Explanation is the key to keeping kids safe: researchers

Friday, March 28th, 2014. Filed under: Health & Fitness Home & Garden
Discussing dangerous situations with children is more effective than giving orders, say researchers. ©lightwavemedia/shutterstock.com

Discussing dangerous situations with children is more effective than giving orders, say researchers.

(Relaxnews) – Want to keep your child from touching that hot stove? How about from walking out in front of cars? New research says explaining risks to children as opposed to giving orders is the best way to ensure safety.

Researchers found mothers tend to guide their children in terms of what is and isn’t safe, and that kids listen the majority of the time.

“When kids have done something that isn’t safe, or hurt themselves, it’s easy for parents to say, ‘Don’t do that again,’ or ‘Be more careful,'” said study researcher Jodie Plumert, a psychologist at the University of Iowa. “That’s fine to say, but I think the real lesson here is for parents to really explain to their kids why something isn’t safe.”

Plumert and co-researcher Elizabeth O’Neal, a graduate student at the university, studied 63 mothers and their 8 or 10-year-old children for a “safety conversations” experiment. Mothers and children were first presented with photographs of kids in situations featuring varying degrees of danger, such as trying to chop wood with an axe and skateboarding down a driveway. Moms and kids both rated the danger of each situation on a scale of one to four. The moms and kids then looked at the photographs together to discuss them and choose a safety rating while researchers recorded the conversations.

The majority of the moms first asked the children their opinions, and guided thinking by pointing out which dangers the children had missed, such as a long sleeve dangling over a hot stove. Moms would then link the potential danger to an actual danger, such as the sleeve catching fire. Plumert told Live Science that about one-third of the time mothers and children disagreed about the safety of the situation, however moms were able to change their children’s opinion. This change occurred 80 percent of the time.

Plumert noted that the “areas of disagreement” are ideal grounds for learning. “The parent is really able to talk with the child about why they think something is dangerous,” she said.

Plumert and O’Neal also believe such discussions are especially important for children with histories of injuries requiring medical attention, as these children were less likely to recognize potential dangers in each image.

“It might mean that kids who are bigger risk-takers are more likely to discount danger,” she said.

Plumert and O’Neal are also interested in examining how fathers talk to their children about safety, and plan to look at “where the rubber meets the road,” to determine whether safety discussions change kids’ risk-taking behavior in the future.

The study was published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology.


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