Swedish parents sharing their parenting tips
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Helping your child when Lost

We’ve all heard someone make a joke using the phrase: “hug a tree”. Well, it is actually part of a 5-point program. The Hug a Tree and Survive Program was developed in San Diego, California after a failed search for a nine-year old boy, who died in the local mountains. After this tragic death, a group of those searchers put together a program for children on how to stay comfortable if they get lost, and how to be spotted and found.

The 5-point method of survival is sometimes taught in schools. If your children’s school hasn’t discussed the Hug a Tree and Survive program, you can plan an afternoon picnic in the forest and teach your children yourself.

The 5-point method of the Hug a Tree and Survive program:

1. Hug a tree. It sounds silly, but it helps kids feel less panic-stricken. Hugging a tree helps kids understand that the forest is not a dangerous place. They are safe in the forest and the forest has natural materials children can use to help people find them and to survive for several hours. Explain to them that there is no reason to panic, that instead, they should make a plan.

2. Stay put! Teach your children to find a place that provides shelter from the elements, under a tree, in a crevice or under an overhanging rock, and to stay there. Wandering continuously will make it more difficult for people to find them, and, it will also drain the child of energy and heighten their fear.

3. Leave signs. It’s not uncommon for searchers to walk right past a lost child who is obscured by low growing shrubs or boulders: children should create a variety of visual signals announcing their presence in the area. Around the place where the child has chosen to wait, they should draw arrow marks on the ground, pointing to where they are. They can also leave other kinds of marks: tie bits of plastic or paper (not clothing!) from tree branches, scatter bits of paper or other objects on ground. Children can gather pinecones and arrange them on the ground in the shapes of arrows, or spell out their name, leading searchers to their waiting place. They can also break off thin branches and make crosses or other objects that stand out and look unusual, anything that will catch the eye of searching adults. Food should never be used for this purpose! Advise your kids to save any food they have until they are really hungry.

4. Build a shelter. Explain to children that it may be dark before they are found, and they should build a shelter. Pine boughs and branches can be made into a shelter that will help preserve their body heat and give them a place to rest and sleep. A shelter will also make them feel more secure in the dark.

5. Make noise! Sing, or whistle. Searching adults may not have the energy to keep calling as they search through the forest; so teach your kids to whistle or sing a song occasionally to let others know where they are. Singing will also calm them down. If your child doesn’t have a whistle with them, they can make a good whistle from a wide blade of grass. The blade of grass is held taut between the thumbs, and the child blows into the small space formed between the joints of the thumbs – oscillating the grass to make a very effective whistle.

Some discussion ideas
Going through the survival strategies step by step will help them memorize the steps. As you go through the steps, discuss things like “panic”; what it is and how children can overcome panic by using a plan. Explain how implementing a plan and keeping busy building a shelter will help them overcome fear and panic.

And, remember to always be well prepared for a forest outing. Equip your kids with warm clothes and proper shoes, even if it’s a warm summer day. Remember that temperatures in Sweden plummet when the sun sets. Instead of carrying all the food and supplies for the family in one container, let your kids keep food in their own backpack. And, make sure they have a warm jacket in the backpack. Other good articles to include in a child’s “forest” pack is a cup for drinking, a whistle, and if they are old enough, a useful tool such as a Swiss army knife to cut branches for a shelter.