HOW CHILDREN LEARN TO BE SAFE
The phrase ‘being safe’ means different things depending on the situation it refers to and also the views of the people if affects. An example of this is the difference between the type of safety needed while your child is using the Internet in your home, and that needed when she is away on a canoeing weekend run by people you have never met. Some people are more adventurous than others and would see less danger in a given situation, e.g. riding a bike on the road, than other people.
One thing is for sure, we can never entirely remove danger from the lives of our children.
The world is full of exciting opportunities for them to learn, many of which have some kind of danger attached. That danger may be:
· real—for example, when lifting a container of hot liquid.
· possible—for example, when meeting a stranger.
· unlikely—for example, when playing on the grass.
A child’s understanding of risk develops slowly with experience. Our role as adults is to help children gain the skills they need to make decisions that will keep them safe.
12 WAYS CHILDREN LEARN TO BE SAFE
Children copy what they see adults doing. You can help by being a good role model and by always saying and doing the same thing in relation to safety rules, and by letting your child see you follow these rules yourself. As your child gets older, let her see and hear you making a point of using the correct tools for a job. For example, don’t try to open a packet with a carving knife, or reach something high by climbing on top of a table. Don’t take short cuts, otherwise your child will too.
By talking and thinking—
Encourage your child to talk about safety and ask her questions to make her think. For example, what could happen if she left her toys on the stairs? Why mustn’t she touch the iron? Spotting risks and danger is the first step towards avoiding harm.
From very early on, make a point of talking with your child about the things you are doing to be safe. For example, when you cross the road when out walking the dog, say the Green Cross Code out loud and show your child that even your dog obeys the safety rules!
By understanding the words we use—
Children need to understand the words we use when we talk about safety. Using the example above, children first need to understand what a ‘kerb’ is before they can be expected to follow the instruction ‘stop at the kerb’. Adults can easily forget that they may be using words that children don’t understand. You can help by talking about new words until you know your child understands them. As she grows older you can move this understanding on. For example, help her to move from thinking that a knife is dangerous to understanding that although it is always sharp, it is really how you use the knife that makes it safe or dangerous.
Children’s natural curiosity will bring them face to face with dangers every day as they learn more about the world. Young children’s desire to explore will involve every movement they can think of—tugging, shaking, poking, unscrewing—so look at your home with a critical eye and make sure danger is out of your child’s way. If your child is very young, get down to her level and move around your home, seeing it the way she does, so that you can spot possible dangers.
By understanding that rules are there to keep us safe—
Talk about traffic lights and why we have them. What is the point of the different coloured lights? Why do we bother with them? Talking about examples of safety around us will help your child learn that different rules are there to keep us all safe. As your child grows older, you can start to talk about how rules are linked to people’s rights and responsibilities towards each other. For example, we all have the right to feel safe in our car on the road—that’s where the rule about stopping at a red light comes in. Ask your child to help suggest rules for her own safety—this may help her to keep them.
By developing confidence—
Some kinds of safety are to do with your child being able to say no to other people, especially strangers. This and the ability to do what she knows is right comes with confidence. You can help her by praising her when she tries hard to do something well, whether she succeeds or not. Help her to develop the ability to make decisions by asking questions, such as ‘what do you think we should do now?’ and talking positively about her ideas. One way your child keeps safe is by not panicking. Make sure she has opportunities to see you dealing positively with difficult situations.
By being given responsibility—
As your child grows older, encourage her to have responsibility for jobs around the house and help her to carry these out safely. Talk about the safety of pets, plants and wild creatures. Help her to develop an interest in safety issues, for example a survey at school about whether a pelican crossing is needed .
By using all their senses—
Help your child to use all her senses. For example, when crossing the road, practise listening for cars as well as looking. Make a game out of this by guessing what it is that you can hear coming round a corner before you see it.
By learning practical skills—
For example, teach your child to swim as soon as possible. Include life-saving techniques in her lessons. Eventually she will develop confidence in the water and will have a lifelong safety skill.
By understanding that what we do affects other people—
When your child plays with other children, she will begin to learn that her actions can affect the safety of other people. Help her to care about the effect her actions have on everyone around her.
By thinking about risk—
Giving your child a wide range of experiences when she is young will help her to be able to assess how dangerous a situation may be. Give her the opportunity to tell you when she should cross the road, rather than you always telling her, or how high to climb on the climbing frame. Ask her teacher for story books that are written especially to help children develop ‘streetwise’ skills, without causing the reader to become overly worried or distrustful, and share these stories together.
By parents thinking ahead:
Spend time making sure your child knows what to do in an emergency, such as getting lost or being in the house with an adult who has an accident. Beginning when she is young, make sure she knows her name and address, where to go to get help and what to say if she has to dial 999. Talk calmly about the situations in which this might happen.
2 WAYS CHILDREN LEARN TO BE SAFE