31. 07. 2018

How to teach kids about danger

Ask yourself the following question: “What is danger?” It’s a situation in which there is a possibility of getting hurt. This can be a physical threat as well as an abstract one, depending on the situation and individual perception. How can we know all this as an adult? Because we experienced it in the past, we can compare, analyze, decide, and relate it to something that harms us. We all know that if you play with a knife, you’ll get injured. Then what about children?

It’s typical to see a parent chasing after their kid to prevent them from getting hurt. All this begins when children start to crawl, make their first steps, and move, however kids don't know how to anticipate or prevent a dangerous situation. It’s completely understandable, considering that their curiosity and desire to discover the world are stronger than their fear and lack of motor skills; for them it’s better to take risks to play, discover and explore.

For this reason it becomes fundamental not only to protect children from possible accidents and guide them through risky situations, but also teach them about what danger is.

When do kids become aware of danger?

According to psychologists, the first structures developed in the brain are emotional, affective, sensory, and motor. Although internalization of norms, the concept of danger, abstraction and behavior develop at a young age, the process doesn’t fully end until the age of 18.

Once a child reaches the age of 5 or 6, they can gain a better knowledge of the world and the risks involved. This understanding of danger begins to form with various unfortunate experiences such as a fall and its association with pain, or when they feel lost and experience feelings of anxiety.

Between the ages of 10 and 12, the child already has the ability to predict risk. This, however, will always depend on the environment, the education received, as well as the information given to the child regarding the dangers of daily life.

Encourage caution, not paranoia

Sometimes it is impossible to avoid danger among children who have lots of energy, great motivation to master new psychomotor skills, and growing curiosity to explore a new corner of the house. The ideal demeanor for parents in such cases would be to stay alert to anticipate what might happen, in order to avoid accidents or unnecessary frights. This, however, involves having to watch your child all day and avoid leaving them alone, which not all parents can afford to do.

Nevertheless, it is advisable for all parents to know that when danger arises, they should take the opportunity to explain where the danger is and what can happen. It is not about terrifying the child, but teaching them the basic safety rules, so they may understand the consequences of such cases and stay away from danger. Be patient: although your child may not speak, they understand you, and with persistence they will be able to comprehend it.

Another option is to adapt the house using child-proof security measures: security locks on windows, fences for stairs and terraces, and protective plugs are some of the ways to minimize unwanted exposure to danger.

Most importantly, remember not to become an overprotective parent. Kids have to learn for themselves and should not be limited by excessive parental care.

Tips for teaching kids about danger

According to professionals, children must get to know and explore the world for themselves, while parents must be there for support, minimizing risks and helping to avoid accidents. Below, we list a few recommended guidelines:

  • Teach your child different techniques for staying calm in scary or unknown situations. For example, you can make your own calming bottle together with your kids: fill a bottle with water, soap, and glitter, and when a child is in a situation where they’re nervous, this bottle will help them calm down. After shaking the bottle the glitter spin and whirl around, but after a few seconds it will settle back at the bottom, which gives kids a visual for enhancing their own calmness.

  • Teach kids breathing techniques (choose some relaxation music, go to a quiet place and ask them to breathe in through the nose and exhale through the mouth), or play a nice and funny song, which can also help calm down kids when they feel scared.

  • Encourage your child to increase their self-confidence so that they can explore the environment on their own. Give them the option to choose, explain to them that they can get hurt, but it's their decision whether or not they want to do it.

  • Explain to kids the meaning of danger, even if it can sometimes be more of an abstract concept that they’ll understand later. Talk about how danger can appear in the form of the following symptoms (physical): shaking or shivering, fast breathing, dry mouth, sweaty hands, and sometimes even temporary paralysis. We know that this can happen to children, too, which is why it’s important to let them know the signs.

  • Show them the consequences of their behaviour and actions. For example, show them what can happen when you put something (a piece of paper, piece of wood, etc.) close to the fire. If you rush out of the house too quickly, you can fall and get hurt, etc.

  • Explain with clear examples how to avoid hazards: always walk on the pavement, use a helmet when riding a bike, don't touch any pet on the street without asking permission from the owner, etc.

    • Use games, fables or stories to show them what can be dangerous. For example, you can prepare some cards with risky situations on them and let your kids talk about them. A matching game where kids should match an action with a consequence that could happen (trying to touch a wasp – getting stung; touching the pot when a parent is cooking – getting burnt; etc.) is one of the options.

      Author: Itziar Madera, Educational Specialist at Lipa Learning

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