How to teach your kids about safety

How to teach your kids about safety

The Santam Child Safety Survey showed that 60% of children don't believe adults follow the rules that they teach them. Even more frightening, 96% wish their parents would take fewer risks while driving.

While younger children start off in their life being very aware of the rules, as they grow older, black and white rules turn grey.

This is where parents can help.

The science

It's a fact that children learn best through actions. Sure, you may tell them to buckle up. But at the end of the day, in order for them to learn, they need to watch you go through the actions, and do it for themselves.

And it's all down to mirror neurons, says Psychologist, Anel Annandale:

"There are neurons in the brain that help children copy exactly what they see. That's why when you stick your tongue out to a 6-week old they will do the same. Initially, we are primed to first copy actions and only later do we get to the verbal behaviour."

Unconscious behaviour needs to be conscious decisions.

The most important thing a parent can do when teaching their children about safety, is to decide to stick to the rules and act on it.

"This is something you need to prepare for," says Anel. "The unconscious behaviour needs to be reprogrammed to lead to conscious decisions. You need to decide on the rules and what's important. If you run through the rules and actions enough in your head, it will help to remind you when you do something wrong."

The best way to influence your kids' behaviour is to watch your own behaviour: act instead of talk.

Practice to empower.

When it comes to teaching your kids about safety, the last thing you want to do is scare them. Children tend to think of everything that can go wrong, as opposed to thinking how to act to prevent it. Run through scenarios with them in a safe, neutral environment and make it entertaining.
For example: when at the playground, let them explore what it feels like to go a little higher on the swing. These 'calculated risks' can teach them how to overcome the initial fear of trying something new. Not only does it teach control, it also makes children active participants.

"Young people learn best by actively participating. Practicing children's personal safety skills increases their confidence and competence. It is important to do this in a way that is not scary, but is fun." Irene van der Zande, Founder and Executive Director of Kidpower.

Don't send conflicting information.

Children should feel comfortable enough to approach their parents when they break the rules. And when they do approach their parents, a little validation can go a long way in reassuring them that they are doing the right thing.

For example: when a parent isn't wearing a safety belt and then child calls mom or dad out on it, admitting their mistake and thanking the child will boost their self-confidence.

Anel says that it's vital for parents to show their children that they value their opinion: "As parents, we don't always take advice from our kids. We need to more open to that and invite them to be partners."

Safety rules should be a family decision.

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