Safety campaigns aimed at teaching children good safety habits are everywhere you look these days. They range from promoting seat belt use to teaching bicycle safety to avoiding drugs and alcohol to safe driving habits to name just a few. These efforts underway in schools, community centers, and recreational programs play a vital role in educating our children about how to stay safe and health and avoid falling victim to preventable injury. The most important safety campaign, however, is one that takes place in the home and starts with parents.
We all know that children learn through imitation and parents serve as role models for shaping behavior. In the context of safety practices, children will imitate their parents’ behaviors and practices—whether positive or negative. So, it is important that parents serve as positive role models and set good safety examples through their own behavior.
In 2005, Safe Kids USA released a study that examined the important role that parents play in teaching children safety practices in a variety of activities, including seat belt use, pedestrian safety, and bicycle helmet use, among others. The study revealed that the majority of children do in fact see their parents as role models of safe behavior. In addition, children were more likely to practice safe behaviors—such as wearing seat belts, using a bike helmet, or putting on a life jacket—if the parents also practiced that safe behavior. In addition to leading by example, the study highlighted the importance of parents discussing safety issues with their children. When children perceived a safety issue to be important to their parents, or had discussed it with their parents before, they were more likely to engage in that safe behavior.
Overall, the Safe Kids research, along with our own common sense about how children learn, reveal a few basic things that parents can do in their at home safety campaigns:
- Educate yourself about safety practices for activities that you participate in
- Use safety campaigns in schools and other activities as opportunities to learn from your children and reinforce what they are learning. Children view themselves as safety role models as well.
- Talk to your children about safety practices that are important to you—when children perceive a behavior as important, they are more likely to engage in it.
- Lead by example. The “do as I say and not as I do” approach to teaching safety is not nearly as effective as setting a good example through both words and actions.