questions described above.

Whether you are looking for a self-defense class or any other important training, pay attention to uncomfortable feelings you have about someone's approach, no matter how highly-recommended the person is and no matter how much you like the teacher as a person. Often very well meaning knowledgeable people try to teach through talking about what can go wrong rather than through helping their students practice how to do things effectively. Remember that what programs actually do is more important than what their literature or representatives say they are going to do.

In KIDPOWER TEENPOWER FULLPOWER International, we do our best to uphold high standards for all of our services. Please let us know if ever we do not follow through on this commitment.


Make Personal Safety a Priority
KIDPOWER's basic principal is that each person's safety and self-esteem are more important than ANYONE's embarrassment, inconvenience, or offense. This principle is easy to agree with but hard to apply in real life. Most people hate to be embarrassed and are reluctant to embarrass other people. Most people hate to be bothered when they are busy and do not like to bother others. Finally, most people do not like to make other people mad at them and do not like to get mad at others. However, being able to put safety and self esteem ahead of embarrassment, inconvenience or offense is essential to being able to protect oneself from harm.

Remember that personal skills prepare people of any age to protect themselves from most bullying, molestation, assault and abduction. Knowing these skills increases most people's belief in themselves as being powerful, competent and valuable people. Believing oneself to be strong, capable and important is the most important personal safety skill we have ' and is also essential for being able to advocate for oneself effectively in most situations.

Create Safe Places and Teach Safety Strategies
Take charge of the safety of every place where children will be: at home, in child care, with friends, with family and at school. Be sure that the rules are clear, there is proper adult supervision, and there is a backup plan in case things go wrong. Think about safety with fire, water, cars and natural disasters as well as with people. Help children create experiences and develop attitudes to build their belief in themselves as being strong, capable and important. Children learn from what they see adults do, so be sure that YOU are modeling positive beliefs.

The KIDPOWER safety strategies are to: BE AND ACT AWARE, TAKE CHARGE, and GET HELP. Children are safest if they move in the world with awareness and confidence. Prepare children to notice what is happening around them and to stay away from danger. Help children develop the ability to set boundaries for themselves, including with people they care about, and to speak up when they have a problem. Teach them to walk away from a confrontation instead of escalating it, even if someone is rude. Encourage children to tell you and other trusted adults about their problems so that they can get help and so that they do not have to feel alone.

Teach children how to use these safety strategies in their daily lives. The younger a child is, the more literal that child is likely to be. Instead of telling scary stories and acting worried, explain and practice very clear rules. The older a child is, the more that child will want to feel like part of the team in figuring out what how to handle different problems. Discuss with children "What shall we do if...?" Children learn best if adults explain safety issues in a calm matter-of-fact way and then help them to be successful in practicing skills.

Make and Practice Personal Safety Plans
The safety plan for younger children is to MOVE AWAY NOW and CHECK FIRST with their adults when they notice anything they are not SURE is safe, a pot boiling over, a spider, a dog, a car, a clown, a river, a police officer or a stranger. Teach children that a stranger is someone who they do not know very well. Since most people are good, this means that most strangers are good. The safety plan for children is to MOVE AWAY NOW and CHECK FIRST before they let strangers get close to them, talk to them, or give them anything, even their own things. The safety rule for older children, teenagers and anyone else who does not have an adult to check first with is to THINK FIRST.

Children are more likely to be harmed by people they know than by strangers. Teach young people to CHECK FIRST with you or another caregiver before they change the plan even with people they know. Young people are safest if their adults know WHERE they are going, WHAT they are doing, and WHO they are with. If children are going to be out on their own, teach them how to call you or another caregiver so it is easy to check first.

Adapt the checking/thinking first rule to every place a child might go. Because homes are very different, make a safety plan that works for your situation about children checking before they open the door. Teach young people not to give personal information on the telephone or over the Internet. Teach them not to admit to being home alone. Make safety plans for how you want children to get help when they are: in a store, home alone, at a friend's house, lost, at camp, or at school. Discuss, "What is our safety plan if we get separated?" Make sure children know your telephone number, how to use different types of telephones, and how to call 911.

Explain that the safety plan is different in emergencies where a child cannot check first, such as being trapped in a fire, lost in the woods, or too hurt to move. In that case, the safety plan is to get help, even from a stranger.

Build Clear Boundaries
The purpose of boundaries is to protect our personal space, bodies, time, feelings, and well-being and to contain our impulses to intrude on the boundaries of others. The KIDPOWER principles for setting boundaries with people we know are: "I belong to myself"; "Some things are not a choice"; "Anything that bothers me should not have to be a secret"; and "If I have a problem, I should tell an adult I trust and keep telling until I get the help I need". The more you can teach young people to understand and protect their own boundaries and to see and respect the boundaries of others, the safer they are going to be.

Help children to identify and take the power out of their triggers (thoughts, words or behavior that cause them to explode with feelings) so that they will not be ruled by what others say and do. Coach children to look at you, tell you in a clear calm voice with polite firm language and to use their bodies to get you to stop different intrusions. Practice by: standing too close; starting to tickle; pushing to do something unsafe; creating emotional pressure "Don't you like me?"; offering a bribe; or presenting a threat (You HAVE to do what I say!").

The "I have a Safety Problem" Signal
Be sure that children know that you want them to tell you if they have a problem even if they promised someone not to. Explain that you might be busy and get annoyed when you are interrupted. Teach children that they sometimes have to wait if they want something, but to interrupt and keep asking if they need help. Teach children to persist in getting your attention by saying, "I have a safety problem!" Ask children sometimes, "Is there anything you have been wondering or worrying about that you have not told me?"

Reasons older children give for not talking to adults are: "I'm afraid they'll get upset, give me a lecture or start yelling at somebody. OR "They never do anything." OR "The people I told on will take revenge on me." OR "I broke too many rules to tell." OR "I want to be grownup enough to handle things myself." OR "I want to be loyal to my friends."

If you want young people to come to you with their problems, you have to be a good listener. NO MATTER WHAT a child or teenager tells you, your first job is to take a breath and do your best to stay calm. Put away any upset feelings even if this feels almost impossible. Start with a matter of fact statement like, "I am glad you told me." Remember that you DO want young people to feel safe with you, even if they have done something wrong. Remember that mistakes are part of learning and that testing the rules is part of growing up. After you have listened and fully understood what happened, then you can take whatever action seems appropriate.

Give Permission to Use Self Defense Skills Appropriately
Any strong resistance will stop most assaults. Often, young people won't protect themselves because they don't want to get in trouble. Tell children that fighting is a last resort, and that they have your permission ONLY if someone is about to harm them and they cannot leave or get help. Explore the option of self-defense training through programs such as KIDPOWER.


1. Address Bullying - It's Not Harmless
Bullying behavior--whether it's through threatening words or gestures, physically hurting, name-calling, mimicking, harassing, or shunning (isolating someone)--is a destructive force in the lives of too many kids. Being the victim of a bully is an attack on a young person's self esteem and joy in life. Being the bully allows a child to build behavior that will be destructive socially and professionally later in life. Witnessing bullying creates an upsetting distracting environment in which to play and work and learn. Potential bullies, victims, and witnesses can learn to be assertive rather than aggressive or passive in dealing with problems that they experience directly or that they see happening.

2. Make bullying against the rules
Make sure that your child's school has a clear written Violence and Harassment Prevention Policy that everyone agrees to uphold. Tune in when kids are acting upset with each other and help them learn skills for handling conflict. Set an example for your children by not allowing people to bully you and by exercising the self control necessary not to bully others. At home, work at stopping bullying behavior with the same commitment that you would use in stopping someone from throwing all the dishes on the floor and breaking them.

3. Teach kids to act aware and confident
Bullies pick on kids who act scared, oblivious, or defensive. An alert, assertive attitude can help possible victims and witnesses stop most bullying before it starts.

4. Teach kids target denial skills
Target denial is an official martial arts technique that means, "Don't be there!" Target denial means not giving a bully a physical advantage by being too close. For example, kids can move away from someone who they know is a problem. Target denial means not giving a bully an emotional handle. One technique is to leave by smiling and waving and saying cheerfully, "No, thanks!" very calmly and sincerely instead of acting scared or angry.

5. Teach kids the power of words
Teach your children how to protect themselves from words and by using words. Kids tell us that trying to "just ignore it when someone says something mean to you" doesn't really work. Stop serious name-calling with the same commitment that you would use to stop serious hitting. Teach kids to protect themselves from hurting words by imagining throwing them into a garbage can instead of taking them inside their hearts or their heads. Teach kids not to let insults, rude behavior, or guilt trips trigger them into feeling intimidated or emotionally coerced by a bully. Kids need to learn how not to let what others say or do control their choices. They also need to learn how not to behave in emotionally damaging ways towards others. Teach kids how to set clear strong verbal boundaries in a respectful assertive way with people they know.

6. Teach kids to defend themselves physically
To be effective in using other bully prevention tactics, kids need to know that they can protect themselves physically. As a last resort, kids need to know if and when and how they can hurt someone to stop that person from hurting them.

7. Teach kids to get help
Be someone your kids can come to with their problems without fear of you overreacting or belittling them or lecturing or getting mad at them. Even if the issues they bring might seem trivial to you, these issues usually seem big to them. Most of the time, kids just need someone to listen so they won't feel alone. Being able to talk about problems can help a child figure out what to do and put things into perspective. Having our kids in the habit of talking to us can also alert us to more serious issues.

8. Give kids the chance to practice
Kids learn more by doing than by being told what to do. Programs such as KIDPOWER and TEENPOWER give kids the chance to develop skills that can change their lives in a few short hours. We also offer programs for adults on how to present and practice these skills with their children.


QUESTION: I have just learned that a sex offender is living in our neighborhood. What should I do to protect my children?

ANSWER: It must be frightening to learn that someone who is known to be dangerous is living near you. Your job is to protect and empower your children without terrifying them.

Irrational solutions that serve the sole purpose of helping you feel safer can make the situation more difficult. Telling children, "Never walk on that side of the street!" or, "Never sit on anyone's lap!" can cause them confusion and anxiety.

Simply telling children what you want them to do in any situation in your neighborhood --and giving them the chance to practice -- is far more effective. Make sure that people who are supervising your younger children stay with them at all times.

Tell children who are old enough to go out on their own, "Our safety rule is that you will check with me first before you change your plan about whom you are with, where you go, and what you are doing. Do not go into someone's house or yard until I agree that it is okay. I also want you to check with me first about when it is okay to open our door to someone."

Role-play so children can practice walking away and checking first in a variety of situations. Include the opportunity to practice walking away from a nice person trying to talk them into coming close to look at something interesting "for just a minute".

While feeling upset about what someone has done is normal, demonizing this individual will serve no purpose and will not help your children be safer. It is important to be realistic. Legally, this man has served his time and can live anywhere he wants. The truth is that most of the people who harm children are not registered on lists. This man is likely to be the first person suspected by authorities if a crime is committed.

At the same time, people who have harmed others sometimes repeat their behavior. This means that you want to make sure that your children are never alone with this person, do not go to his house or into his yard, and do not let him into your home.

If children living in the house where this man is staying are friends with yours, having them come over is fine, but you want to be aware of the possibility that they might have been abused. Children who have been abused who have not had help are most likely to harm themselves, but they might do something abusive to others.

The best way for your children to protect themselves from abuse is to be able to set boundaries and to get help if they need it. Supervise your children's play with all children, including these, until you are sure that they have these skills. Both you and your children need to be able to say "No" to invitations that would break your safety rules without letting embarrassment or guilt stop you from setting clear boundaries.

Positive, practical personal safety workshops for adults and children, such as those offered by KIDPOWER, can be very helpful in reducing worry and increasing competence.


Right after the shootings at Columbine High School, a six-year-old girl in a workshop at a private school asked me, "What if someone comes to our school and starts shooting everybody?" Along with all of the other adults in the room, I looked into her little face and felt ill that she even had to wonder about it.

The issue of armed violence in schools becomes heart-breakingly and urgently on our minds each time a new  takes place. The threat of violence looms over all children no matter where they live or what their family situation is. It is important to address the concerns of children as gun violence is occurring more frequently and is ever-present in the media. Although nothing works all of the time, the following suggestions can help children to feel less helpless and more prepared.

Be a Safe Calm Person to Talk To
Children of any age need to know that adults are willing to listen to their fears. It is important that adults treat children with respect when they talk about their problems. You need to find a balance between listening and supporting without burdening children with your own fears.

Because of your own anxieties, it might be tempting to try to make children feel better in the moment by pretending that the situation is not really that bad. If you act like something is too terrifying even to talk about, this will make children more afraid. They might want to protect you by not sharing their fears and this can leave them feeling really alone. It can also be hard not to overreact and sound panic-stricken yourself. If their adults are overwhelmed and afraid, this can be traumatic for children.

Children need adults to listen and explain what is happening and what they should do as calmly and matter-of-factly as possible. Tell children to tell you if ANYONE is making them uncomfortable about ANYTHING. Having children in the habit of talking to you will help you to judge whether or not a situation is potentially dangerous.

Make Sure it is Safe to Tell At School
It is your job as an adult to take charge of the environments in which your children spend time as best you can. Make sure that your school has a plan for dealing with armed violence just like any other emergency. Make sure that adults are trained in how to deal with a child who makes a report about another child. One girl who was in a very exclusive school in a quiet neighborhood heard a boy bragging about his gun. When she told the principal, the gun was found and the boy was suspended. However, the principal handled the situation in a way that caused the girl to be identified and then he put her back into the classroom. The boy's friends threatened to kill her. The trauma she went through could have been prevented if the school officials had understood how important it was to protect the girl's identity.

What Adults Can Say to Children About What Happens to People's Minds and Bodies in an Emergency

You can tell children, "Any time you have an emergency--like a car wreck, an earthquake, a flood, a tornado, or somebody being dangerous-- your first feeling will most likely be disbelief. You will probably think, 'It's not true. It is impossible! This can't be! The sooner you can get over your disbelief and see what is actually happening, the sooner you can start to protect yourself."

"Next, you will probably experience some very strong feelings because of chemical in your body called adrenaline. Adrenaline can make you feel full of energy, or it can make you feel shaky, weak or sick to your stomach. Sometimes all of these feelings come at the same time, which can be a bit confusing. Your body might go into a panic and want to run or freeze or start fighting, whether it makes sense or not. The GOOD NEWS is that you can learn to use the energy from your adrenaline to give you LOTS OF POWER while still thinking clearly so you can make the safest choices for yourself. If you practice the safest way to handle different emergencies, you will be able to act quickly because your body will already know what to do."

Rehearsing how to handle different emergencies through role plays can prepare children to react effectively and quickly -- and to have their adrenaline work for them instead of against them.

What Adults Can Say to Children About Getting Away, Getting Hurt, and Getting Help
Most children want to know what to do if the worst happens. It is less upsetting to imagine a plan than to keep imagining disaster. You can tell children, "The safest thing to do almost always if someone starts waving a gun or a knife or starts shooting is to get away right away as quickly and quietly as you can." You will almost always be safer if you keep running away even if the person with the gun tells you to stop. Even if the person is saying he or she will hurt someone else if you run, the best chance you have for helping that person is to run away and get help.

It is good for children to have a safety plan for how to get out of a building in case of danger ' whether the danger comes from a fire or a person. You can say, "Your job is to get out of the building as far from the danger as possible. So let's think about everywhere you might be and how you might get out if you need to. You can go out the door or, if you have to, jump out of the window. If you can not get out and the danger is from a fire, look for a place near a window, away from the fire and yell for help. If the danger is from a person and you cannot get out, look for a place to hide that covers up all of you."

It is worth getting injured to get away from someone who is shooting. One of the boys at Columbine escaped by throwing himself out the window. He got cut up badly but he survived and is having a good life. Most of the children who were standing still in shock or who were hiding under the tables got shot.

You can tell children, "You might need to get hurt in order to get away. If a gun shoots, it will be loud. The great thing about adrenaline is that it can help you to run fast, even if you are hurt or start to bleed. If you are hurt by a gun, you can get better most of the time, just like you get better most of the time when you fall down and get hurt and bloody."

Tell children, "Once you get out, as soon as you safely can, find an adult you trust to go to for help. Now, let's think about different places you might be and where you could go to get help after you got out." Take the time to brainstorm ideas about getting out and getting help with the children. Teach children how to call 911; their full name, address, and telephone number; and how to use different types of telephones.

What Adults Can Say to Children About Kids Having Weapons At School
You can tell children that, Sometimes kids like to joke or brag about having or using guns or bombs or about hurting animals or people. Most of the time, they are just pretending, but once in a while, they are not. If someone is talking like this, this person might have big problems and I want you to tell me about it as soon as you can.

Young people need to know how to get away from anyone who makes them uncomfortable without saying what they think. This might mean that they have to lie to stay safe and say, of course I won't tell. or even, Yes, I think that's cool. They might have to agree with the person who is being weird or scary, even with a big insult like saying, Yes, you're right, my mom is a creep (or worse).

It is urgent that, if someone is acting in a way that could be dangerous, children go an adult they trust and say something like, This is about my safety and about the safety of others here at our school. I need you to promise to protect me from other people knowing that I am the one who is telling you this. I want you to call my parents (or another safe adult) right away so they can be with me.

If children don't feel safe with any adult at school, it is important that they tell their parents or another safe adult as soon as they can. The school needs to know if there is possible danger. In some situations it may be necessary to make a telephone call to the school anonymously--which means not telling your name--to someone in charge, like the principal. Anonymous telephone calls or notes will only be taken seriously if there are as many specifics as possible included in the message.

Whether and How to Practice
If children are really worried about somebody shooting at school, or any other kind of emergency, practicing can help them manage that worry. In the private school workshop that I mentioned at the beginning, when the little girl asked her question, the anxiety in the room was huge. All of the children, and their teachers and parents, were looking at me, needing an answer.

I said, "Television makes it seem as if scary things like this are happening all the time. But this isn't true. Most of us will live long happy lives and never have to worry about somebody starting to shoot people at school. But it is good to know what to do in an emergency. Most of the time, the safest thing you can do is leave quickly and quietly when someone is acting violent. Just get up and get out. Suppose that I started acting dangerous. Look around and see if you know how to get out of this room... now, all of you, very quietly leave the room."

Thirty children found one of the three exits and silently streamed outside. Then they came back and we went on with our workshop.

Think about the Underlying Issues
In order to create long-term change, each of us needs to find our own ways of helping to address the underlying issues that lead to violence. Important actions can include:
- Establishing school policies that make violence, threats and harassment against the rules with clearly defined consequences.
- Providing education and policies to stop prejudice, bullying, and harassment.
- Mentoring a troubled child;
- Monitoring and being aware of the ways in which television, video games, music, the Internet and movies normalize violence for our children.
- Educating school personnel, law enforcement officials, and parents about warning signals.
- Making sure that school counseling is available to families whose children show signals of problems as early in their lives as possible.
- Helping young people learn conflict resolution, self-protection, boundary-setting, and confidence skills through organizing and supporting programs such as KIDPOWER.


Be sure that the children in your life KNOW that you will listen and help them if they have a problem with anyone, no matter whom. A lot of times children do not want to upset or worry the important adults in their lives. Without direct, ongoing encouragement, some children will withhold information that is crucial to their personal safety. If you are distracted and busy, children are likely to try to solve their problems themselves, especially as they get older and especially if they think they might have done something that will make you mad at them. If you give lectures or get irritated when children try to talk to you about small issues, they are likely to get in the habit of not telling you about potentially big problems.

With younger children, just ask them from time to time, "Is there anything you have been wondering or worrying about that you have not told me?" and then WAIT for the answer. With older children, keep reminding them, "I really want to know if you have a problem, even if it might have been your fault or even if it is with someone who is important to me. I promise to listen until you have had a chance to tell me the whole story. If I start to lecture, you can interrupt me and ask me to keep listening."

In TEENPOWER, we tell our students that it is normal for the adults who love them to get upset about a possible threat to their safety. We suggest that they give their adults a little warning by saying, "I have something to tell you that you are not going to like. Please listen to me until I am done."

Because young people are most likely to be bothered by people in a position of trust and authority, it might be hard to hear that someone you care about is being inappropriate or even dangerous with your child. Remember that your child's safety is more important than ANYONE's embarrassment, inconvenience or offense. So LISTEN to children, no matter what they tell you or who the problem is with. Remember that you can get outside help if the problem is a big one and that there are many low cost and free resources for counseling if you look for them.


One of my earliest memories is of my father taking me to see the movie "The War of the Worlds" which is about machine-like creatures invading the earth. This was in the days before movie ratings and "Daddy" thought he was going to have a fun outing at the movie theater with his little girl. Instead, I startled him by screaming and crying. I kept crawling into his lap and trying to squeeze myself under his arm. No matter how much Daddy tried to reassure me, each new image on the movie screen brought me into a deeper state of panic. Finally, he gave up and carried me wailing out of the theater.

I remember that Daddy was deeply puzzled and embarrassed by my behavior. After all, it was just a silly movie. What was the matter with me? He hugged me and kissed me and put me to bed, thinking that was the end of it. But it wasn't. What my father never knew is that I absolutely could not sleep with my closet door open for over FIFTEEN YEARS after that. Somehow I had gotten the idea that, late at night, "THEY" could get into my room through the closet. The good news is that closing the closet door in your bedroom is a relatively simple way to help yourself feel safe!

As adults, we should not underestimate how long fearful ideas can stay with children - unless something else is put in their place. Many studies have shown that just raising awareness also raises anxiety. Practicing skills, however, reduces anxiety and increases competence. This is why it is so important to make sure that we don't just talk about the bad things that might happen if a child isn't careful. This also means that it probably won't work to just tell a fearful child soothingly, "It's all right. Don't be scared." Instead, a child is most likely to be less scared and more able to act in a careful way if that child is given the chance to practice what to do in different situations.

The mother of a four-year-old girl brought her timid daughter, who we'll call Zoe, to our KIDPOWER Parent-Child workshop. Zoe's mother had told us that she was worried because Zoe acted a lot of the time as if she felt helpless and scared. When Carol, who was the teacher of this workshop, asked the group, "What's a stranger?", Zoe raised her hand and said dramatically, "A stranger is someone who cuts off your head!" Carol said, "That's a scary picture that you have in your mind. But do you know what? We at KIDPOWER believe that most people are good! This means that most strangers are good. But because you don't know them, there are safety rules you can follow." Carol went on to practice skills with the children and their parents for being safe both with strangers and with people you know. At the snack break, Zoe ran up to Carol and said excitedly, "Do you know WHAT?" "WHAT?" Carol asked her. "I have POWER!" Zoe said, enthusiastically. Zoe's mom and Carol glanced at each other and exchanged a smile, feeling successful.

We want all children to feel safe - and powerful - in their imaginations. We can prevent many fears from forming by being aware of the impact on our children of things they see or overhear. If our children are acting fearful, we can ask questions and listen sympathetically to their answers. We can give them hopeful information. And finally, we can help our children practice ways of taking good care of themselves. THE SAFETY OF CHILDREN IS EVERYBODY'S BUSINESS

I often ride my bike through a large park. The path to the beach is sometimes peacefully empty, sometimes crowded with families, and sometimes isolated with only a drunk man or two stumbling out of the bushes. The latter gentlemen I always wave cheerfully to, but their behavior occasionally makes me glad I know self defense.

One day, I saw a very little girl, barely walking and clutching her doll wandering apparently alone. I looked around but could see no one at that moment except for two women on a trail to the side far in the distance. I stopped and the little girl came trustingly towards me and said, "Hi! I'm Annie!" "Where's your Mommy, Annie?" I asked. She pointed towards the two women, who waved at her. Absorbed in their conversation, the two women then turned their backs and started to walk quickly down the trail, leaving Annie alone except for me.

There are many different kinds of hazards in the world for an unsupervised toddler and I couldn't bear to leave her. "Annie, show me how quick you can run to your Mommy," I said. Doll tucked under her arm, she started running towards the women, but her baby legs couldn't possibly catch up. I called out to the women and they stopped just around the bend of the trail, almost out of sight. "You keep doing a good job of running and we'll wait for you, Annie," I told the little girl. Then I rode my bike up to the women, glancing back to make sure Annie was still on her way to us. The two women stood there silently looking at me uncertainly.

With all the warmth and kindness that I could muster, I started talking. "Thank you for stopping. I don't mean to be rude, but there are news stories about all sorts of awful things that happen to kids and I don't want them to happen to Annie. I feel scared when you let her get so far from you. This is a beautiful place and I think you feel safe here because we are in nature. But I have had some scary incidents with men myself here. Anyway, young children need you right next to them ALL the time EVERYWHERE. You can't believe how quickly they can get hurt by doing things that would never occur to us." The women thanked me and we kept talking until Annie caught up with us.

This situation was clear, but sometimes it's tough to know when to step in and when to mind our own business. It's hard to know what to say. When we see situations that might be dangerous or abusive for children, we often hesitate to speak up. We worry about whether we have the right to interfere. After all, these are not OUR children. We also worry about making the situation worse for the child.

I have come to believe that the safety of children is always everybody's business. Child abuse and neglect thrive when people mind their own business instead of taking action when they can. To intervene successfully and safely, we first need to notice what is happening and try to have compassion for the adult as well as for the child. People do get overwhelmed. People often lack child management skills. People are often damaged by things that happened to them and have poor boundaries. Most of us are not born knowing how to take care of ourselves or each other.

The most effective approach is usually to acknowledge the feelings of the adult in a respectful way and then state our concerns in a positive way. If we become attacking, we will most likely make the problem bigger, not better.

With permission, we might offer to carry something for an exhausted adult, or entertain the child for a few minutes to give the adult a break. I usually carry stickers and crayons in my bag just to have something easy to give a child to do.

If a parent is screaming at a child, we might say something like, "It looks like you are having a hard time. It is hot and crowded here, isn't it. I am wondering if there is anything I can do to help." My experience is that people are often hungry for kindness and embarrassed, but appreciative. People might get annoyed, but realizing that their behavior is noticed by others usually makes them more likely to control themselves.

On a couple of occasions, I have literally stopped people from slapping their young children. In one situation, a little boy had wandered out of an open front door and I was bringing him back to his mother. In the other, a little girl had slipped through the railing around a cliff while her babysitter was sitting on a bench, and I had called out to the woman to grab the child before she fell.

Both times, the adults had their hands raised to hit but I stepped in very close and distracted them by saying very sympathetically and firmly, "Hi, I can see that you feel upset because that was scary, but your little one is too young to understand. I believe that kids learn the wrong things when you hit them." Both times, the women didn't hit, looked surprised, and we talked some more.

Once I waited by a car in the middle of a huge parking lot where two young children were playing in the back seat with no adult in sight. When their father got back, I said, "Hi, I know you are busy, but I am sure that you must really care about your children. I felt afraid when I saw them left alone like this." He looked startled, but then thanked me.

Since children spend so much time in school, all adults need to become advocates for creating school environments that are emotionally and physically safe. We should hold schools at least to the same standards that we would hold a professional work setting in terms of addressing harassment and bullying.

Of course, if we suspect that serious child abuse is occurring, it is each of our responsibility to report our concerns to the appropriate authority in our area.

KIDPOWER's underlying principle is that the safety and self esteem of a child are more important than anyone's embarrassment, inconvenience, or offense. By setting aside our own discomfort about speaking up and by risking the displeasure of someone else when we do it, we are sending a powerful message to young people that their well being is our top priority.

What We Can Do to Stay Centered and Safe in a Sometimes Scary World

Terrorist attacks like the tragic events of September 11 are a shocking reminder that we are vulnerable, that the physical security of ourselves and those we care about is not guaranteed, and that our world can change in an instant.

For many of us, a terrorist attack, like child abuse, feels more personally horrifying than an illness or natural disaster because it is being done deliberately by people who intend to hurt other people who are innocent. We all grieve for those who were harmed--and for the innocent bystanders who might unavoidably be harmed while the guilty parties are searched for and found.

Our challenge in the midst of all this is to keep finding our balance. The truth is that in this uncertain world the truest safety we have is the safety we create within ourselves. Being terrified in the face of terrorism only makes us miserable--and accomplishes the goal of terrorism, which is to create widespread fear and instability.

The truth is that we cannot control everything that happens to us. We have to accept that some things are out of our control so that we can live our lives to the fullest while taking care of the things that are under our control.

Most of us, in the weeks and months after a traumatic event, will have the opportunity for conversations about this tragedy both with children and with adults. We can help create safe emotional spaces for the people around us to find healing, perspective, and paths to meaningful action. The most powerful meaning we can make of any tragedy is to work together to create a better world for everyone.

When a major tragedy takes place, it is very likely that most children will either hear or see something either at school, from television, or by listening to the adults around them. It is important to realize that the wave of reaction in children's lives is likely to get bigger before it gets smaller. While we don't want to create more fear, we do want to address any concerns that children already have in ways that are age appropriate and empowering.

*Here are some actions you can take for your children and yourselves:
Get support for your feelings but do not process them with your children
It is normal to feel sad, scared, and angry when bad things happen. For their emotional safety, your children need your hope and confidence, not your despair and fear. Be aware that children often overhear adults when they appear not to be listening. Give yourself space to express your feelings with other adults, to nurture yourself and then to move into positive action.

Get help if you are feeling anxious or depressed
No matter what is happening in the world, you have the right to live your own life as joyfully and fully as possible. Talk with family or friends. Go to professional counseling if you need to. You do not have to be upset all alone.

Manage a burst of anxiety by doing the same centering exercise we teach in our classes--feel your feet by wiggling your toes, feel your hands by opening them and pressing them against something, loosen your elbows and knees, take a breath and let it out, then another; now, look around and focus on something near you. In a calm way, give kids space to talk about feelings while focusing on things they CAN do to stay safe.

Tell children the same thing we need to remember ourselves, "This is scary and very sad. But we are okay and we can keep ourselves safe most of the time, if we know how to do a few things and have a safety plan." Create an opening to talk about this tragedy or any other worry your child might have by asking, "Is there anything that you have been wondering or worrying about that you have not told me?"

Talk to your child if you have not done so already
For a younger child, you can explain even big upsetting events in a calm simple way. For example, about September 11th, an adult might have said, "Something sad happened that hurt a lot of people. We are okay, but you might hear about this, and I want you to know what happened. A few people did something very bad---they crashed airplanes into some big buildings and many people died. Now our country and most other countries in the world are making safety plans to help keep this from happening again. Do you have any questions? If you get worried, or start thinking about it a lot, I want you to tell me so we can talk."

Limit children's exposure to the media so they are not bombarded with terrifying images
Consider limiting your own exposure as well. There is a difference between staying informed and traumatizing ourselves unnecessarily.

Take a stand against the hatred that gets born of fear
Whenever a prejudiced comment is made, you can say something like, "One of the wonderful things about our world is that it's full of people from all different shapes and sizes and beliefs and colors and ideas. A few people doing something bad does not mean that everyone who seems like that person is bad. In fact, most people of any background are good."

Seek whatever form of spiritual guidance works for you
Focus on what you CAN do. Both children and adults have the power to make a difference through daily actions. By working together as a community, your actions can create change.

Viktor Frankl was a psychotherapist who was imprisoned in concentration camps in World War II. In that hopeless terrifying setting, he came to the conclusion that, while he could not control most outside events, he could choose how he would respond to those events. He created a form of psychotherapy called Logotherapy, which helps people heal by making meaning of their lives.

Most often, we can take charge of our safety. When things are out of our control, it is important to remember that, like Viktor Frankl, we can still choose to create safety within ourselves.

A Note from the Publisher:
To say I was impressed with the KIDPOWER program and instructor training is an understatement. KIDPOWER offers the most fully comprehensive, engaging and emotionally safe method of teaching children about safety and confidence building. The program has been updated and tweaked for 16 years and they're still working to improve it. I am currently in the process of establishing the New York presence. If you're interested in having us come to your school to teach the program, let us know. For those of you who are interested in becoming trainers and fight the good fight, the next training session will be in February 2006. KIDPOWER TEENPOWER FULLPOWER International also offers training in how to teach teenagers and adults, including people with disabilities. The next TEENPOWER/FULLPOWER training will take place April 29th through May 3rd, 2005.

I hope you will consider making a donation to help this excellent nonprofit organization; reach out to people all over the world. If each reader of this web page just gave $5, it would make a huge difference in KIDPOWER's ability to make their services available to those most in need.

WR Mann, President, Realfighting