Every mother I know is sick to the back teeth, listening to advice on how to keep her baby or toddler safe. Conveniently enough, 90% of that advice revolves around covering sharp edges with foam, securing electric outlets, keeping heavy objects away from them and sequestering cleaning liquids. Like you didn't know that already! Sounds familiar?
There's good news.
Your little ones are actually more capable and better equipped to keep themselves safe than you give them credit for. No matter how much you want to, it's impossible (and unhealthy!) to bubble wrap your baby's world. A much healthier and longer-term solution is to raise a child with an internal compass that helps her make smart decisions to keep her body safe. And believe it or not, it can start when she's as young as 6 months old.
Here are three ways:
Talk, not action
A 2012 study by psychologists Elika Bergelson and Daniel Swingley from the University of Pennsylvania demonstrated that a child's ability to understand precedes her ability to speak. A 6-month-old may not be able to say the words, but she definitely understands them, and she understands the intention in your voice even better. So talk to your baby as if you're advising her about what is okay and what isn't.
If she has a small object in her hands, instead of yanking it away, talk to her about what she can and can't do with it: "Putting it in the mouth is not okay, but playing with your hands is." (You need to be right next to her to supervise this kind of learning, of course.) She may find it hard to comprehend the multiple instructions, but when repeated over days and weeks, she'll get the idea. Talk to kids like they're smart and capable. A sure indicator of them having learnt is when they look for your reaction when they're doing something they're not supposed to!
What's your first thought when you see your toddler climb on a chair that she could easily fall off? Most parents would quickly pick up the child and plant him on the floor again. Hold that thought for just a few seconds. Instead, ask her if she feels safe at that height. You'll notice that she'll look around to gauge her balance. In the long run, developing this habit will help her decide what is physically safe. If your child isn't in imminent danger, it's a good method to use because it makes kids use and develop all their senses in the attempt to stay safe. The more you practise, the keener their senses become.
You are the law
Using a conciliatory approach for the most part will make your voice and body language more emphatic when you mean business. Like I mentioned earlier, even when kids don't understand the meaning, they understand the tone of your voice. Overusing 'No' devalues the word. So use it only in cases when you're laying down the law as something being unacceptable. Instead of saying, "No, don't go near the stove," say, "The stove is hot. Papa needs space to cook. Move away, please." This way, when you say, "No, you can't bite people," in a firm, no-nonsense voice, she is more likely to take it seriously.
All these explanations might seem like a lot of work. But explaining the rationale behind avoiding certain experiences and objects will help her grasp the concept of cause and effect as well as make her take responsibility for her actions. The sooner she learns these concepts, the faster you would be able to stop worrying about stray coins and uncovered plugs or sockets!