children playing

How Much Supervision a Child Needs Largely Depends on the Child’s Age

Kids are going to be kids and part of growing up means letting your child roam out of the front yard to experience life for themselves. When children fall they learn how to get up and this is an invaluable lesson. Therefore, playing should have a reasonable degree of risk and challenge to it in order to allow for healthy human development. Preventing serious harm to children while maintaining reasonable levels of risk and danger so essential to human development falls on the shoulders of the adults that bear the responsibility for supervising children, securing children’s environment and producing children’s products. These adults need to know what constitutes unreasonable risk.

Consumer products should be entertaining and educating but should adhere to reasonable product safety standards. Child caretakers and supervisors must operate within the professionally developed and prudent guidelines, standards and laws that allow for an environment that will both protect the child and allow him or her to experience life and continue to grow and develop.

According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, “Although research has shown that injuries can be prevented, many Americans still believe that injuries are “accidents,” unpredictable acts of fate beyond their control.” The 1990’s ushered in numerous safety programs, code and guidelines that were responsible for decreasing the amount of injuries to children. Car seat and bicycle helmet laws, housing laws that require the installation of smoke detectors in homes across Massachusetts, have shown all of us that safety programs do work. Accidents can be prevented as long an adults take the necessary steps to prevent them.

How much supervision or what precautions should be taken largely depends on the child’s age. A child’s ability to recognize and avoid hazardous and dangerous conditions depends on his or her age and developmental level. Understanding a child’s age and developmental level allows adults to make reasonable decisions when it comes to choosing suitable child supervisory practices, or the appropriate materials and settings for child’s play.

Infants and Toddlers

Infants, ages 0 to 12 months, and toddlers, ages 12 to 24 months, are at the greatest risk of injury and require constant supervision because they have not developed the cognitive skills and motor skills that would allow them identify and avoid risky conditions or situations on their own. Parents, relatives, babysitters, child caretakers and product manufacturers, designers and retailers bear a great responsibility for infant and toddler safety.

Infants learn and development through sensorimotor play when they discover and play with objects. They engage all five senses by grasping, tasting, chewing, sucking, reaching, handling, shacking, looking and smelling objects. An infant having tasted something enjoyable might reach for an object of similar size, shape of color hoping it will produce the same enjoyable taste. During this early stage infants must be protect from dangerous products, objects, or items that present the risk of choking, strangulation, suffocation, poisoning, drowning, fall injuries and burns.

As infants grow into toddlers they become mobile and capable of moving from room to room on their own. Toddlers often develop a desire to climb once they have mastered the ability to move around on their own. They are also unable to predict the consequences of actions because they have not developed their cause and effect thinking. Often times they will reach for a boiling pot of water on the stove not realizing the consequences that come from handling hot objects. Increased mobility and an incomplete understanding of the consequences of cause and effect thinking can expose toddlers to hazardous situations.

Late in their second year, toddlers begin asserting their own identity. They don’t look to adults for permission or guidance and are willing to defy adult commands or rules. Their defiance and need for exploration can find them sitting at the edge of a swimming pool dangling their feet in the water, stepping out of the end of the driveway and into the street, tasting a poisonous household cleaner because they like its blue color, or tipping over a dresser, television or oven because of a sudden urge to climb up unsecured items around the house. Adults might not recognize how fast a toddlers motor skills develop. With these fine motor skills a toddler can unlock a door or manipulate the on/off switch on a curling iron. That is why it is important for adults to stay within visual and vocal contact in unfamiliar settings.

Toddlers are drawn to water. They will shimmy through an opening in a fence that surrounds a pool area or they will unlock the front door to their house, walk into a neighbor’s backyard and climb up the pool ladder only to fall in and quietly drown. That was the case when Attorney Brendan J. Noonan represented the family of a two year old toddler who tragically drowned in a neighbor’s pool.


Preschoolers ages 2 through 5 years old are generally taller and heavier than toddlers, engage in a different thought process and have greater communication skills, activity levels and fine motor skills. Children around age 4 have a tendency to engage in magical and unrealistic thinking. That is why they engage in pretend play or play using make-believe.

American culture is heavily influenced by television, movies and videos games. American children’s overexposure to television, movies and video games has a great affect on the play they engage in. The behavior of superheros, action stars and wrestling stars is often play-out by children in backyards and on the school playground. The fantastical world of super heroes does not really translate to the real world based on the laws of physics. Adult supervision is needed to prevent injuries from this magical, make-believe play based on the lives of superheros seen on television.

School-Age Children

The development of School-age children ages 7 through 11 years old depends on their experiences. These children begin to use mental actions/operations in a logical manner. They are also able to focus on more than one aspect of a task simultaneously.

Despite all this children in their middle-childhood years have disorganized thinking. Their is a greater chance for serious injury during these years because of their continued push for independence, attitude of invincibility, urge to experiment and take chances, and because of peer pressure.

As they assume greater independence they find themselves venturing out into the surrounding neighborhood with their friends unsupervised. Organized sports replace make-believe play. They are hanging out with friends unsupervised and will engage in questionable and dangerous physical acts because of peer influence and a drive to impress peers.


The adolescent brain is not fully developed. The parts of the brain to develop last are the areas associated with judgment and emotions. An adolescent’s brain is more similar to a child’s brain than an adults as they are prone to impulsiveness and immature judgment.

New research suggests that the mental reward system in an adolescent’s brain seeks to stimulate pleasure producing neurons in the brain by experimenting with new, exciting and dangerous experiences.