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Project aims to increase safety for children

By : Cait Anastis


Gabrielle Kopansky buckles her three-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn, into her car seat. Researchers at Binghamton University are working to make car seat use more acceptable to children, making their use easier for parents.
While studies show that child safety seats reduce the risk of injury in an accident, and New York now requires children under the age of seven to ride in one, parents still may face battles with their children when it comes to using them.

Alice Friedman, professor of psychology and director of the Louis Marx, Jr. Center for Children and Families, is working on a project designed to make using a child safety seat more palatable to children.

In surveys, parents have indicated that their children influence the decision to use a child safety seat, Friedman said. Often, parents opt to pick their battles and don’t force the issue with a child who no longer wants to use a car or booster seat.

“This is a battle that the parents should actually hang in with,” Friedman said. “It’s likely to be a number of years before parents, on their own, recognize the law and enforce it. During this transition it seems especially important to change children’s perceptions of booster seats.”

Three years ago, Marnie Axelrad, a Binghamton graduate student, conducted a study through the Marx Center aimed at developing better strategies for keeping children in booster seats during the transition between preschool and elementary school. The study included children in kindergarten and first grade who were at a high risk for rejecting booster seats.

“She examined the extent to which per-sistent messages can be targeted to the child, encouraging the child to want to stay in the booster seat,” Friedman said.

Now that effort will be extended with a project in area schools to find ways to “market” the use of child safety seats to children. The goal is to make the seat more appealing to the child and combat peer pressure that encourages a child to reject using a booster seat. The project will in-clude different activities designed to make the booster seats more fun for children.

The work extends beyond car seat use. The principles used to make the use of car seats more acceptable to children can be applied to other areas, Friedman said, including the use of protective gear for activities such as sledding or skating.

“Head injuries are the most devastating injuries associated with certain sports and it’s more common than we think,” she said. “The fact that we can do things, very simple things, to change that is exciting.”

Projects funded through the Marx Center include research, educational programming and collaborative enterprises that hold promise for enhancing the wellbeing of children and families locally and more broadly, Friedman said. Resources from the center have been used to support a number of projects related to children, including ones to better understand attention deficit disorder.

Binghamton student Meg Pailler, with Friedman as her advisor, conducted the project for her dissertation. “The hope is that findings from this study will help provide a better understanding of how to help children with attention deficit disorder deal more effectively with their emotions,” Friedman said. “But first we have to understand the difficulties they encounter.”

Friedman’s interest in this area of research stems from how it can change people’s lives.

“I like the idea that we have a science that can have a direct, positive impact on children and families,” she said. “I like the large-scale projects that can change communities in a positive way and that can inform the literature, that can have a positive impact on the larger community.”

The center has also allowed Friedman to pursue a project targeted at minimizing distress in infants while being vaccinated. Working to lower infant distress means reducing maternal anxiety during vaccinations.

“If the mom becomes tense, then the infant is going to be more distressed,” Friedman said.

The goal is to teach the caregiver, usually the mother, strategies to reduce stress in infants. This increases the likelihood that the parent will bring the infant back for vaccinations in a timely fashion, rather than put it off because the experience was so unpleasant.

“If the experience is too adverse, care-takers may avoid the clinic,” she said. “Especially very young parents.”

Support for the center comes from Louis Marx Jr., the son of Louis Marx Sr., whose toy company became a household name due to toys such as Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots and the EasyBake Oven. Marx Jr. now operates a $77 million private venture capital fund and supports research at a number of different schools.
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Last Updated: 10/14/08