Date of Award

Spring 1985

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


In the present study, children's level of causal reasoning and cognitive style were considered as possible predictors of their understanding of safety and accident prevention. Understanding of safety and accident prevention were operationalized as differentiation of safe and unsafe situations and specification of measures for preventing accidents, respectively. Individual interviews were conducted with 112 children, aged 3 through 8 years, currently enrolled in either a daycare or after-school program.

An accurate understanding of safety and accident prevention was related to an understanding of causal relations and to a reflective cognitive style. However, multiple regression analyses revealed that level of causal reasoning eliminated cognitive style as a significant predictor of children's safety and prevention scores. The correlations and regressions for 3 to 5 year olds and 6 to 8 year olds were examined separately for age-related differences. The variability in the younger group's performance on the predictor measures explained more of the variance in their safety and prevention scores compared to the older children's performance. These differences are discussed in terms of the children's stage of development and the higher national rate of accidents among preschoolers compared to school-age children. Examination of children's safety and prevention scores also indicated that the ability to differentiate between safe and unsafe situations occurred prior to the ability to specify preventive measures. Implications of the results for safety education programs are discussed.

Parents' style of responding to children in unsafe, hypothetical situations and their beliefs concerning determinants of children's development were examined in an exploratory manner. Different styles were represented in parents' responses to children, with many parents using no style consistently across unsafe situations. There were no significant relations evident between parents' response styles or beliefs concerning development and children's safety and prevention scores.

Measurement issues and directions for future research concerning the child and parental variables are presented. Suggestions include a longitudinal investigation of children's frequency of accidents, cognitive characteristics, concepts of safety and prevention, and interactions with significant others to clarify the relations among these variables.