I was amazed when I read the story about Sailor Gutzler, the 7 year-old that was the sole survivor of the fatal plane crash that killed her parents, sister and cousin. She crawled from the burning wreckage, barefoot and with broken bones, using the fire to light a stick to guide her way a mile into the woods to find help by knocking on a stranger’s door. Sailor’s instincts and will to survive through such tragedy is awe-inspiring, for any adult, much less a young child. Was Sailor’s reaction one of pure adrenaline or survival skill training her dad taught her? That brings us back to the age old nature vs. nurture question. Can survival skills be taught or is it instinct? There are arguments either way
I immediately thought about my 6 year-old daughter and wondered if she would know what to do in such a scenario. We teach our kids a lot of skills; getting dressed, making a simple meal, doing homework, reading and writing, being polite, etc. What about survival skills? There are many ways to present these skills to a young audience. For example, some parents play the ‘What would you do?’ game with their children by asking questions based on hypothetical scenarios. Another example is an app called Let’s Get Ready, which is a Sesame Street app that presents safety ideas and checklists in an easy to understand format. While some other parents, and classrooms too, might run fire and earthquake safety drills. Yet others, in what most would call more extreme cases, might prepare their families by mocking apocalyptic-type lifestyles such as in the TV shows Off The Grid and Doomsday Preppers, among others.
But really, can any amount of ‘preparation’ teach us to be ready for such tragedy and danger? Let’s hypothetically imagine for a moment that we’re in the midst of an armed bank robbery. Some people’s instinct might be to be the hero in the situation, jumping to the rescue of everyone. Others might choose to freeze up, stay quiet and/or be emotional. While still others might begin to devise an escape route. People can react in any number of ways to this situation. However we have no clue as to what each person’s background is and what amount of survival skill training each person has in this hypothetical scenario. Is the person that jumped into the hero role a retired police officer? Is the person that froze up a parent and therefore was thinking of their family first? Or is it the other way around?
I think there is no way to tell how a person will react to catastrophe, no matter the amount of training they receive, until they are faced with such an event. There are still those that receive a lot of training, such as EMTs or soldiers, just as an example, that still freeze up. That being said however, I think there is no harm in considering preparing your children for such events by asking hypothetical questions, playing the ‘What would you do’ game, teaching them how to dial 9-1-1 and explaining what constitutes as an emergency. This can only empower them in the instance such as Sailor Gutzler’s, where she did react and take charge of her situation, whether it was instinct or taught skills or a combination of both. She is a survivor both ways and the motivation to teach our children some survival skills can stem from her tragic story.