Step 5 – Dealing With Hazards
Dealing With Hazards
In this strategy you are going to teach your child to tackle those situations that cause them to be scared or anxious by focussing on their own safety skills. Learning how to be rational in a situation and thinking through safe approaches is fundamental in reducing your child’s fears and anxieties. Helping your child to approach their fears in this way builds them a long-term strategy to deal with situations that initially frighten them or cause them to be anxious.
This approach can be both general for dealing with everyday fears and anxieties, or you can help your child work up to tackling larger fears which are more persistent as they grow in confidence.
Psychology Fun Facts
Children can be unsure whether they have the safety skills that are adequate to deal with any hazards they encounter. They need to develop their skills in coping with hazards in their world.
Effective management of fears requires two approaches:
- Dealing with internal processes by calming their stress reaction and having constructive self-talk, and,
- Finding safety skills that are suited to dealing with each type of hazard they encounter.
During the mid-childhood years many children are moving from an environment that their parents have kept safe into environments outside of the home where there are hazards. It’s important for children to learn that both hazards and safe situations exist and, to know how to distinguish the two situations.
Children need to learn how to manage hazards, both outside and inside the home.
Often hazards are associated with distinct cues that give a warning about the danger. Children can learn about cues in the environment that signal the level of risk of hazards. A simple example involves the colour of traffic lights. It’s safe to cross a road when a traffic light is green, but it’s dangerous to cross when the same light is red. Children can be taught that there are cues of both safety and danger and the importance of looking out for both.
Hazards are situations where it’s likely that harm will occur.
Children can learn to distinguish three levels of risk based on the likelihood that harm will occur:
- in safe situations the risk of harm is very low.
- in risky situations the risk of harm is moderate if a child does not use safety skills.
- in dangerous situations there is a high risk of harm even if a child uses safety skills.
Children can learn cues that show the level of risk in different situations. Children who recognise these cues that signal a level of safety and risk are able to remain within situations they have the skills to manage.
Children who can distinguish between these three levels of risk are ready to learn skills to manage the middle level of risky situations. Children who distinguish only 2 levels of risk (safe and dangerous) are engaging in black-white thinking and are not ready to learn safely to manage risks.
It’s during the mid-childhood years that children are ready to learn to manage risky situations by learning to recognise cues of safety and danger and use safety skills to manage them.
Anxious children find it hard to manage risky situations as they over-estimate the chances that harm will occur. This causes them to avoid the situations and can mean they have lower confidence in their coping skills to deal with risky situations. Anxious children benefit from extra help to manage risky situations. Encouraging them to avoid all risk can compound their anxieties.
By the end of this activity, your child will be able to assess situations that they see as safe, risky or dangerous. Helping them to apply safety skills in any risky situations to reduce their anxieties and build their confidence with your guidance.
Step 1: Know when you’re safe
The first step in this strategy is to help your child understand when they are totally safe.
Start by explaining to your child where they are safe. Your home, their bedroom, your garden. Any areas which you have childproofed for them and they can act however they wish without risk of harm.
Step 2: Recognise hazards
Once your child has a good idea of recognising when they’re safe, the next step is to teach them to recognise anything that is a hazard.
Have your child point out some everyday hazards. Make sure you do this at home and when you’re out and about.
Encourage your child to identify things in three levels.
- Safe, meaning I can do this without thinking
- A bit risky, meaning I can do this but I need to be careful and take some precautions.
- Dangerous for me. To be avoided.
Step 3: Talk it through
Once your child has decided on their own assessment of a situation, talk it through with them.
What to do when your child says it’s safe:
Do you agree? Most importantly are they correct that something is safe. If your child incorrectly decides something is safe, it’s important that you point out any common hazards and let them know you will teach them how to approach it safely.
What do you do when your child says it’s a bit risky?
Are they right? If your child states something is a bit risky, ask them what their plan is to keep themselves safe. When a child states something is risky, it’s very likely that have spotted the risk, but also come up with a plan to minimise it themselves.
Talk through their plan to stay safe, check you are ok with it and encourage them to stick to their plan.
What do you do when your child says it’s dangerous?
Are they right? If your child decides something is dangerous, ask them to explain why they think it’s dangerous.
Depending on the hazard it may be too dangerous and they’ve judged the situation correctly.
Alternatively, they are seeing something as dangerous because they have no idea how to approach it safely.
Offer to show them the safety skills they need to approach the situation.
If your child feels comfortable to attempt it with your help and guidance on safety skills, then let them know they have just moved it to ‘a bit risky’.
Encouraging your child to try is important, but don’t push them to do anything they don’t want to do. Respecting their boundaries and letting them approach things in their own time builds their confidence and has better long-term results.
Step 4: Tackling persistent fears
By now your child has a developed a problem-solving approach to assessing situations, staying calm and focussing on safe ways to tackle them. So, now is the right time to tackle that one big fear that they need to overcome by using this strategy.
Be patient with your child, and be sure to focus on their progress rather than their remaining fear. If your child still holds onto one specific fear, remember that this fear is 100% genuine in their mind and be sure that you are treating it accordingly.
Keep praising your child for the progress they’ve made since you started this strategy. This will help to build your child’s confidence knowing they have a new tool to use to tackle their fears.
Now you have completed our module on Managing Fears and Anxieties, your child has some great tools and techniques they can use for the long-term in those unavoidable situations in life that will be scary. Keep up this approach to give your child the best chance overcome these situations and develop positive mental health.