60-Second Mind

Danger Explainers Convince Kids Better Than Do Edict Issuers

Moms were better able to sway a child's perception of risk when they explained the reasons an activity was dangerous and its possible consequences rather than just saying no. Christie Nicholson reports


An eight-year-old may view a hammer as a toy. The parent, however, sees it as a soon-to-be broken finger. Children and parents are rarely on the same page when it comes to potential danger. And when the child is denied a seemingly fun activity with an authoritarian, “No, that’s not safe,” there’s a high chance of conflict. But explaining why something is dangerous gets better results, according to a study in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology. [Elizabeth E. O’Neal and Jodie M. Plumert, Mother–Child Conversations About Safety: Implications for Socializing Safety Values in Children]

Researchers showed 63 mothers and their eight- and 10-year-olds photos of children engaged in various dicey endeavors, like chopping wood with an axe or riding a skateboard. Each pair then tried to agree on a safety rating for each situation. And moms were much better able to convince the child of the danger when they followed a couple of rules. 
The most convincing moms first focused on the reasons that made the situation dangerous, like that ladder is high and wobbly. Next they pointed out possible consequences: if you climb the ladder you could lose your balance and fall.
It may sound obvious but the researchers say that offering reasonable explanations allows children to become more skilled at assessing similar situations on their own. And this will help them avoid learning lessons about potential danger the hard way.

—Christie Nicholson

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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