One of the reasons many of us pursue an independent way of life is our desire to instill values in our children. We want them to grow up confident, independent, hardworking, flexible and with a knowledge of the world beyond what they learn from a screen.
We want them to see baby animals born. We want them to see them butchered. We want them to share the sweat and aching muscles of plowing and seeding the ground that lead to the pride of the harvest.
But living close to nature can be dangerous for the uninformed and careless. Even if you don’t live on a farm, if your child socializes often with farming families, then safety can be a concern. While children may mean well, they lack the physical maturity and knowledge that adults have. And even adults get hurt. Instilling safety awareness and safety practices in our children is both a must and an honor.
Do a Cursory Farm Safety Evaluation
The first place to start is taking time to evaluate your farm set-up and determine if you can change or adapt anything to make it safer for the younger members of your family.
“Although it’s not possible to child-proof a farm completely, parents should strive to make the farm as safe as possible” (Hobby Farms, July 2010).
Do gates and locks need to be installed? Are fences in need of repair? Inspect your farm frequently for hazardous materials and substances. Keep poisonous liquids and substances up out of reach and locked away, as children can be quite creative and determined. Additionally, label all hazardous materials. This not only discourages unwanted tampering, but may make crucial information immediately available if a child does get into them.
Keep machinery in good repair and locked with the keys removed when not in use. Fence off water troughs, ponds and manure pits. Manure pits can give off poisonous gases that build up. These gases can remain behind even after a pit or silo is emptied, so don’t allow children to be around or in these. Never allow children to play in grain silos or wagons, as entrapment and suffocation can occur. Teach children to go for help if someone does become entrapped, rather than entering the silo or wagon themselves. Keep earplugs handy around louder machinery. Ensure children and visitors wear them. Provide appropriate barn attire (snug fitting without fringes, so it doesn’t catch in machinery) and sturdy boots (to protect little feet from dropped implements or wayward animal hooves) and insist in their use when helping out on the farm. When you find a hazard, take care of it immediately.
For very young children, your main role is to provide constant supervision, teach obedience and become well-informed about farm safety practices yourself. It may be wise to set up a fenced-in play area for little ones to play. Although toddlers should be supervised at all times, this play area may be a great way to introduce them to the sounds and sights of farm animals and equipment.
Between the Ages of Five and Nine
When children get a little older, they can begin to undertake simple farm chores, like feeding animals and helping with gardening. Most farm accidents that occur at this age are caused by slipping and falling, by machinery, and by being struck by an object. Don’t allow children to climb machinery, but do teach them how to maintain a safe distance from loft and wagon edges. Teach children to make a wide berth around larger animals like cows and horses. A kick from a horse can bruise an adult badly. For a child, a kick to the head can be fatal. Teach children to keep their palm flat when feeding animals by hand. Discourage them from hand feeding if you have animals prone to biting. Begin to teach hand washing as a must after dealing with animals, as many illnesses can be passed from animal to human. Always, ALWAYS, supervise children at this age. Your role as parent is to be continuously teaching them safety. Children often need reminded again and again before something becomes habitual.
Between the Ages of 10 and 13
At this age, animals, machinery and recreational vehicles (ATVs and bikes) are the causes of the greatest number of farm injuries. Children are stronger now and can perform more tasks. However, they are still developing mentally. As children become more independent and desire peer acceptance, they begin to try more and may complain about too much supervision. Enforce rules (through consequences and rewards) like helmet wearing and safe trail use. Don’t allow children under 16 to operate ATVs or other motorized vehicles. Begin to teach them safe machinery use by letting them “assist” you.
“Teach older kids how to turn off machinery — they might save someone’s life in an emergency. If your child is cared for by a family member or other caregiver, make sure that person knows how to turn off machinery in case your child is in danger” (KidsHealth.org, “Farm Safety,” January 2012).
Remember that even though their physical skills have increased, they still need supervision, training and frequent safety reminders. Don’t allow children to ride in the back of pickups or to double up on tractors with single seats. Another good thing to do is have them talk with friends or peers that have been involved in farm accidents. This can help your children take safety more seriously and give your words added weight as they hear it reinforced by others.
Between the Ages of 13 and 16
Between the ages of 13 and 16, children are becoming more independent and now more than ever are looking for peer acceptance. This can lead them to be more daring with animals and recreational vehicles. They also may begin to resist adult authority. Be prepared to continue to enforce rules. My family had a rule about not using the mower or power tools when there was no driver on the premises. While we never had an accident, it was a wise rule since having ready transportation can make a big difference in rural accidents where ambulances may take too long to arrive. The teen years are also a good age to begin tractor training and supervised tractor use. Additionally, your children may be involved in FFA (Future Farmers of America) or 4-H. Encourage children to be involved in the organization’s safety programs. Your children may be more receptive to taking advice from other mentors. The added benefit of seeing peers’ involvement in farm safety will go a long way toward farm safety becoming habitual.
Between the Ages of 16 and 18
While skills have greatly increased by the time a young adult is between the ages of 16 and 18, your role as a safety instructor is not over. The greatest number of farm injuries at this age are caused by animals, machinery, power tools, and slips and falls. Young adults may have a feeling of “immortality.” They may discuss farm safety and talk about injuries knowledgeably, but they will believe unconsciously that such accidents will never happen to them. Taking risks are part of becoming an adult. However, keep firm, consistent rules. Give rewards for acceptances of adult responsibilities and encourage young adults to become safety role models. Continue to keep safety dialogue open, and allow and reward young adults for making safe decisions.
Unfortunately, accidents and injuries do occur, but much can be done by parents to lessen the risks their children are exposed to on the farm. After all, you chose this life because of the benefits it provides your children, not just now, but for the rest of their lives. In the end, you’re giving your child a priceless gift, the gift of a parent who isn’t afraid to put in the time and effort to invest in their lives.
Do you have other child farm safety tips? Share them in the section below: