A University of Iowa study finds that the conversations parents have with their children after an injury help them avoid danger in the future. "Don't do that again!" is the common refrain that most parents respond with when their child lands in the emergency room, the study found.
However, if a child's injury is caused by some environmental hazard -- a crack in the sidewalk or a hole in the road -- parents are more likely to caution their children to be more careful and, if the child is older, help them understand why the situation was dangerous.
The study also found that parents are far more likely to urge daughters than sons to be more careful in the future. Researchers said it is these types of conversations parents have with their children after a serious injury that help young people internalize safety values, a process similar to how a child develops a conscience.
"Even though parents often feel that these conversations are falling on deaf ears, over time they help children develop that little voice in the back of their head that keeps them from doing dangerous things," said study co-author Jodie Plumert. When children are very young, parents prevent injury by keeping a close eye on them.
"But ultimately, kids gain independence, and they need to be out in the world exploring things on their own," said lead author Elizabeth O'Neal. "Parents need to find a good way to teach their children how to navigate novel situations that may be dangerous. We think conversations are an important way this occurs," O'Neal added.
But parents should not assume that just because a child lands in the emergency room, they have learned their lesson about the dangers of the situation, the researchers said.
"I think adults can sometimes mistakenly perceive that a child understands what happened and why it happened, and that may not be the case. Having parents go over that can be helpful for the child," Plumert said. The study was published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology