One of the most important things you can teach your children is that the choices they make have consequences, and sometimes those consequences can last a lifetime.
From disaster preparedness to safe driving techniques, all it takes is one major misstep to create a lifetime of regret. It’s our job as parents to limit those regrets and keep our children safe.
Why we should help keep our children safe is obvious. It’s the “how” that can be tricky, as children have a way of not listening to their parents. Perhaps the key is to use poignant stories and anecdotes that will resonate more with them than Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign, to use a notorious example.
Whereas an old woman saying “don’t do drugs” may not be the message that connects with kids, giving them examples of young people who suffered greatly as a result of drug abuse just may.
Disaster can strike at any time. It’s impossible to completely insulate ourselves and our children. However, by being prepared and instilling a sense of safety and prevention in our children, we can at least limit a large portion of the threats.
The Message: Actions Have Consequences
Children don’t usually realize that actions have consequences. They exist as if life will last forever and nothing can go wrong — until something does.
While you don’t want to scare your kids, at least not too much, it helps to get the message across that bad things can happen and that they can limit those bad things from happening by being prepared and not acting foolishly.
MonkeySee.com recommends letting children learn from their mistakes. Instead of insulating them too much, or even worse, cleaning up all their messes for them, we should teach them by example.
This tough-love approach may work best when their mistakes are small. Learning lessons the hard way is often the best way to learn a lesson. If we correct their mistakes for them, they’re missing out on a great learning opportunity and we’re doing them more harm than good.
The Center for Parenting Education agrees, saying that, “Using consequences helps you to impose discipline in a way that teaches your children responsibility and accountability and encourages them to look inward to learn how they can do things differently in the future.”
They include in their examples the misuse of consequences. When parents are angry they often hand out harsh punishments, only to retract them later. This is the wrong message and teaches kids that actions don’t always have consequences or that those consequences can be altered. In the real world, we know this isn’t usually the case.
The organization also says that it’s important to build up self-esteem even when punishing them, rather than tearing them down. Instead of focusing on the wrong thing they did, tell them you know they can do better. Make sure they know they’re being held accountable and that you have greater expectations for their actions in the future.
They break up consequences into three distinct types: natural, logical-related, and imposed-not related.
Let’s say your child goes out on a rainy day and forgets to wear a raincoat. This consequence happens automatically without your involvement, and it should be a good way for them to remember to wear one next time.
If your child doesn’t pick up her toys and you have to do it for her, you may impose a punishment that is related to her not picking them up. This is a case of a logical-related consequence and usually involves taking that toy away for a certain length of time.
Imposed-not related is a little trickier to understand. Let’s say your child doesn’t pick up her toys and that this is the third or fourth occurrence. Imposing the same punishment as before clearly isn’t working, so you suspend privileges based on her behavior. You don’t take them away for a set period of time, and it’s up to her as to when she can play with her toys again. This provides more accountability and teaches her that good actions have good consequences.
How to Encourage Safety With Your Children
There will always be some hard-and-fast rules when it comes to safety, like not getting into a car with strangers or opening up the door if a stranger is knocking. However, you’ll get your points across much better if you can incorporate these into activities.
Scholastic.com recommends using this approach as it’s a fun method and one that creates a deeper understanding of how to use safety measures. For instance, you can use props like a toy stop sign or a bottle of sunscreen and then ask your kids how these items help protect us.
The object is to get your kids thinking about safety and for them to connect the dots themselves, which should help them remember. When teaching them about fire safety, play the stop, drop, and roll game. Simulate a fire emergency and have them act out what to do in case of one.
You can also simulate an emergency involving the need to call 911. Have them act this out as well. It will include them having to remember their address and also how to use the telephone in case of an emergency.
Let’s say your children are older and you’re trying to teach them why they shouldn’t use drugs. Using the ineffective Nancy Reagan campaign as an example, do you think kids are really concerned about what a woman quadruple their age is telling them?
According to the Center on Addiction, “there is evidence to suggest that scaring people can help them adopt or avoid certain behaviors.” It’s important to expose kids to the most damaging of potential outcomes for their actions.
Which do you think would be most effective in preventing drug abuse: showing a video of a young homeless woman strung out on heroin or having an old woman telling them, “just say no”? The Center on Addiction points out that this is most effective when you can pair it with an alternate scenario — in this case, what life looks like when kids don’t use drugs.
It’s one thing to tell your children about the dangers of substance abuse and the consequences of using drugs and alcohol, or ask a healthcare provider to do so. It’s another to show them what happens when they do.
This works equally well when it comes to road safety. A real-life example of the worst possible consequence may work better than telling them how the choices they make on the road can impact them. Of course, you can still give them safe-driving tips that will help keep them safe on the road.
Teaching Disaster Preparedness
Presenting alternate scenarios is also a great way to teach kids about disaster preparedness ― this is what happens when we are prepared vs. this is what it looks like when we aren’t.
There are several benefits of teaching your kids to be prepared for anything, including:
- They won’t be caught off-guard
- You can incorporate activities the family can do together
- Physical benefits of survival training
- Development of problem-solving skills
- A greater appreciation for the outdoors
The Federal Emergency Management Agency adds a few additional educational benefits of teaching children how to be prepared for emergencies: teamwork, creativity, leadership, and communication.
They have emergency preparedness curriculums on their site for children ranging from elementary school age through high school and lessons on what to do before, during, and after an emergency.
Like the Boy Scout motto says, be prepared. This includes being prepared in mind and body and always being in a state of readiness. Isn’t that what any safety training should be about?
Brooke Faulkner writes and raises her sons in the Pacific Northwest. She is always looking for ways to make healthy living an accessible part of every day life. Find more of her writing on twitter, @faulknercreek