I've used this simple game to help my children prepare for situations in the future when they are on their own as well as prepare for missions as a NAVY SEAL.
My oldest son is 12. He wanted to go to see his cousins in the Florida Keys when they were going to visit their grandparents this summer.
You can imagine how disappointing it was to find out the annual trip would not happen this year. He was bummed, to say the least.
I came up with the idea of him flying on his own. His aunt and grandmother agreed to host him for the two weeks of the trip. He and his brother have flown as unaccompanied minors a dozen times and knew the routine well. This time he would do it all by himself. He felt ready and agreed. We bought tickets.
A week later, I learned about an incident involving a 13-year-old unaccompanied minor that made me pause.
The girl was inappropriately spoken to and touched and eventually started crying(1). Within 30 minutes the flight attendant noticed and moved the girl. The man was arrested.
Like I said, my older son has extensive experience flying unaccompanied, but all of his flights have been short, single legged flights with his younger brother. There is strength in numbers.
Not only would my son be flying alone, but he would also be flying from San Francisco to Key West, an all day trip with a plane change.
He would depend on many strangers to take care of him and make sure he gets into the care of his aunt and grandmother.
My Navy SEAL training taught me a lot about managing risks by being ready for anything and everything that could happen.
I was confident that my son had the maturity and experience to make this trip alone without issue if it was a “normal” trip. But was he ready for the unexpected?
What a great opportunity to play the “what if” game.
The “what if” game is a very powerful practice I learned from my parenting mentor Susie Walton and is used by businesses and psychologists to spur innovative thinking (2).
It is very similar to a part of the SEAL mission planning process where my SEAL Platoon would try to anticipate everything that could go wrong and talk through our contingency plans.
So if you son or daughter resists playing the what if game, just tell them a NAVY SEAL taught it to you!
I recommend that you “play” the “what if” game with your children before situations where they will be on their own. Examples include:
Walking somewhere alone or when they may encounter strangers
Going on a field trip
Going to a friends house to play for the first time
The “what if” game is a simple series of questions that places your child into situations to have them work out ahead of time how they would react.
Design your “what it” questions to start benign and get harder and more complex as you go. Each answer they give might spur a follow on question or discussion.
The key to the "what if" game is to stay curious, there are no wrong answers, just good questions, and conversation.
The “what if” game allows you to review everything they know, build their confidence about what to do, explore situations that are unlikely to happen, and also help them remember everything they need to do.
The “what if" game helps them build intuition and eventually wisdom on how to act with strangers and in strange and unusual situations.
Now back to my son flying all alone for the first time.
Time to play the “what if” game with him to make sure he knows what to do every step of the way.
“What if everyone gets off the plane and no flight attendant comes and gets you?”
This question is important not because I think it's going to happen, but because it gets him thinking about his responsibility for making sure he gets the care he needs.
“What if you look at your watch and realize that your connection leaves in just 20 minutes because of a flight delay?”
Again this is a great situational awareness question. Until this question, he did not consider that he could influence the situation.
“What if you sit next to someone who likes to talk to you?”
It is important that he knows that it's ok to talk to strangers, especially one sitting on a plane with you for hours at a time.
It is time to ask some harder questions. The .01% of situations that I pray never happen.
This can be tricky.
I don't want him to be scared or worried. My goal is to increase has awareness, options, and confidence.
“What if the person next to you says or does things that make you feel uncomfortable?”
He comes up with the idea to say he needs to go to the bathroom and then tell the flight attendant. We talk about how the conversation with the flight attendant might go, and we practice the conversation a couple of times.
He comes up with other ways to get help like yelling.
I finish the game with a few questions related to once he gets to his grandmother’s house. I purposely end on easy questions and fun situations to boost his confidence and encourage him.
My son looks confident. I am also feeling more confident in him.
My son is ready to travel on his own!
Here are some general guidelines and help you play the "what if" game and avoid pitfalls.
1. Stay curious. There may be an answer that you expect. If you don't hear it, ask yourself if their answer would work as well. Instead of giving them the answer, ask another open-ended question.
2. No leading the witness. "What if you do X?" is not a practical question for this game. You will sound like you are telling them what to do and that will generate resistance. Instead, offer ideas only when they feel stuck.
3. Ask easy questions first to build confidence. Build up to harder questions.
4. Take your child on a journey. Ask questions that move your child through the event from beginning to end. Don't jump to the crux situations first or save them for last. Instead, run from the start to the end much like you would tell a story.
5. Practice the solutions your child comes up with to engrain these new habits even further before he needs it.
6. Visualize to help your child see the situations and the solutions.
6. Keep it fun. If this feels like a chore or forced it will generate resistance.
(1) Here is the CNN article related to the plane incident. The girl’s parents are suing American Airlines for ten million dollars. http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/19/us/oregon-man-accused-of-groping-child-on-airline-flight/
(2) The “what if” game is also recommended as a tool to spur innovative thinking in students and businesses. For this approach check out this article written in Psychology Today.
All Topics community confidence conversations emotional self reliance emotions hero intelligence joy of parenting learning modeling navy seal navy seal father parenting preparing for the future preparing you child resistance rites of competence rites of passage self esteem space tantrums tone of voice