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Firearm Self-Defense with Your Children Present

You’ve spent countless hours at the range sharpening your foundation skills and gaining speed and accuracy.

Classes? You have so many class hours under your gun belt you flat-out cannot fit more into your schedule.

Hold up, though.

Force on Force Training–something every gun owner should have.

Are you a parent? Do you know how to defend not only yourself but your kids?

As parents who are gun owners, we’re responsible for more than just teaching our kids the four golden rules of gun safety. We’re responsible for teaching our kids and ourselves what to do in case of a threat to our lives–a threat to their lives–and as with all firearms skills, those aren’t thing you learn in real-time.

You must train.

Teaching kids to shoot
Train with your kids!

Read on for some tips and training ideas for armed parents (and guardians) who will likely have their children around if a self-defense scenario presents itself.

Table of Contents


Safety First

Yes, safety needs to be mentioned. Whether you use the NRA’s Eddie Eagle or some other training tool to assist you in teaching your kids about firearms safety, get on it. It is your responsibility to teach your kids to be safe around firearms (and while shooting).

eddie eagle with kids
Eddie Eagle with kids

So, four golden rules, as per usual:

  1. All guns are always loaded.
  2. Never let the muzzle cover anything which you are not willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
  4. Always be sure of your target (and what is beyond it).

It doesn’t matter if your kid is four years old or seventeen years old–yeah, I have that full spectrum going on here–they should be safe around guns. All kids are different, meaning there is no one-size-fits-all age for adhering to safety rules and safe gun handling.

20-gauge shotguns like this Remington pump-action are great teaching tools for kids.
Kids can safely handle guns, as long as they’re properly trained and supervised!

You’ll have to deduce for yourself when your child is capable of consistently following directions then teach and supervise accordingly. Ignorance is never an excuse.

Check out more in our Kids & Guns 101: Safety, Age, and Recommendations article.

Cold, Hard Truth

The vast majority of what we learn in defensive handgun classes revolves around protecting ourselves. Yes, there are classes for couples and teams but those tend to be the exception rather than the rule.

As for classes geared specifically for parents, well, those are truly rare. They do exist–check out The Armed Parent/Guardian taught by Melody Lauer and John Johnston–but they’re hard to find.

Melody Lauer teaching The Armed Parent/Guardian.
Melody Lauer teaching The Armed Parent/Guardian.

There’s a trend in the world of female gun owners you’ll see time and again: women have an overwhelming tendency to finally carry a gun to protect not themselves but their children. And while there is nothing wrong with that it does mean a lot of women don’t seem to understand the importance of defending their own lives.

It’s like the oxygen mask demos they give on airplanes instructing you to place your own mask before putting a mask on your child. You are no good to your child if you’re dead, so you’d better be able to defend yourself. That brings us to our first point.

Oxygen Mask on Plane
Put your own safety first before helping others!

Protect Yourself

Before you can protect your child you need to be capable of defending yourself. If your entire focus is on using yourself as some sort of human shield or physical barrier, you’re doing it wrong.

Get a gun. Train with the gun. Carry the gun.

Know how to use your gun to defend your own life which will, in turn, enable you to defend your child. Before you train to defend your child, train to defend yourself.

You need those foundation skills in place before moving on to more advanced work. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: you are no good to your child if you are dead. Learn to stay alive.

In addition to trigger time you should be getting training in handgun retention and force-on-force. Be a well-rounded shooter, not just some guy who punches holes in paper while standing still on a firing line.
In addition to trigger time you should be getting training in handgun retention and force-on-force. Be a well-rounded shooter, not just some guy who punches holes in paper while standing still on a firing line.

Sacrificial lambs make lousy protectors because when you’re gone, you’re gone and they are on their own. Your life has enormous value, so act like it. Planning to throw yourself on a proverbial grenade is not a smart way to protect your kids.

Do It One-Handed

Shooting one-handed is an oft-neglected skill in the gun world. You need to be spending more time firing one-handed–and that’s with your strong and support hands–and drawing one-handed, too.

This means learning to cross-draw your firearm with your support hand without muzzling innocent bystanders or fumbling the draw. Not only is this a valuable skill to master in case you have a child holding onto your hand but it is important because your strong hand might be pinned, injured, or otherwise unusable.

Parent Self-Defense Class Recoil Web
Parent Self-Defense Class (Recoil Web)

Get your one-handed skills on point!

A few tips for shooting one-handed. When gripping the gun with just one hand you’re going to automatically assume a thumbs-down grip. You’ll have far more control with your thumb angled down in a closer approximation of a fist.

Grip tightly; the last thing you need when shooting with one hand is to lose control over the firearm.

pew pew Glock 20
I’ve found this stance, which is taught by Mas Ayoob, works best for me.

Aim the toes of your shooting-side foot toward your target. Blade your body behind whichever hand is holding the gun with the arm holding the gun fully extended. Your unused hand can be curled into a fist, bent at the elbow, and tucked into our body with your shoulder pulled back away from the target.

But if you have a child holding onto that so-called unused hand, dynamics change. More on that later. Learn to shoot accurately with one hand on your own before introducing other factors.

Lean into your target aggressively. Whether you leave your gun aligned in the traditional upright fashion or utilize the McMillian Tilt by canting the gun slightly inward is up to you and your needs.

car shooting john wick
John Wick rocks the McMillian Tilt!

The McMillan Tilt tends to work well for cross-dominant shooters and may improve your accuracy with one hand but not the other. Find out what works for you.

Consider Carry Positions

There are various schools of thought regarding where on your body to carry a gun when you have kids.

As a fan of AIWB (Appendix Inside the Waistband), I do tend to think it’s great when dealing with kids. In fact, I originally began carrying AIWB years ago because of my then-toddler daughter. If you’re going to be hoisting a child onto your hip the last thing you want to do is literally seat them on the grip of your gun.

Skinny jeans and an AIWB carry? Check!
Skinny jeans and an AIWB carry? Check!

Small of Back carry is a less-than-stellar plan since it not only slows your draw time but makes it much more difficult to draw without risking muzzling someone (like your child). You can certainly carry strong-side hip around the 3 o’clock position, and a lot of parents do, but you need to be aware of the pros and cons.

Small of Back Carry
Small of Back Carry

Having kids can and will influence how you carry your gun, as well it should. 

Be realistic. Train using your carry gun and its associated holster and belt.

This is a great time to mention holsters. I’d like to believe none of you are using floppy nylon holsters or unsafe wrap-style “holsters.”

It is always important to use a quality holster and with kids it becomes paramount. Your holster must protect the trigger guard, provide secure retention, keep your gun precisely placed at all times, and have a mouth that stays open after the draw for holstering.

Yes, you can conceal a handgun AIWB in skinny jeans and a form-fitting top. I wore this on a recent outing with all three kids.
Yes, you can conceal a handgun AIWB in skinny jeans and a form-fitting top. I wore this on a recent outing with all three kids.

Pair your quality holster with a good gun belt for maximum success. Yes, your belt matters.

Check out our top picks in Best Holsters and Best Belts.

Do You Even TQ?

There is no valid reason to fail to carry a tourniquet. If you’re carrying a tool designed to make holes you should be carrying one to deal with the after-effects of holes being made.

Having a good IFAK or first aid kit in your car is a wise plan but you also need to carry a tourniquet on your body. If you have an EDC you can also have an EDC TQ.
Having a good IFAK or first aid kit in your car is a wise plan but you also need to carry a tourniquet on your body. If you have an EDC you can also have an EDC TQ.

That is not to say you should be administering aid to your assailant–that would be a totally separate article–but to say you need to be able to save lives. Get a tourniquet and learn how to use it.

The CAT and SOFTT-W are great designs to carry. For small children, the RATS can work well but it is not recommended for adults.


Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Have a proper tourniquet, please. If you use it and still need more, learn how to effectively improvise, but do not make half-ass measures your go-to. You’re a parent and a gun owner so I would like to assume you’re a responsible adult… right?


Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Take My Hand/Don’t Take My Hand

The age of your kids matters a lot for this one as does their individual comprehension.

When my daughter was little it was a simple enough thing to teach her not to hold my strong hand. I’m right-handed which meant I actively taught her to walk on my left-hand side and not to grab for my strong hand if something scary happened.

Firm Grip
Hold your gun like this? Your right hand is your strong hand.

She knew not to crowd my gun side, crush it against my body, or otherwise hinder my ability to protect us both.

If you’re thinking you’re just going to frighten your kids by having such a frank discussion with them, well, all kids are different. It is up to you to figure out how much information and responsibility your kids can handle, when.

However, I will say it is far wiser to begin approaching these topics at a young age than it is to keep them in a protective, naïve bubble because you “don’t want to upset them.” Would you rather an attacker upset them for you? Don’t you think it is smarter to take this on in stages as they mature?

Holding hands with kid
Holding hands with your little one makes it much easier to keep track of them.

If your child is holding your hand (hopefully, your support-side hand), neither of you will be served well by allowing them to flop or hang from your hand.

Just as you hold your gun tightly when shooting one-handed you should be holding your child’s hand with a steel grip, preferably pinning them in place. They shouldn’t be swinging back and forth; your arm should be rigidly in place and pinning their hand or arm in place.

Drilling hand holding
Drilling hand holding with a friend (Citizen’s Defense Research)

This is a technique you can practice with an adult friend on their knees beside you (encourage them to pull like a child might). Knowing how to stiff-arm a child away and slightly behind you is a good skill to have in your toolbox.

Of course, if you have an infant you’re going to have a choice to make. Do you hold them against your body as you shoot one-handed and hope for the best or do you attempt to rapidly put them down, typically be slipping them down the side of your body and leg?

This is a situational issue and one you should plan for in advance using the usual mental formula: if A then B, if X then Y. Plan ahead and practice with appropriately weighted dolls.

One Handed shooting drills
One handed shooting drills with dolls (Citizen’s Defense Research)

Remember, you don’t want to slam an infant’s head into the ground or put them at risk of being trampled. A very young baby you’re most likely going to want to keep against your body. Instances where it’ll be a good idea to put a baby on the ground are going to be few and far between.

What if you have multiple kids? This is a tough one.

Typically the older kids are going to have more responsibilities than the little ones.

If you have two kids and the age gap is, say, 18 months apart you don’t have a lot to work with when they’re small. Considering telling them to get behind you? Okay, that’s all well and good until you need to take a step backward in a rush and end up falling down and knocking them over in the process.

When your child is old enough to do so safely and effectively, teach them to get out rather than hiding behind you.

Reholstering with a kid
Reholstering may involve this (Citizen’s Defense Research)

If you have an ambulatory, grade-school age child and also an infant you’re going to need to plan accordingly, meaning that older child either needs to understand how to get away and out or needs to be capable of staying behind you without grabbing either of your hands or tripping you. 

Fights are Fluid

No two assaults look the same. You cannot plan out how a fight for your life will play out.

Old Boy Fight Scene
Fights change, you need to, too.

All you can do is train and prepare as much as possible and try to plan for every eventuality. Your fight will be fluid. That means we cannot tell you to do one specific thing with your child because the situation may evolve in such a way that the one specific thing is A Bad Idea.

This is also why you need to teach your kids to take self-defense and self-preservation into their own hands at a young age. Being taken by surprise is never good and the sooner you give your kids the tools to defend their own lives, the better.

Speed Counts

It is your job to stop the threat as quickly as possible. This is where your usual defensive handgun training comes in. The faster you stop the threat, the quicker your kids will be safe.

Shoot until the threat stops. Sounds easy, right?

Practice. You must take the time to train and keep your self-defense skill sharp if you’re going to effectively protect your kids.
Practice. You must take the time to train and keep your self-defense skill sharp if you’re going to effectively protect your kids.

It’s at least a simple concept to comprehend but if your attention is divided by a screaming toddler or hyperventilating junior higher things get sticky in a hurry. Understand that your top priority is to stop the threat.

That means being familiar with shot placement–for example, not all headshots are created equal–and on-the-spot decision-making. Your training must be up to the task.


Your kids should not only listen to you but do as you say without question. They must get down or back without argument. And they absolutely must understand that if and when you draw your firearm, you mean business.

Talking to your kids
Talking to your kids ahead of time can keep them safe.

The appearance of your gun is not a fun time or panic central, it’s time to take the situation seriously. This means you’re going to have to work with and teach your children.

Understanding Fear

I’m an overthinker. Throw me into any scenario and I guarantee I’ll come up with the most obscure, unlikely possibilities ever to the point you’re going to look at me like I’ve grown a second head.

conspiracy theory guy
Me, planning for all the “What Ifs”

There are pros to that kind of thought process, though: I am far less likely to be taken by surprise and tend to be pretty chill about things, at least as far as you can tell from the outside. It’s worth noting I did not come to this place overnight.

Today’s heightened awareness comes courtesy of being attacked and having an ex that wanted my daughter and me dead. And now, years later, I find myself responsible for bonus kids and approaching self-defense much differently than I did over a decade ago. 

When it comes right down to it you don’t know how you’re going to react during a threat to your life and the lives of your children until it happens.

Dummy Gun Drill
Drilling with a dummy gun and your child helps both you and the kiddo to train for the worst (Citizen’s Defense Network).

The best way to learn to handle the adrenaline dump and the need to make decisions fast is through training. Running scenarios in a shoot house or at the range is an excellent way to learn how to make snap decisions if you’re attacked and also gives you a chance to experience the effects of adrenaline.

Think you can’t get stressed in a controlled environment? Oh, but you can. Go take an advanced defensive handgun or active killer interdiction class and get back to me. 

Hunters also have an edge here because we have experienced adrenaline time and again as well as having learned to breathe through it and make a clean shot.

Yes, you can hunt with a pistol!

Does that mean hunting is the perfect way to prepare for self-defense? Of course not, but it does give you an edge and I’ll take every scrap of control and power I can when it comes time to fight for the lives of my kids.

I want every possible advantage. I want an unfair fight, one where I’m the one given the so-called unfair advantage over my attacker.


Don’t be a martyr, be a fighter. Be a protector. Get yourself properly trained and have a plan–have lots of different plans–to defend your life and the lives of your kids. 

Have you taken a self-defense class aimed at parents or guardians? Have you talked with your kids about self-defense? You also should check out our Best Concealed Carry Guns in Popular Calibers. Plus our review on USCCA, our go-to provider of education where every membership also gets personal liability insurance!

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3 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Warren Wilson

    Nice work, Kat, on a tough topic.

    July 19, 2020 10:22 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Monte Walsh

    Ditto, excellent article Kat. I provide a group of CCW related links to each class, this one is now attached! Great job!

    July 19, 2020 4:22 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Excellent article. Another thing to think of is setting up a plan with your significant other, do you both engage the bad guy, who calls for help, who moves the kids to safety. Make playing "what if" games a normal part of your life.

    July 19, 2020 8:44 am
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