Concepts of trust and danger, which are virtually meaningless to a two-year-old, make perfect sense to older children.
It is critical that parents use safety instructions appropriate to a child’s age if they want them to be followed.
For example, two-year-olds respond to rules and are old enough to know that certain actions bring their parents’ disapproval. Express strong disapproval if a child wanders away at the mall. Two is also a good age to plant the idea that some actions require permission.
Three-year-olds begin to understand the concept of trust. Tell them exactly who they can turn to for specific kinds of help — the babysitter, a neighbor, etc.
Four-year-olds are risk takers, so it is an important time to reinforce safety rules and step up supervision. Children at this age can begin to understand that not every person they meet is trustworthy.
At five, children start school and interact with new people, including older children who could be intimidating or unkind. It’s a good time for parents to reinforce positive perceptions of people.
By six, most children have begun to develop intuition. This is the time to encourage them to trust their own instincts: if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
Using instructions appropriate for a child’s age helps make sure the directions will be followed.