Background Parents are uniquely positioned to reduce unintentional injury risk in children. Early in childhood this takes the form of direct supervision, yet as children gain independence parents must devise new ways of keeping their children safe. Parent-child conversations about safety may help children to internalise safety values so that they are able to independently regulate their own behaviour. This paper reports studies that examine how these conversations unfold in both proactive (before an injury occurs) and reactive (after an injury has occurred) situations.
Methods We studied proactive conversations by asking mothers and their children (8- to 10-years-old) to rate and discuss the safety of 12 photographs depicting children engaged in various physical activities. To examine reactive conversations, we examined interviews with parents about the strategies they used when discussing how an injury requiring a trip to the emergency department could have been prevented.
Results In proactive conversations, parents referenced the potential outcomes of the activity and the dangerous features of the situation. In reactive conversations, parents relied on 4 main strategies: 1) providing an alternative strategy for future use, 2) telling children to be more careful in the future, 3) telling children not to engage in the activity again, and 4) explaining why the activity was dangerous. Parents varied their use of these strategies according to children’s age, gender, and the circumstances surrounding the injury.
Conclusions Parents promote the internalisation of safety values by pointing out dangerous features and outcomes of a situation, as well as by explaining why certain behaviours are dangerous. In doing so, parents are preparing their children for independent, safe navigation of the world around them.
- Unintentional childhood injury
- parent-child safety communication
- safety values