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Child Safety Guide

1) Begin with a Positive Approach

It is our role as parents to teach and set guidelines to help our children learn. With the best of intentions, parents usually think they are doing this when they see their child do something  they are concerned about and sternly let out an extended "Nnnnnooooo". What most parents do not realize is young children really do not understand what the word means. Stop and try yourself to define it without using "no". It is very difficult. If you find it hard to define the word then how would a baby? When a child is young enough, particularly when they do not have language skills, you might as well be saying "Mmmmoooooo"

Put yourself in the shoes of your child. The bottom line is, no one, at any age, likes to be ordered, finds it easy to have self control or comes to understand without having the chance to experience for themselves. You, as the parent have the experience and have gained the knowledge. Instead of raising a intimidated child, who is always looking over their shoulder to see what your reaction to what they are doing, (consequently learning to seek your negative attention), simply removing risks allows them the chance to be children. They are given the freedom to learn through discovery and become a self-sufficient person.

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2) The Problem

People can think we are going over board  and being "helicopter parents" with childproofing as if we are over protecting children, but facts suggest something different.

The average person in our North American society are not aware of the seriousness of the childhood injury problem. A child is many more times likely to be hospitalized or die from injury than from contracting a disease. Our paediatricians, health care researchers and government officials know this, but efforts to educate people often run into the "it-will-not-happen-to-me", "I-am-always-with-them", "we-did-not-baby proof-and-our-children-grew-up-fine", or "the-baby-has-to-learn-no" ways of thinking. They also have to deal with budgetary restrictions. The irony is, that while studies verify that preventative measures can and do reduce health care costs, money allocated for prevention is usually the first to be cut.

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3) The Solution

The great news is that injury prevention researchers, doctors, foundations (often started by families who have suffered lose due to injury) and practitioners all over the world are working together and documenting the facts to governments (see links). With statistical proof that injury is a huge expense, both to our health care systems and in the loss of economic productivity, governments are starting to recognize that funding preventative programs is essential to manage health care costs. Realizing that most injuries are not "accidents", governments on all levels are beginning work towards Injury Prevention policies. Until these programs come about, safety conscious parents like you will need to seek out information on their own. Hopefully this site will help you find what you are looking for.

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4) Baby Proofing and Safety Equipment

An important step for new parents buying baby gear is to take a look at the safety information on baby equipment distributed by different government and social agencies (see links). This is particularly important when buying or receiving used- items. While the majority of "practically-new" items should not be a problem, they are still worth checking. Even if several generations of one family have used a product without incident, this is not sufficient assurance for safety. It is really important however, to note the date of any information consulted. Companies may have changed their products in the interim. It is also important to know that different countries have different standards. Also, be cautious of consumer reports. While some of the comments may be helpful, their studies are often limited by a short study time frame, emphasis on accessibility and a bias for lower price range. When safety is involved, cost might not be your main concern.

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5) Get Prepared for Baby Proofing

To help parents prepare for baby proofing they must ready themselves for change. That is change in your way of thinking and change in the house. Many people do not see why they should have to make changes for babies. They expect that the baby should have to fit in and will do as told. If you have not been around young children for a while, it might be a good idea to invite friends and relatives with small children over to your house. Instead of focusing on the conversation with the adults, spend some time watching the little ones and what they are doing. Rather than inwardly finding fault with their parents for not controlling their children from touching your things, recognize that this experience is a valuable lesson for you.

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6) Understand from a Child's Perspective

Statistics find that each North American child will go to emergency at least once in their lifetime for a fall. Contrary to what may think,children's bones are not made of rubber and they can suffer serious injury from a fall. Falling is the greatest reason why children are hospitalized.

Have you ever stopped to realize, one of the main reasons why children are so vulnerable to falling is because they are top heavy. Their head is an oversized in proportion to the rest of their bodies. It is bowling ball balanced on their shoulders. Children are also at a disadvantage because they are small but live in a giant's home. Everything in the house is sized to someone bigger than him or her. Think about your last visit to your old grade school and how things looked so much smaller than you remember. To reach things, babies have to climb. For our convenience, we put them up on beds, counters, changing tables etc. This increases their chances of falling.

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7) Understand How Your Baby Thinks

Taking your word as the sole reason why they should not touch requires self-restraint and more memory processing than children are capable of at such a young age. Put yourself in their shoes. Wouldn't you want to touch something new to find out what it does? Wouldn't you want to go pick up and handle that shiny new thing? The self-restraint of realizing that it might not be a good idea to touch is learned through the experience of breaking or witnessing someone else break something. What's embarrassment, value of money or priceless heirlooms to a two year old?

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8) Remove or Instruct?

What would be easier? Struggling with spontaneous curiosity and lack of awareness, or simply removing the object of curiosity? People often say they do not baby proof their home "because their child needs to learn not to touch". Yes they do, but ordering them not to touch is causing them not to learn. For instance, learning about vases would involve bringing one out and letting the child touch and experience it. That is, with the exception of breaking it. When the lesson is over, put it away again, rather than expect that they now completely understand or have the motor ability to handle it carefully. Remember, they still have not seen that it can shatter. Also remember, self-restraint, when no one is around to remind you, is a complicated skill even for adults.

Research finds that children do not understand consequences until they are about 6-7 years. It is about then that they can store experiences and relate them to new ones.

Those friends who say they never removed anything either had children with very tranquil personalities, have poor memories or went through a great deal of frustrating, angry times trying to stop the natural instincts of curious babies.

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9) When to Start Removing

Taking this all into account, when do you actually start removing things? Why not before someone gets hurt? Before a little one starts to move on their own. Before they can reach out and grab, possibly pulling something down and breaking it. You have a few months before this begins to happen. Remember those things your young visitors went after? Get down on the floor to experience what it is like down there. Consider the items you want to remove and how much time it will take to make the changes. This will vary from home to home.

Removing dangers before the baby gains the awareness that changes have been made is so much more positive. Growing up in the house where a gate has always been there would make it just another part of the furniture rather than something to go stand and rattle. Latches suddenly put on cupboards that used to open freely could be frustrating and confusing to learning.

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10) When Do Babies Know "No"?

Before babies have language skills, they do come to some comprehension that when you have that stern look and blurt out "no" that you are unhappy and something is not right. The problem is they may not be able to connect to what exactly you might be referring. If you say "no" when child looks like they are about to reach out to touch your plant, what do they understand they are doing wrong? In their simplistic view of the world, there are many other things going on at the same time. Does your problem have something to do with the plant or that they are standing, have only one sock on, are watching the cat, listening to the radio, or that they are crying? Maybe they had no intention of touching the plant in the first place and it was just the angle of what you saw. There might be a toy behind the plant that they were reaching for and you cannot see it. 

To give you some real life examples, I have met several grandparents who, during introductions of visitors at their home, their grandchildren introduced them as "No, No" thus associating something they often said, as their name. In a similar idea, a friend once told me how her son remembers that he got spanked for seeing a mouse. What caused him to think like this? One day while at the cottage he was misbehaving at the lunch table. At the same time, a mouse happened to run out across one of the beams in the wall. His parents wanting to put a stop to his behaviour gave him a swat on the behind. To this day, he thinks he was punished because he saw the mouse.

Many years ago, while installing some gates for a family, I could not help but notice the stressful exchange between the Mum and her 3-year-old daughter. I heard her say "no" so often; I took note of the time on my watch and starting counting. After half and a hour, I was up to 90 "No's". The Mum thought she was helping her child by telling her to stop touching the framed photographs on the coffee table, the decorations on the window ledges, the plants on the floor, the magazines on the book shelf, the buttons on the VCR or TV, and spilling her drink on the rug in their family room. Her Mum did not recognize the irony that they were in the family room and her daughter was being chastised for close to everything she attempted to do. No matter how many times or for what reason "no" was said, her daughter was not getting it.

Aside from children not understanding, parents also do not realize other consequences of frequent "no's". That 3 year old would grow up loosing a good deal of confidence to try something on her own. She would learn to second guess everything she did or become fearful of adults and people in authority. She would loose her initiative to discover through experiencing and experimenting with how things worked. Her self esteem and self worth would be always under question. When much of what a child hears from a parent is negative, then to get their attention, they learn to do that thing again because that is how I have my Mommy or Daddy notice me. A vicious circle begins. Childhood no longer becomes carefree fun and learning in a safe environment. It becomes stressful, frustrating and unpleasant for everyone, AND on top of that risks injury.

In the past, children were to be "seen and not heard." and punished for doing wrong. Today parents have the resources of the studies in social behaviour and what they have taught us to help us think differently. Instead of treating others as inferior for reasons of sex, colour, medical condition, religion, age, experience, etc. today we aim to treat others with respect. It is not a child's fault that they do not have experience or self discipline, though many consider that it "serves them right" if they do something to get hurt when they were told not to touch. "They will learn not to do it again," is often expressed. If a child push another chile, some think that if you push them back they will then they will have a better understanding. But while they might experience that it does hurt, it would not necessary connect why they got pushed or stop them from doing it again. In fact the whole thing could backfire and cause them learn that this is a perfect way to get attention especially when they are upset of frustrated.

In life, we all need to learn about social graces and limits, but babies need a chance to gain the experiences, which lead to this. It is such a shame that for the sake of safety, misunderstanding their abilities and decorating that we create such negativeness in young children's lives. Instead of insisting that those things stay in place, if that little girl's family had chosen to remove the objects they did not want her to touch, and let their daughter play in the family room, then there would be less need for all the "no's". If we think more about recognizing the good things our little ones do, teaching them will be much more pleasant. In order to do this, we need to create an environment around them that removes those dangerous things they do not understand yet. Then knowing "no" is not as necessary.

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