Is it possible for parents to teach children to be safe? University of Iowa researchers set out to find the answer. They concluded that mothers and their kids typically don't see situational dangers the same way. Mothers need to explain why a situation is harmful rather than saying, "Because I said so."
"One of the biggest worries for any parent is keeping their child safe from injury," says Jodie Plumert, UI psychology professor and study co-author.
It's easier to watch children when they're young, she says. "But what about when the child gets older, becomes more independent and goes out on his own?" This is when the parent must transfer precautions to the child. The child "has to be able to assess the danger of situations. We think parent-child conversations are the bridge to doing that."
The researchers presented 63 mothers and their kids (ages 8-10) pictures of other kids in various activities, like a child wielding a hand-held axe or striking a match, or climbing a countertop.
Mother and child separately rated the danger level of each scene, from very safe to very unsafe. The kids rated how frightened they'd be to engage in the pictured activities.
Mother and child were then asked to both agree on a safety rating for each activity. In about 30 percent of the cases, both rated the danger differently. However, 80 percent of the time, the mothers were able to sway their child's thinking to theirs.
Plumert says, though, that not just any kind of talking will achieve this. She explains, "Saying to your child, 'Don't do that' or 'Stop' or 'Be careful' doesn't really work." You can initiate the talk like this, says Plumert, but it should be followed up with asking the child "why not." Don't assume a child knows why not.
An effective tactic is to point out the dangerous features of the situation and explain how they can cause harm. Nevertheless, some kids are natural risk takers, and they need more explanations.