New Study Suggests That Psychology Could Prevent Deadly Childhood Accidents


Injuries is the leading cause of death among children worldwide, and psychologists have the research needed to help predict and prevent deadly childhood accidents, according to a presentation at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association.

David C. Schwebel, PhD, of the University of Alabama Birmingham, who presented at the meeting said that various factors contribute to injuries and novel behavioural strategies can prevent injuries that were previously seen as unavoidable accidents, according to Science Daily.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, injuries were responsible for the deaths of over 11,000 children and emergency room visits by more than 6.7 million American children in 2017.  Schwebel has come up with a model that psychologists could use to reduce accidental injuries in children. The model groups risk factors in three categories: environment-based, caregiver-based and child-based factors. Each category contributes in some form to almost every incident, according to Schwebel, and preventing just one risk factor could stop an injury from occurring.

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Environment-based factors can include many different aspects of the environment with which children interact. For example, children could choke on toys if they are not designed well or be harmed in a car accident due to an incorrectly installed car seat.

Caregiver-based factors can involve anyone who is supervising a child, including parents, teachers, babysitters or even lifeguards. According to Schwebel, preschool teachers can often be underpaid and fatigued from the intense work of supervising children all day and sometimes use outdoor playground time as a break for themselves, allowing children to run free, even though the majority of injuries at preschools occur on playgrounds.

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"To solve this problem, we developed the Stamp in Safety Program where children wear a nametag, and teachers have stamps to reward the children on their nametags for engaging in safe behavior," he said.

Child-based factors include motor skills, how children perceive their environment and how they interact with others. These skills vary greatly by age, so different approaches are needed when confronting risks. For example, 7-year-olds struggle more with the cognitive demands of crossing the street than 14-year-olds.

Some intervention ideas are drawn from the personal experiences and ideas brought to him by his students, such as the Stamp-in-Safety program. And while psychological researchers are essential, this work will require collaboration across a variety of disciplines, said Schwebel. Throughout his research, Schwebel has worked with computer scientists, visual artists, electrical engineers, biostatisticians, physicians, epidemiologists and others.

Schwebel says that "psychologists have the expertise, the needed behavioural theory, and the needed methodologies to understand and take steps to prevent the significant health burden of unintentional injuries."

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