Dealing with Unwanted Behavior in Children: Energetic Children Running into the Street and other Safety Issues
Unsafe Behavior: Why reprimands and spanking don't work
A lot of parents have a terrible fear of their toddler or young child running into the streets when they are playing in the yard. The natural response for many parents is to reprimand or scold their child or even resort to spanking them when their child runs into the street. Parents believe this is a serious issue, which it is, and they often respond to unsafe behavior with a lot of negative emotion and negative attention. This is an important boundary for children to learn. It can be a matter of life and death.
When children run into the street does negative attention like scolding kids and reacting strongly actually work? Studies of child behavior consistently show that when children receive a strong negative reaction from their parents (reprimand or spanking) for almost any behavior, the likelihood of the child repeating that behavior increases significantly. A strong negative reaction will tend to reinforce the behavior, especially unsafe behavior. Behavior is reinforced by attention. It makes no difference that it is negative attention.
Child Pedestrian Safety Facts
In 1999 nationwide study indicated that roughly 66%of drivers broke posted speed limits in school zones, within 30 minutes preceding and proceeding school hours.
A national study indicated that a significant number motorists at intersections in school zones disobeyed stop signs.
The number of children hit or killed in pedestrian safety accidents has declined.
Children from10 to 14 years of age have the highest incidence of pedestrian-related injuries.
The presence of parents or caregivers walking with children can significantly reduce the risk of injury.
What can a parent do?
The most effective way to react to your child running into the street is to remain calm yet be serious and firm in letting them know it’s not OK. What we really want to do as parents is focus on the behavior we want children to do. We want to reinforce the behavior that we want by using encouragement and praise. In the case where the child is running into the street we want to encourage them to be aware of their safety. What this means is we have to tell them things like safe children stay in the yard or on the grass. Safe children stay on the sidewalk. And when we see our children staying in the yard or on the sidewalk, then we need to reinforce their behavior with strong emotions, wow that’s great. Way to play in the yard! I am so proud of you!. What a good job of playing safely!
Some parents say they don’t feel natural being so over the top with praise. It always surprises me how those same parents can put so much energy and emotion into situations where their children misbehave yet have difficulty putting the same energy and emotion into praising their children when they comply with their parent’s expectations. It takes a conscious effort but parents can avoid a lot of defiant behavior by paying attention and catching their child doing things right in the first place.
Does scaring children work?
I have read articles suggesting that we should try to scare them when small children run into the street. We can maybe show them a dead animal, tell them things like cars will eat them, or let them know they will get killed. This may work with some children, but many kids who do go run into the street and realize they didn’t get killed or eaten will likely start to wonder what their parents were talking about. They will often doubt what they have been told or worse yet believe that running into the street isn't unsafe.
If a parent does want to scare their child they will benefit from doing so by being realistic and honest. By all means you can show them a dead animal that has been hit by a car. You can explain to them this is what can happen when animals aren’t safe and run into the street, and that the same thing could happen to them. You can also explain that they could be also be very seriously injured if they don’t get killed. You can tell them that because there is a good chance they could get seriously injured or even killed, running into the street is just too big a chance to take.
Let them know you love them and care about them and that is why you want them to play safely. They mean too much to you and are too precious for you to lose. And if you just can’t help but react strongly when your child does run into the street, they will benefit more if you at least give them the message that you were afraid and concerned and that you just want them to be safe. This will be more effective than getting angry. Telling them that what they did is bad or spanking them will only reinforce the negative behaviour. Studies of child behavior patterns have shown this over and over again.
Other Places to Encourage Safety
When walking near busy streets with young children we also want to encourage safety by letting them know that safe kids hold on to their parents hand or safe kids hang onto their little brothers stroller. We can do the same thing in grocery stores when we don’t want them wandering out of our site. Naturally we will worry that we might lose them or heaven forbid that they could get lost or worse. Let them hear statements like safe kids stay close to mommy or safe kids hold on to the shopping cart. Again, we want to reinforce their compliant behavior with praise and positive reinforcement. Wow, you did such a good job of being safe in the store today. I will let you choose the cereal. If they do wander off, again try to avoid getting angry and instead firmly direct them towards staying safe during the outing. It is also a good habit to reinforce these safety messages long before arriving at the store. Parking lots are another place where we especially need to reinforce the be safe and stay near message. We can do this well before we get to our destination and then remind them again before getting out of the car and again before leaving the store.
You can further reinforce your the behavior of your children by reminding them that in our family we believe in safety. At dinner or other times throughout the day you can simply ask them what do we believe in? Hopefully, your children will tell you safety and any other value you have been positively reinforcing. If it’s important enough to you it’s a message you will repeat often. This is a much more effective strategy than reacting angrily after the fact.
Safe play areas for safe Kids
Ideally, we will find as many safe play areas as we can for our children. When possible, we want them to be able to play in places that are safe and secure. School yards and parks with fences or play areas that are far from streets are ideal. We always want to encourage safety though, so try to get into the habit of directing your children to stay near and to play safely. As I have stated in some of my other articles on parenting, the minds of children go in the direction we lead them. If we say don’t run away they will think about running and will likely do that. If we say don’t fall, more often than not they will actually trip and fall. We want to ask them to stay near and to walk carefully. Our kids benefit when we choose words that direct their minds as well as their behavior. As parents knowing this and actually doing it can make our jobs a lot easier and a little more worry free. Encourage your children to be safe kids.
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