What are you REALLY teaching your kids?

You guys know I am not in the habit of posting press releases or just copying and pasting an article from somewhere to “make a post” or create income for myself without you in mind, right? Anywayyyyy, I received this article along with a video – a Santam ad which I personally had not seen before and it blew me away.  It relates to the Santam Safety Survey, which was conducted on 1000 children in South Africa this year, to investigate how children understand safety and what they learn from the adults around them. I wouldn’t waste your time reading this unless I really thought it was eye opening. Please give it a read and watch the video and catch a wake up if you are a parent who falls into any of these categories… I know I caught a serious wake up… and the responses from some of the kids truly broke my heart. Maaaan, we think only serious things like arguing in front of the kids frighten them, but have you ever stopped to think how you freaking out in traffic may freak your CHILD out? We are definitely not living in an age of “do as I say, not as I do,” we need to consciously consider our every move because we have little eyes focused on us ALL the time.

Mothers key to teaching children about safety – National survey shows 

Cape Town, April 2014: Independent research among 1000 seven – to 12-year-olds has revealed that 46% of children are being taught the rules of safety by their mothers – and with 77% polled showing a very strong commitment to following these rules, it is a job mothers would do well to take very seriously.

The Santam safety survey was undertaken by leading short-term insurer Santam to gain a deep understanding of how South African children understand safety and what they learn from the adults around them.

The findings offered both good and not so good news. On the positive side, children are learning the rules and are very eager to follow the rules when they grow up (93% said they would do so). However, a worrying 60% of children had seen significant adults in their lives (parents or adults close to them) break the rules. And with children primed to imitate the important adults in their lives according to leading educational psychologist Anel Annandale, it is highly likely that children will end up adopting risky behaviour rather than doggedly sticking to what they are being taught.

Donald Kau, spokesperson for Santam says parents in South Africa should be asking themselves: are our mixed messages and double standards turning our children from naturally compliant citizens into perpetrators of the risky behaviour responsible for our sky-high accident and crime statistics?

The children polled describe how they feel when their parents put them at risk:

  • “Unsafe; father drives very fast and mommy always tells him to slow down.” 8-year-girl, Johannesburg
  • “I get afraid and my feet become goosebumps. My heart is sore and goes boom-boom. That’s not nice.” 7-year-old girl, Cape Town
  • “I feel very frightened and think that this would cause an accident. If he drinks while driving as he normally does when he fetches us from school in the afternoons, he will lose control of the vehicle and causes accidents and a lot of school children can be killed.” 9-year-old girl, Durban
  • “He was driving drunk in the morning and hit my little sister while we were going to church and I feel very scared and not safe on the road, because we were going on the right side of the road.” 11-year-old boy, Durban
  • “So sad …… They make me not breathe. Driving with one hand on the steering wheel and speeding. Have no control over car if something happened.” 7-year-old boy, Johannesburg
  • “I do not feel safe. I do not want to die in a car accident.” 10-year-old boy, Johannesburg

Annandale offers the following guidelines to mother’s when teaching their children about safety:

1.Don’t set too many rules:

It can be tempting, particularly as a new parent, to believe your child needs to be taught a whole host of rules to ensure they grow into well behaved, respectable human beings. But, according to Annandale, parents should spend time prioritising the rules associated with safety over more general rules.

“I am by no means saying that bathing every day or going to bed at a certain time are not important, but your child should first and foremost understand not to run into the road, not to play with plugs or touch the stove etc.. Don’t bombard them with so many rules that they end up disregarding the most critical ones!”

2. Practice to empower:

A certain amount of exposure to risk is essential to gain experience in making decisions about safety.

For example: when at the playground, let them explore what it feels like to go a little higher on the swing. These ‘calculated risks’ can teach them how to overcome the initial fear of trying something new and teach them how to make judgement calls. 

3.Watch your own behaviour:

“We should always remember something called ‘mirror neurons’. These are neurons in the brain that help children copy exactly what they see. That’s why when you stick your tongue out to a 6-week old they will do the same. Initially, we are primed to first copy actions and only later do we get to the verbal behaviour.”

So the most important thing a parent can do when teaching their children about safety, is to decide to stick to the rules and act on it consistently as a family. The best way to influence your children’s behaviour is to watch your own behaviour: act instead of talk.

“This is something you need to prepare for,” says Annandale. “Unconscious behaviours need to be reprogrammed to lead to conscious decisions. You need to decide on the rules and what’s important.”

4. Don’t send conflicting information:

Children should feel comfortable enough to approach their parents when they break the rules. And when they do approach their parents, a little validation can go a long way in reassuring them that they are doing the right thing.

For example: when a parent isn’t wearing a safety belt and then the child calls mom or dad out on it, admitting their mistake and thanking the child will boost their self-confidence.

Annandale says that it’s vital for parents to show their children that they value their opinion: “As parents we don’t invite them to be our safety-accountability partners. We need to be more open to that.”

Full findings from the study and educational materials can be found on the Be Safe Out There website. 


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