A lot of situations we teach our children about come up all the time. They get plenty of practice looking both ways before crossing the street, for example. However, there are some situations that you hope never come up: finding an unattended gun or medication, being solicited for personal information online, etc.

We roleplay these situations, but not very frequently. It occurs to me that a secret drill might be the only way to really make sure they've internalized your teaching. Sort of like a fire drill except they don't know it's a drill.

Should you secretly drill your children? Why or why not? If so, what's the best way to go about it? How should you react if they "fail"? Is there a better way to test them without testing them?

2 Answers 2


When I leave my older children home alone one of our rules is if the doorbell rings you do not answer the door, no matter what. The first several times I left them I would randomly ring the doorbell or pound on the door... sometimes persistently. The first couple of times they forgot and came to the window or door, one time saying "but I KNEW it was you!" Drilling them in that way helped them internalize the rule and now no matter how persistent I am at the door they won't approach it. I think finding ways like this to reinforce teachings is important.

I've done something similar to the computer. When they were younger they were only allowed to play online with me next to them and I slowly moved away as they learned the rules. Through repetition I taught them safety rules on line and now that they are more autonomous they are awesome about stopping and getting me whenever anything in a gray area happens. I never did a physical drill but I repeated instructions (like only friend people online that you know in real life first) often enough and I did not give them the freedom to play on their own until they demonstrated the ability to strictly adhere to these rules.

Instead of drills, per se, I think it is more important to not grant children the freedom to do something until they've demonstrated the necessary safety skills associated with it.

  • 3
    I hope you never lock your keys inside! Mar 28, 2013 at 14:25
  • Lol... never thought of that, fortunately we have a coded garage that will get me in sans keys.
    – Heidi
    Mar 28, 2013 at 15:53

I'm in two minds on this one- part of me thinks that if they realise it is a drill they will treat the situation with less respect in future, but on the other hand practice can help them get it right.

We don't drill, instead we discuss risk, risk appetite and risk management with our kids (as it is my day job) in order that they understand fully the risks to themselves. This then helps them self-motivate to minimise risk to an acceptable level, and I hope sets them up well for their future.

  • Interesting answer. I have read somewhere (unfortunately I can't remember where) that teenagers, and teenage boys in particular, have a very skewed way of calculating risk, which is supposedly why there are so many serious road accidents involving young male drivers: it's not that they didn't think of the risks, it's just that they thought about them in a completely different way from how you or I might. Do you think that by teaching your children about risk from a young age (I don't actually know how old yours are) you might mitigate against this effect?
    – Vicky
    Apr 23, 2013 at 14:29
  • Driving risks do seem to be managed differently in a child's head, but I am also using this technique for driving. My eldest is nearly 13 and has had his karting licence for many years. I am coaching him in IAM methods of risk management, so we'll see.
    – Rory Alsop
    Apr 23, 2013 at 14:56

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