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One of the best ways of teaching children safety is to enrich their understanding of cause-and-effect relationships, especially at early ages. Children are more likely to absorb the rules of safety if they understand why they exist; for example, a child will be less likely to play with matches if he is taught how matches can start fires and cause serious burns. Another effective method of teaching children safety is to work safety principles into their games and other fun activities. This helps kids associate safety precautions with positive reinforcement. Other supplementary teaching methods include making a list of common safety risks, asking children to repeat safety rules on occasion, and placing safety reminders around the house.
Young children often don't understand the fact that every effect has an underlying cause; this explains why they tend to be accident-prone at early ages. Parents can enrich their children's comprehension of cause-and-effect relationships simply by demonstrating different actions and explaining their causes. A parent, for example, can show a child how to cut paper with scissors and explain that the scissors are able to cut through paper because of their sharpness. In teaching children safety, parents can then extend the idea of sharp objects cutting other items, including the skin.
Parents using this method of teaching children safety, however, should remember to use age-appropriate language. The idea of sharp objects cutting through skin might prove too frightening for some young kids; explaining that accidents with sharp items can cause "boo-boos" or wounds might be more easily absorbed by children. Parents should also avoid using technical language — the simpler things are explained, the better.
Teaching children safety through cause-and-effect relationships can be easier on both the parents and the kids if the activity is made enjoyable. Offering rewards for proper safety practices helps make things feel like a game for young children, allowing them to better absorb the lessons through positive reinforcement. When crossing the street, for example, parents can pause and ask their kids what should be done before taking the first step on the road. If the children answer correctly with "looking both ways," parents can offer to take them for ice cream at the end of the trip. Educating children is much more effective if they enjoy the teaching methods.
In addition to teaching children safety precautions, parents can supplement the lessons by leaving reminders around the house. They can post notes near sharp corners, for example, telling children to "be careful." By incorporating safety lessons into a child's everyday life, parents can constantly reinforce the message.
All four of our children are eligible for the senior center (one has to be 50). When I was 70, they wrote a piece entitled, "Seventy Things We Learned from Daddy.
In these later years they have talked and written about my teaching by example. So what one does may have more effect than what one says.
Donald B., M.D. retired
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