Whether you’re instructing children to look before entering the street, keep their distance from strangers (and strange animals), or put on their bike helmets—sooner or later the kids are going to ask, “Why?” Or you may want to include that information with the original instructions. But you don’t want to scare the kids (or yourself) into paranoia with gruesome details on what can happen to children who ignore precautions.
How does a parent or teacher convey health and safety rules without planting the idea that the whole world is evil and lying in wait?
“Best not to take chances” is a good idea in reference to not accepting rides from strangers—and something else altogether when it comes to taking on productive challenges. Avoiding potentially harmful situations is a good thing. Avoiding every chance of a bruise—or an embarrassment or a disappointment—is a dangerous hindrance to developing one’s full potential.
As much as how to take legitimate precautions, children need to learn confidence in their ability to handle tough situations with perseverance and resilience. Definitely teach them the rules of self-care (and set them an example), but emphasize the self part: don’t imply they’re completely helpless without an adult to protect them. And always encourage kids to follow their dreams and set their goals high.
Trying to “scare them straight” with horrifically gruesome stories typically does more harm than good. For one thing, the odds are against any individual child’s personally meeting anyone who’s had that bad an experience, so constant emphasis on worst-case scenarios may just give the impression that grown-ups always see danger where there’s none. Or it may make traumatic experiences seem so alien to everyday life, that children never grasp the idea that something or someone who looks “normal” can be dangerous.
The hardly-better alternative, of course, is that kids do take the scary stories seriously—and feel so helpless against what seems so evil, they can only freeze up if actual trouble comes. Be honest about possible dangers, but don’t leave the impression that serious harm is all but inevitable. And while sharing the hard facts about legitimate hazards, remember also to share about kids who have successfully coped with threats.
Legitimate dangers affect more than your immediate circle. Instead of passively taking in bad news, brainstorm something proactive you can do as a family/class to help others who have suffered or who lack the resources for basic precautions. (Kids often come up with the best ideas.) By making even a small difference, everyone helps build a better world for future generations—and builds lifelong personal habits of optimism, courage, confidence, and proactivity. Ultimately, the safest place for anyone to be is wherever they are guided by spiritual strength and a positive attitude.