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Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

April 26, 2000

Telling kids "Don't run with scissors' not enough, study says

Most young children know their parents' safety rules, but that knowledge has little effect on injury rates, according to a new study by University of Guelph researchers.

"Parents use a lot of rules --- don't run with scissors as an example --- so we studied what rules children actually understand," said psychology prof. Barbara Morrongiello. Along with students Corina Midgett and Roslyn Shields, she sought to identify predictors of children's injuries by studying four to six year-olds and their knowledge of their parents' safety rules.

"What we found is that children's knowledge of rules did not predict injury rates," Morrongiello said. "What does predict injury rates is children's compliance with these rules and the degree of supervision they receive."

Their findings appear in the current issue of The Journal of Pediatric Psychology.

There is little previous research available on the causes of unintentional injuries, which are the leading cause of childhood mortality for children over the age of one. Some 30,000 children throughout North America suffer permanent disabilities each year and 16 million are treated in emergency rooms. "There's lots of epidemiological evidence on the nature of injuries, but not the process of how injuries occur," said Morrongiello.

The researchers examined 97 parent-child pairs, interviewing parents about home safety and testing children with a home safety game developed especially for this study. They learned that the No. 1 problem is that 53 per cent of parents assume that their child's knowledge of the rules precludes their needing to worry about injury. "Parents know all about injury possibilities -- harmful medicines, bathtub falls, etc. -- and are aware of the necessity of childproofing," Morrongiello said, "but they also have specific beliefs about their child. "He's not a climber," parents will say, so they don't secure a bookcase. That's fine if they're right, but a problem if they're not."

The researchers found that children spontaneously named rules that matched those of their parents for only 46 per cent of the parents' rules. As a result, children's abilities to draw on home safety rules in deciding how to manage risks at home are probably insufficient for them to ensure their own safety. Consistent with this conclusion, children's knowledge of home safety rules did not relate to injury rates. In fact, the best predictors of children's injury rates were extent of parental supervision and children's compliance with home safety rules. Each was associated with lower injury rates.

The researchers also found that children can't reason in a new situation or a situation with a twist. They might understand that it's dangerous to climb on a chair, for example, but then go ahead and climb on a table. "Young children are very situation-specific," said Morrongiello. "If you say: "Don't touch these scissors," they will think you just can't touch those particular scissors. They don't generalize rules at young ages. Cognitively, they don't always understand choice and risk involved."

The researchers concluded that if childhood injuries are to be reduced, children must learn to consistently comply with the rules set by their parents and/or parents must supervise children to ensure compliance.

Contact: Prof. Barbara Morrongiello Department of Psychology (519) 824-4120, Ext. 3086

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 6982.

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