As with all children my son (16 months old) frequently gets himself in dangerous situations

There is no problem with somewhat "static" situations, like trying to climb on a chair or slowly reaching for a knife. There's always time to react quickly and calmly.

But sometimes the danger is much more acute, for instance (past experiences):

  • He is running through the zoo, aiming towards a crack in a fence where he could drop in a pond. (Small enough so he fits, but large enough to prevent me jumping after him, also I was still 3 meters behind him)
  • He took a glass someone carelessly left under the couch and started to bang it on the wall. (I was 5 meters away sitting on a chair behind a desk)
  • Someone opend the door and he ran out aiming for the stairs.

What to do in these situations where danger is acute and may become a matter of life and death or at least serious injury?

What I did:

In the first and last example where there was really grave danger, I yelled really loud. In both cases my son was startled and froze immediately, but will this work every time?

In the second situation he actually knew he wasn't allow to bang stuff against the wall and he was testing my reaction. Which each reaction I provided (starting from a calm 'no' to getting up to actually yelling and running) he was banging the glass even harder and faster against the wall, so what worked in the other situations actually escalated this situation.

EDIT: To clarify my question:

The existing answers focus on prevention, but IMHO that goes without saying. The problem with prevention is it often fails when other persons are involved.

  • Situation 1: The fences in the zoo are specifically designed to protect small children, but someone broke a part of the fence which was not yet repaired. (At least that situation teached be to never believe someone who says something is child-proof without inspecting it myself :) )
  • Situation 2: Of course I would never give a glass to my child. Someone else put it there the day before where I couldn't see it, but my son did. (Different perspective :) ) So using plastic cups is no use unless even the adults use them.
  • Situation 3: The room was perfectly safe, until someone else who wasn't aware a child was in the room opened the door and didn't react fast enough to shut the door or hold my son. So closing the door or putting a gate before the stairs is no use, if someone leaves it open.

Because of that I'm asking specifically what to do in such dangerous situations - if they happen. I just want to be prepared for such a bad situation instead of just resting on a sense of security.

  • 6
    I only yell loudly when she gets herself in dangerous situations. She attributes "momma loud" = "stop" so she always stops....
    – Swati
    Commented May 15, 2012 at 12:47
  • 2
    You're already 'doing it right'. If the child is in real immediate danger then physically remove them from it. And as you're moving to do that, shout in an emergency tone of voice which you never use on other occasions. If you are really scared for their safety then show that in your tone of voice. They will react primarily to the tone rather than the words, but keep the words simple and directive: "JOHNNY, PUT THAT DOWN!" or "JOHNNY, SIT DOWN NOW!" are totally appropriate. They will cry but that's ok; you can reassure them once they're safe.
    – A E
    Commented Oct 28, 2014 at 17:07

8 Answers 8


I think yelling loudly to get the child's attention paired with getting to the child as quickly as possible is the best answer in these kinds of situations. This is especially true if you avoid yelling as an everyday thing, and reserve it for important moments when you really need the kid's attention.


Prevention and controlling the environment are great, but as you say, it's good to be prepared for uncontrollable situations that can arise at any time. In any situation with imminent danger, raise your voice and immediately run over to physically intervene.

The most important preparation is to make sure to never use a loud voice casually. If you only raise your voice in rare and urgent situations, then a child instinctively knows to stop. Any time you need to raise your voice, accompany this with an immediate physical reaction by running over to intervene. Don't give the child any chance to test whether you are serious.

It sounds like you did the right thing in the first and third situations. In the second situation, however, slowly escalating just gave the child a chance to test whether you were serious. He knew that you could have intervened earlier by running over and taking the glass but didn't.


Prevention in the first place is considerably more effective. Our approach with our kids was to be very flexible and let them experience some risk, but as the risk increased we would make sure we were closer.

  • In the first example you gave, at that age we would probably have been holding their hands or using reins.
  • In the second it is your responsibility to make sure you are either close enough to take away a dangerous object or that you check there are no dangerous objects in the area.
  • Similarly for the third one, you make sure you are close enough or you remove the risk altogether.

These apply at a young age, but what is very important is how you educate them about risk as they get older - and discipline is a big part of this.

You can't say "No" and let them continue to do something - you need to give timeouts, naughty corner or whatever works for you as a punishment so they rapidly learn what is naughty.

Our approach led to us very rapidly having kids who behaved at a level we could take them anywhere without needing to child-proof in advance - by about the age of 2, our kids knew not to go near a fire, or a cabinet with glasses in etc., which made life easier on our childless friends when we came to visit.


I never hit my kids and I very rarely scream or raise my voice, if I can control myself. However, my 3 year old ran into the street. I said very sternly 'No that is dangerous' and swatted him on the butt, not too hard. He got the point as I never had done that before or since. There are very few times when this is appropriate but in a very dangerous situation I feel it is needed.


The important thing at 16 months is controlling the environment. You can discipline and explain to your child all the dangers, but they're not really developmentally ready to assess risk, and the best thing to do is to ensure that they have a safe environment to discover their boundaries.

Try and maintain a situation where the dangers are kept to a non-harmful level. For example, switch to tough mugs or plastic glasses while your son is still at the stage where he likes to bang things. For everybody, not just your son. The idea is that smashables simply can't be left lying around.

Put up a stairgate, which has two advantages; firstly, even if he'd got past the door, there'd be another potential barrier. Secondly, people will think about the fact that the stairs are a danger, and be ready to catch the incoming toddler.

By the same token, plug covers for all the plug sockets, restrainers for all the cupboard doors he can reach, etc. This answer is pretty definitive.

Some people have principles concerning child tethers/harnesses/leashes, but they would have completely negated the issue you describe at the zoo, and most children do not mind them at all.

A lot of this will end up being responses to dangers you don't realize till you have a near-miss, but with enough work, you can generally limit the dangers around your home to the stuff that'll merely involve a quick trip to the doctors, rather than to A&E.


An ounce of prevention is a pound of cure. An 18 month old requires a lot of monitoring so stay close and when your child engages in a dangerous behavior, speak sternly, using your best deep voice, dads are usually a good choice since they typically have a higher intimidation factor than mom. If its a behavior that could re-occur, a smack on the fanny is pretty effective too. At 18 months, be very brief, like:

"No, that is dangerous - fanny smack while removing them from the situation/area." in a deeper voice than usual.

AS they get older, introduce more reasoning and time out.

Love them to death!

Good luck


It depends on whether it is a dangerous sitation, requiring immediate action, or immediate danger (I am assuming that all reasonable efforts to prevent danger have been taken, and that in general the least extreme measure is preferred). So all you have to do is some good old risc management (in the split of a second).

If the child does something that is not immediately dangerous, eg. running on the street when there is no car nearby, you only have to react immediately to make sure the child understands what you are talking about, but there is nothing special to do.

If the child is about to do something dangerous, as in the examples in your question, a yell can provide the necessary interrupt.

I once caught my child standing on the window sill. In this moment, yelling would have been more dangerous so I calmly walked there to lift him down.

At another time, my child was running towards a swing while another kid was swinging, not listening to me shouting "stop". I reached him in the last second and pulled/pushed him away. I would never do this as a punishment, but in this situation it was the only way to prevent a much worse head injury.

So to sum up, be careful that your actions don't increase the danger and then do whatever is necessary to remove the danger. Instead of yelling, I sometimes speak loudly while biting my teeth together. It conveys the same sense of urgency while it is less likely to scare up the child.


I understand where your coming from considering that just a mere second that you lose your sight to your toddler, some grave things could happen. I too, have some experiences in the past where even if I am closely monitoring my toddler, there are some accidents that may happened which is sometimes out of our control. I too, learned my lesson the hard way, so now, I am really 100% focus with my toddler, to make sure that he is always safe.

When it comes to dangerous situation, my immediate reaction is to immediately remove my child for any further harm. But I'm really trying my very best not to be in that situation. I also do not shout at him, because I know it will just aggravate the situation. When he does any thing that is dangerous to him, I remove him, and try to explain on his level that it is a bad thing to do.

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