How thinking like a toddler could save your life

iStock_000012173128XSmallToddlers – they’re cute, cuddly and unintentionally hilarious (just dress one up like a miniature business man and you’ll see what I mean!) However, when it comes to keeping safe they’re just not very good at it. In fact, at times their inquisitive nature magnetically draws them to danger: forever making a beeline for the sharpest object in the room or managing to get into a tight spot where hidden dangers lurk, generally doing whatever they can to prematurely age their poor, long-suffering parents.

So what if I were to tell you that there’s actually a lot toddlers can teach us professionals about keeping safe? In fact – tantrums aside – we could all probably do with taking a leaf out of their multi-coloured board book…

Be a new computer

When a child is born, their brain is very much like a new computer. While most of their basic operating system is good to go, they have a blank ‘hard drive’, ready to gain the knowledge and develop the skills they needs to thrive – and they don’t hang around! In fact, by the age of three, toddlers have developed around 1,000 trillion connections between the cells in their brain, which is around twice as many as the average adult.

One of the main reasons toddlers have developed so many neural connections is that they’re not afraid to try new things – if something doesn’t work they naturally modify their behaviour to adapt to the situation. Adults on the other hand, tend to be far more stuck in our ways, happy to continue dangerous practices because ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’, sadly only changing after things go wrong.

Training can help break this closed mindset – although sometimes workers are so set in their ways that they require a full safety audit to spot the risks that they’ve overlooked. Either way, being open to new ideas, new information and new practices is vital if you’re serious about staying safe.

‘Play nice’

From the day we are born, we are plumbed into a social network of family members, starting with parents and siblings before widening out to include playmates and nursery friends. Anyone who’s had to Happy child with watermelontear apart a couple of two-year-olds with designs on the same Cabbage Patch Kid (or should that be Moshi Monster?) will tell you, it’s sometimes hard to teach children to share. However, by the age of three, most toddlers have usually developed the ability to respect the rights of others, work cooperatively and resolve conflicts peacefully.

Unfortunately the same cannot always be said for our colleagues. According to a recent study, one in five NHS workers said they have been bullied by colleagues, while 43% have witnessed bullying in the last six months. Workplace bullying, harassment and aggression can be a major cause of stress and ill health in the workplace, and it’s vital for the wellbeing of all workers to work in an environment that is conducive to both physical and mental health – so don’t suffer in silence!

Tell tales

‘Jimmy drew on the walls!’

‘Gemma pulled the cat’s whiskers!’

Sometimes it seems toddlers do nothing but tell tales, and as a parent it can be wearing. However, think for a moment why Jimmy and Gemma are intent on telling on each other, and it soon makes perfect sense. After all, they’ve been taught from day one that if they see a problem they should report it – it’s not their fault that their problems sometimes seem trivial (though perhaps not for the cat!)

As an adult, we sometimes forget how useful it can be to ‘tell tales’. Sometimes it’s apathy that stops us reporting a problem – we see something wrong or experience a near-miss and we assume someone else will act on it. Other times, it is the fear of being labelled a ‘grass’ or a ‘whistleblower’, or even of getting a friend or colleague into trouble, that keeps us from opening our mouths.

Sadly, it’s a fear that can cost lives.

When at work, it’s vital that we don’t walk on by and instead report anything we spot that could potentially cause an accident. It’s not ‘telling tales’ – it’s looking after your friends and colleagues, something even a toddler knows how to do…

Look what I did!

Look at the fridge of any parent and the first thing you’ll notice is the paintings – vague splashes of red and orange that look more like the deranged doodlings of a serial killer than the fire engines or fairies  they purportedly portray. Nevertheless, we still dutifully stick them up with magnets to show our miniature Picasso just how good we think they are – and for good reason!  As babies become toddlers, they learn to be proud of their accomplishments, and the positive feedback they receive helps to build their confidence and empower them to grow and improve.

The same goes for us. However much our own paintings have improved (or not, in some cases!), we still instinctively seek rewards and reassurance that that our work is good. Not only does it help to boost our self-esteem, it also encourages us to strive towards bigger and better things. When it comes to health and safety, rewarding positive behaviour is vital in helping to create a climate of personal responsibility. Awards schemes are particularly good at celebrating both individual and team accomplishments, helping to track continuing success, motivating staff and boosting morale. And if you have any lingering doubts, why not ask the 4000 people who attended the RoSPA Awards in 2013 what they think!


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