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whitenoise's avatar

What is the best way to teach a child to stay away from danger?

Asked by whitenoise (14108points) July 9th, 2011

Inspired by this question (thank you, @Hypocrisy_Central), I just kept on feeling that it was very frustrating to see that question end up in a bitter quarrel between opposing views on corporal punishment where people felt (and were) personally attacked.

It left me feeling that we are all just wanting the best for our children and I would like to try it again, with a different approach. One we can hopefully learn from rather than be bitter about.

So (while borrowing from the other question):
”Lenny” [10ish] got caught in the tool shed attached to the back of the house, playing with matches again. He could have set off the paint, solvents and welding equipment and blown up half the house; putting himself, his mother and younger sister in danger.”

Just off that info, what is the best way to change Lenny’s behavior and be more ‘safe’?

Please feel free to elaborate on the topic though. I would also like your view on the approach to this topic in general. For olde as well as younger children.

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20 Answers

YoBob's avatar

Hmmm…. it’s a pretty tough question since “danger” takes so many forms.

I really don’t think you have to teach kids to stay away from danger since doing so is rather instinctive. The real trick is teaching them what is dangerous. This task takes many forms from the more obvious “look both ways before crossing the street” to the more subtle “stranger danger”. It’s not something that you can just read from the how to be a perfect parent playbook (as no such document exists). You just have to take an active part in child rearing every day and have faith that they will pick up what they need to along the way.

As for appropriate punishment for “Lenny”, it really depends on Lenny’s personality. Some kids respond well to the specter of corporal punishment, others respond better to having privileges revoked, and still others respond best to a good talk. Once again, their is no pat answer, your job as a parent is to know what works for your kids and to use those tools to guide them along the way.

whitenoise's avatar

It is an interesting thought to focus on guiding their instincts, by making more clear what the dangers are.

Does the way you started a new, separate paragraph on punishment mean you think it is not a part of prevention? Or something separate from that?

ucme's avatar

Little Lenny should go visit the fire dept for the day. They could show him around the place & teach him of the perils inherent with fire. Heck, he might even get a ride in a firetruck if he plays his cards right. Educational & fun, job done.

whitenoise's avatar

@ucme would you consider me too old for adoption? ‘d love go be your kid. :-)

ucme's avatar

@whitenoise I think two is enough for my little brood, although the wife constantly reminds me that i’m very definitely the third kid in the house ;¬}

Neizvestnaya's avatar

What worked on me as a very inquisitive, stubborn and “hands on” kid were stories, examples and references to actual incidents. If you showed me something graphic and awful to go with the story, it stuck.


If I was that child, my own father would have lit a match, blown it out and pressed the hot tip right on my hand, hard, to make me remember the stupidity of my actions. I would have cried and cried in excruciating pain, but at least I wouldn’t have forgot my lesson. (The old-fashioned Asian way of teaching repeat-offending children.)

As a parent myself, I wouldn’t do that to my child if he/she tried that the first time. I’d just give the naughty kid a very stern lecture and take away the child’s privileges for a week or so. Knowing how my child is and how I’ve raised her, I know that would work. But if it happened again and again, like in Lenny’s case, then my Dad’s traditional treatment for seemingly incorrigible youngsters would be in order.

JLeslie's avatar

I would wonder why? Ask him directly why is he lighting the matches? Maybe he is just fascinated by how it works, how they light up when you strike them, and in no way wants or plans to start a fire. Then I would explain how easily a fire can start, spread, and how difficult it is to put a fire out. The idea above to go to the fire station is brilliant.

If he actually says he wanted to start a fire and watch the shed burn down, I would consider psychological help.

My mom was always telling me what could go wrong, dangers around. My husband says I think of the bad too often, but I just think people like him are a little annoying. Why is it not obvious to him that leaving a pot handle turned out on the stove means someone could hit it by accident, or that a lightening storm coming really does mean you should get out of the pool?

Also, for the most part my parents had to follow the same rules as me. I knew “we” did not light matches in the shed, including my parents, because it was dangerous, it was not just a rule for the children. In my mind it is easier for children to accept rules if everyone lives by them.

Cruiser's avatar

I have found that making the kids responsible for the “safe” part of the equation helps them better understand the dangers that surround them. As an example I let my boys volunteer as “victims” in disaster situations where they were made up to look messed up by natural disasters….blood and broken bones the works. This was done in conjunction with the Red Cross and FEMA and they saw first had how making the right choice meant the difference between life or death. Teaching kids after the fact that they did wrong is a sure way to set them up to make more mistakes…..teaching them ahead of time the right way to approach danger and hazardous situations and rewarding their successes will prepare them to make better choices later in life

whitenoise's avatar

All good advise, I feel… To what extent do you think that punishment actually would add to the effectiveness of these suggestions.

Or would punishment (any form) be a (better?) alternative?

Cruiser's avatar

@whitenoise Doing something dangerous usually comes with it’s own form of punishment and depending on the event or act and whether stitches were involved so far I have given hugs and the usual look in the eye and say “you won’t ever do that again now will you?”

whitenoise's avatar


Agree… and I’m happy that so far there are others that feel that way to. These tips are great.

Like you seem to do, I personally feel that punishment is not a very effective way, but so far alternatives were not so readilly put forward during these types of discussions.

I learn from your points of view and I truly hope to hear more.

whitenoise's avatar


Do you think culture (like your Asian background) has a lot to do with how people answer this question?

whitenoise's avatar

Yes, if you feel your kid will willingly risk to burn down the house with his mother and sister inside, your problems will likely exceed what you can easily fix yourself. Good point.

JLeslie's avatar

@whitenoise My thoughts when I read @MRSHINYSHOES answer is it is like the people here in the states who put hot sauce or soap in the mouths of children who talk back or swear.

Also what came to mind was many people think a little pain now teaches the lesson. One neighbor when I was a teen, her son was around 3 years old when he was trying to get into her pins and needles, she had a seweing machine and the paraphanalia that goes along with sewing within his reach. One time when he reached for the shiny pins she stuck his finger with one. Not severly, but definitely intentionally, hoping he would not try it again. My SIL kind of was the mind that children get hurt and they learn. I don’t think my SIL or the neighbor felt they were punishing their children, rather letting them learn or teaching them.

whitenoise's avatar

Well, @JLeslie, I can to a certain extent understand the reasoning behind allowing the child to have a sample of the pain an object can cause, if that an be done in a safe way.

One if my boys, when he was just about 1 year old and barely walking, knew there was something about the lightbulbs.(We had warned him to stay away from them on various occasion.)

One evening, he was walking up to one of the lamps in the corner of the room that he could reach and stretched out his hand to it, while looking at us.

In the meanwhile we had seen him do that but decided to look away and observe him covertly from the corner of our eyes. (The lamp was on, but this was a fluorescent one, so not very hot.)

While looking at us he stood there, clearly waiting for us to notice him and tell him to go away.

After about a minute he gave up and walked off. To me that showed that sometimes you just have to focus on giving them attention when they do right things and ignore misbehavior. Even negative attention can often be received as a reward.

hope this makes sense to you :-)

JLeslie's avatar

@whitenoise Yes, it does make sense. My point was, in the minds of some parents maybe they are just taking that way of thinking one step farther. A typical sentence that comes to mind when a parent might be punishing a child physically is, “this will teach you not to do that.” I was just trying to get into the mind of that person. Maybe it is we have different lines we draw when considering what is teaching, punishing, or abusive.


@whitenoise No, but it might give them some ideas if nothing else works, as in the case of Lenny, who repeatedly doesn’t listen and keeps endangering both himself and others with lit matches. Some kids need that sort of discipline, not the kind of “pooh-pooh” discipline contemporary parents like to give, like taking away their IPods for a day or two.

I think that’s why “in general”, Asian kids work harder in school, get better grades, respect their elders more, and are generally better behaved in public than other kids. It might seem a bit harsh, but these Asian parents truly love their children and want them to succeed in life when they become adults. And for the most part, it works. Sure, there are some Asian-American kids who go wayward and end up ill-disciplined and bad, but on the whole this happens a lot more with white and black American kids. :)

JLeslie's avatar

@MRSHINYSHOES would you say Asian couples are more polite and formal with each other than white and black Americans? The Asian people I know tend to be very polite and respectful, and I cannot help but think their children are well behaved because they observe that behavior within the family, even more than the punishment they receive. I also once read that Chinese babies tend to be more docile than other races, not sure how valid that information is, but basically it was like saying they were born with a calm temperment.


@JLeslie Hate to say it, but yes. If you have ever gone to Japan or Taiwan, the people there are super nice, in public that is. With strangers, they find it hard to say “No” and will not disagree with you out of respect. At home they can be surly and harsh, especially with the kids. But when these kids grow up, they learn to conform to the rigors of their society. It’s hard for American youngsters and parents to understand, but it seems to work for them.

I do think it is partly genetic too, like you said. If you observe a kindergarten class, or even a daycare, most Asian kids are on the quiet side. There may be a few rambunctious, noisy ones, but most tend to be quiet, peaceful. My own two little daughters are like that——quiet, reserved, and gentle. The youngest one is a bit more rebellious than her older sister, but in comparison to her white female friends, she’s still considered quiet and gentle in class by her teacher. During a parent-teacher meeting once, the kindergarten teacher told me how much she liked my little 5 year-old because she was “always so conscientious, well-behaved, and docile,” and I remember looking at my wife and thinking “Lol. Really? She’s a little spitfire at home”. Then I realized, ” Well, maybe when you compare her to other Asian kids.”

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