Thoughtful Parenting: Keeping kids safe in Colorado
One evening, a boy and his father were walking toward the house after doing chores. The boy said to his father, “Dad, you’re going to be on your own doing the ranch work. I’m starting first grade next week.”
The father smiled to himself. He assured his son going to school is important and that the boy could still help with after-school chores.
It’s important to children 5 to 7 years old that they feel that they are helpful members of their families. Their eagerness to tag along with their parents and learn makes these years an ideal time for parents to teach children new skills and the importance of safety.
Learning to keep themselves safe is relevant, because children at this age want to be independent but aren’t yet able to make good decisions consistently. They like to test the limits of their bodies — how fast they can run, how far they can jump, etc. They want to prove they are grown up, but brain development hasn’t progressed to the point at which they can accurately judge approaching sounds, distances or the speed of their bicycles in relation to the speed of motorized vehicles.
Keep in mind that modeling — teaching by example — affects behavior more than telling children what to do. There are special cells in the brain called mirror neurons. When we watch someone do something, our mirror neurons become active, as if we, ourselves, were engaging in the same behavior. When adults model safety, children store the image of safe behavior in their brains.
Even with safety instruction, adults need to supervise many activities of children in this age group. Natural curiosity can override what children have learned about safety. Take precautions with dangerous items around the home. Keep matches, flammable liquids and poisonous substances inaccessible to children. Lock firearms with ammunition stored separately, and don’t leave ignition keys in vehicles or machinery.
Other aspects of rural/mountain life that may be discussed with 5 to 7 year olds include:
• Hiking: Discuss how to avoid getting lost and what to do if you get lost.
• Lightening: Lightening strikes often precede rain. Teach children to go indoors when they hear the roar of thunder.
• Car safety: Fasten everyone’s seat belt before starting the car. Children younger than 13 should be restrained in the rear seat of the vehicle for optimum protection.
• Bicycles: Follow the rules of the road and practice courtesy. Helmets should fit well. Fasten the chin strap snugly, with the helmet rim two finger widths above the eyebrows. For more bike safety tips and a helmet fit test, visit safekids.org/bike
• Water safety: Enroll your child in swim lessons. Talk about the danger of hypothermia in mountain streams and lakes and the danger of thin ice. Wear lifejackets approved by the U.S. Coast Guard when boating.
• ATV and snowmobile safety: Remind children recreational vehicles are not toys but rather heavy, motorized vehicles that can easily tip over in certain conditions. Learn more about motorized vehicle safety at atvsafety.org.
• Farm and ranch safety: Keep children away from the moving parts of farm equipment and from equipment on jacks for repairs.
• Emergencies: Teach children to call 911, give their location and remain on the phone for instructions.
• Fire safety: Make an escape plan in case of a house fire and practice it.
Beth Watson, RN BSN, is a public health nurse with Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.
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