Our Recent Research!
Virtual Reality Backpack Study
Over the last few years we have been using fun and innovative virtual reality technology to generate realistic traffic conditions. This system allows us to study and understand how a child would cross a 'virtual' street. We have developed an interactive virtual reality system to learn about how wearing a backpack influences children's ability to cross the street safely.
Being hit by cars when crossing streets is a major cause of injury for school-aged children, and we are the only team in Canada who is using this approach to better understand how we can help children to cross streets more safely!
Exploring Children's Street Crossing Behaviours Using Virtual Reality Technology
Children are at a higher risk for pedestrian/motor vehicle accidents than adults, but it is unknownwhy exactly this is: Could it be that children are less able to pay attention to the important aspects of busy streets? Is it because they have poor coordination? Are they unable to properly estimate how much time it takes to cross streets safely? Or is it a combination of several developmental factors? This study is using the CDRU's own innovative Virtual Reality system (the first of its kind!) to compare the street-crossing ability of children ages 7 - 12 with that of adolescents/young adults ages 17+, so that we can answer the question, WHY are children so susceptible to pedestrian injuries? During the study, participants wear the Virtual Reality headset, which very accurately simulates a residential street, and they determine when it is safe to cross based on the traffic flow presented. Children have found this study very fun!
Unintentional Injury Risk in School-age Children: Inter-relations between Parent and Child Factors
We know that child injury rates are influenced by both parent and child characteristics, but we don't know much about how these interact. This study sought to find out more about how parent and child characteristics are related to one another and how this might influence injury in childhood.
Results showed that children's consistency in their risk-taking behaviour influences their mothers' accuracy in predicting children's risk-taking, and that together, these influence the rate of injury for children. Specifically, when children were inconsistent in their risk-taking behaviour (i.e., sometimes they would take risks and sometimes they would not) mothers often assumed that these children would take risks. Because of this, mothers would often be overly cautious and enhance their safety practices, thereby reducing injury rates for their children.
When children were consistent in their risk-taking behaviour, (i.e., they typically would take risks, OR they typically would not take risks) mothers tended to be too optimistic that their children could manage risk-taking without getting hurt. This reduced the likelihood that mothers would implement safety precautions, ultimately increasing the injury-risk for these children.
Improving Safety Messaging for Parents of Young Children
This study was designed to find out more about parents' perceptions of images that accompany written safety messages. There has been much debate about whether or not these images should show negative consequences, such as a child crying. In this study, mothers of young children were presented with two types of images: One that showed an injury outcome and expressions of fear or upset on the child's face, and the other that showed the risk behaviour by the child (e.g., the child running on stairs) but no consequence.
Results revealed that it is important to show injury consequences, as mothers rated these types of images as a better fit to the safety messages, better at communicating danger, and more eye-catching and emotionally arousing.
Now that we know what types of images mothers find to be most effective at conveying safety issues, future safety messages can be designed to ensure that the importance of the message is communicated.
Mothers' Teaching of Saftey Rules for Child Injury Prevention
In this study, mothers reported on the home safety rules they have tried to teach to their toddlers. We found that parents create more safety rules as children age, and that these rules were usually developed in reaction to the child doing something that could lead to injury, or asking something that indicated the child was not aware of an important safety issue.
To teach safety rules, mothers tried restating rules often, explaining the safety issue, and showing children how to behave safely. As children got older, mothers sometimes used a 'fear eliciting' approach so that children would learn what injuries could occur if they did not follow a safety rule.
Mothers reported that children were not always compliant with rules: Sometimes children did not understand the safety issue, but other times they understood and still chose not to comply.
Overall it seems that repetition and persistence are important for teaching young children safety rules. Because it takes a while for children to understand the safety issue and they are not always compliant with rules, it is important that parents continue to supervise closely as they work on teaching children about safety. Teaching is not a good substitute for supervising when children are very young!
Assessing the Effectiveness of the CDRU's Supervising for Home Safety Program
We know that active supervision by parents works to prevent childhood injuries, but parents do not always supervise closely. In this study the CDRU developed a program called Supervising for Home Safety, and examined its effectiveness for improving parent supervision practices.
Parents were randomly divided into two groups: One group watched the program's video designed to improve supervision, and the other watched a video targeting healthy eating habits and physical activity. Parent supervision was assessed before and after watching the videos.
Results indicated that parents who viewed the safety video improved their supervision at home, while the parents who viewed the healthy lifestyle video did not. Also, these improvements in supervision persisted.
Some Early Years Centres in our area have used the program so more parents can learn techniques to improve their home supervision practices and decrease children's risk of injury!
Can a Storybook Improve Children's Safety Knowledge?
While it is crucial that parents learn about effective safety practices, it is also important that children learn about them as well. Making up clear rules is one way to teach children about safety, but another way that can be more fun and engaging for children, is through storybooks. In this project, the CDRU created a storybook called Careful Puppy Saves the Day and examined its effectiveness in teaching children about home hazards and safety issues.
For four weeks, mothers and their 3 - 5 year old children read the Careful Puppy storybook. Measures of children's knowledge of home hazards were taken before and after reading the storybook.
We found that children who read the Careful Puppy storybook learned a lot about safety! They were able to identify more hazards in novel photos and they showed fewer risky behaviours compared to children who read the other storybook. In addition, both children and mothers enjoyed the time they spent reading about Careful Puppy's adventures. Clearly the Careful Puppy Saves the Day storybook is a fun and effective way to teach young children about safety!
The Impact of Instruction on the Supervision Practices of Older Siblings
Younger siblings are more likely to become injured when being supervised by an older sibling than a parent. This study sought to determine whether explicitly instructing older siblings to supervise their younger siblings and prevent specific risky behaviours improves their supervision practices.
Results confirmed that older siblings who were explicitly told to supervise and prevent risky behaviours were more proactive and watchful in their supervision than those who were not explicitly instructed. They were also more likely to call attention to hazards and tell younger siblings not to touch them. Finally, compared to non-instructed older siblings, explicitly instructed older siblings were more likely to take action and physically prevent their younger siblings from interacting with hazards.
Thus, one simple way to improve sibling supervision and reduce injury to younger children is to explicitly tell older siblings that they are in charge and identify for them particular hazards the younger child should not touch.
Learning about Sibling Interactions in the Home
We know that siblings' interactions toward one another are related to child injury rates, but what is it specifically about these interactions that link to injuries? In this study we're were trying to learn more about how siblings get along and interact in the home, and how these interactions change over time. We recruited children aged 6 - 10 years old who have younger siblings (aged 2½ - 5) to participate to help us learn about this. We first had families come to the CDRU for an initial visit with us, then we visited the families at their home three times over a six-month period. During these visits, parents and their children answered some questionnaires about sibling interactions, and then we also recorded about a half an hour of children interacting together.
Children typically spend a lot of time with their siblings, so gaining a better understanding of their interactions can greatly help us reduce child injuries!
Teaching Older Siblings To Become Better Supervisors of Younger Children
Research shows that younger siblings take more risks and are less compliant when being supervised by older siblings than with parents. Young supervisors often respond to their siblings' risk taking using the same strategies as mothers, but they are less watchful and often model risk taking for their younger siblings.
This study sought to determine whether we can actually teach older siblings to be better supervisors. We did this by having children complete an online supervision training program over several weeks. Our findings showed that those who participated in the intervention showed significant improvements in identifying hazards and understanding why they were dangerous. Moreover, these children were better supervisors and took more proactive steps to eliminate younger siblings' access to hazards. Thus, the SafeSibs program was very effective!