At what age are children able to understand and recognise risk and act accordingly to that perceived risk?
Risk is defined as the probability of harm and those children most at risk from an accident are the 0-4 years age group. Most accidents to children of this age happen at home, in a familiar environment, where they are usually well supervised.
Some of the common hazards in the home (something which can cause harm) are stairs, windows, hot drinks, blind cords and hair straighteners. It is important to realise that children are not aware of all the hazards in the home or when they are out and about. However, this does not mean that children cannot recognise hazards or understand risk. Children are able to recognise some hazards from a very early age - crawling babies will avoid obvious heights, but they do not have the control over their bodies that older children do, so can easily fall.
It is vitally important for adults to take responsibility for the youngest children, gradually helping them to learn how to keep themselves safe as they get older, but they need to learn how to manage risk, just like adults. For example, toddlers may be naturally reluctant to come down stairs unaided, but with adult help they learn to come down backwards on their hands and knees.
Learning to recognise hazards and assess and manage risk can start with following simple instructions - holding hands with an adult on a busy street, or wearing a seat belt in the car. Gradually, children can (and do) learn how to cross the street, first with an adult and then alone. As young adults they can then set a good example to younger siblings and peers and help others to be safe on the road.
Like adults, children learn about what is risky from experience and as children gain more independence, they encounter many more hazards and risky situations. Sometimes their behaviour will result in a bump, a bruise or a scrape - occasionally it can be far worse. As adults we tend to expect the worst outcomes and so can become over-protective. Showing children how to keep themselves safe without scaring them and making them risk averse is a tricky job for a parent or carer. Ideally, children and young people will learn how to maximise the benefits of challenge and adventure, while managing the risks. This means being as safe as necessary, not necessarily as safe as possible.
Date Updated/Created: 05/07/2012
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