Let’s face it. Toddlers are violent. They hit, bite, scratch, grab, kick, scream, run, throw things, and tear thing up. Over and over and over and over, when parents start talking about keeping toddlers and preschoolers safe from injury they always come to the same conclusion: it takes an unimaginable level of supervision, attention, and planning. Very young children are impulsive and inexperienced and do things that are potentially dangerous when left to their own. They will hurt themselves or someone else entirely by accident or reason of their own immaturity.
What about older children? Do school-aged children also suffer more injuries if they are unsupervised? Injuries are a serious matters. According to research cited by Barbara Morrongiello, Alexa Kane, and Daniel Zdzieborski at the University of Guelf in Ontario, Canada, unintentional injuries are the leading cause of the death for school-age children and the leading cause of hospitalizations. In the US alone, about 25% of children are injured enough to be seen by a physician.
Dr. Morrongiello and her colleagues conducted a study that was published in The Journal of Pediatric Psychology (July, 2011), using information collected in diaries completed every day while events were happening by parents and children. The authors were testing whether not directly supervised children (7 – 10 years old) were less likely to be injured than children left alone or supervised less closely — e.g., from another room. They also wanted to know the extent to which a child’s tendency to take risks predicted more or less supervision and injury as well as whether or not parental permissiveness (having fewer demands on children, allowing children a lead in more activities) predicted more or less supervision and injuries. They titled their paper: “I Think He’s in His Room Playing a Video Game: Parental Supervision of Young Elementary School Children at Home.
Turns out that between 7 and 10 years old, on children spend almost 25% of their time at home alone during which parents provide no supervision or indirect, intermittent supervision. Direct parental supervision predicted fewer injuries. Parental permissiveness unsurprisingly predicted less supervision as well as more injuries in school aged children. Children with the tendency to take more risks had more injuries. Notably, parents supervised higher risk taking children more than low risk takers. The injury rate was still higher. Previous research had demonstrated that even under supervision, high risk takers engaged in more dangerous behavior. This suggests a daunting challenge for caregivers of children with more risky behaviors. These children are more excited and “happier” taking risks. They are less restrained by fear and need other reasons to decrease their dangerous behaviors. This depends on attention and creativity and cooperation among all the adults providing supervision.
Most parents that I work with take pleasure in their child’s pleasure. They do not want to stifle the joy of childhood abandon. They also want to avoid emergency rooms and injuries. Devising ways to keep children practicing safety and having fun is challenging and can be exhausting. If you have such a child, think ahead of them. Look for ways that they can enjoy themselves and be ready to be constantly thinking for them until they understand that things can go wrong. Trust your knowledge of you child. There are people who will tell you that something is safe because their child never took a risk too far but you probably know your child better. Ask for help. You will need it. There are times when your needs are not compatible with the level of supervision that your child requires.
Kelly Champion, Ph.D.
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