Teaching our children proper and effective road safety is one of the most important lessons we can share with them. Introducing them to the rules of road safety when their young helps to enforce an awareness of the dangers of the road and, more importantly, an understanding of how to navigate those dangers.
The best time to start teaching children about road safety is now. It doesn’t matter if they’re two years old or twelve years old. If you haven’t started yet, get going. The earlier they begin learning, the more comfortable they’ll be when the time comes to put their knowledge into action.
Road Safety Basics for the Youngest Set
It’s important to make learning road safety fun for youngsters. Instilling fear is a sure way for your efforts to backfire. That being said, it’s necessary to help young children realize that there are very real dangers associated with cars. By creating a learning environment that helps youngsters feel safe and, at the same time, have fun learning the rules of the road, you will find that they’re more eager to learn and use these lessons to help them stay safe.
Beginner Road Training
- First thing’s first. To begin teaching road safety, children must first learn to recognize stop signs and traffic signals. Begin with stop signs. Point a stop sign out to your child, talk about its color and the reason for them. Then make a game of counting them during your walk. Whoever counts the most signs wins. Maybe even sing a song about stop signs. Something silly like: “S-T-O-P, stop! S-T-O-P, stop! S-T-O-P, stop! Or, I’ll call the cop!”
- After your child has learned to reliably recognize stop signs, it’s time to move on to traffic signals. Explain the colors of traffic lights and what they mean. Then move on to walk signals, making sure they begin to check for the “walking man” or “WALK” signal and noticing when the orange hand or “Don’t Walk” signal is flashing.
- Teach your children how to walk safely on sidewalks. Go for walks on quiet sidewalk streets, reminding them to walk as far from the curb as possible. Also, teach them to walk in the direction of oncoming traffic whenever possible. It’s much easier to move quickly out of danger if you see it happening in front of you rather than being aware of possible danger coming from behind. Make a game of holding hands by playing games – squeezing each other’s hands to see who’s stronger, or swinging your arms back and forth while singing songs.
- Make sure young children understand that running can be dangerous, even if they’re on sidewalks. It’s easier for kids to “forget” their road safety manners when they’re excited and running about.
- After children are used to walking on sidewalks, it’s time to introduce them to street corners and the dreaded “crossing.” Begin by teaching them to look for crosswalks (zebra stripes for fun) but reminding them not to take crosswalks for granted. Just because they’re in a crosswalk, doesn’t mean they’re impervious to danger. Drivers make mistakes all the time. Make sure they know the steps to safely cross the street by teaching them to “Stop,” “Look,” and “Listen.”
- Make a game of stopping at corners. Encourage games such as stomping or jumping with both feet at the corner to help them understand that they must come to a full and complete stop.
- Once your child understands that they must completely stop at all corners, it’s time to teach them to ALWAYS look both ways. First to the left, then to the right, then to the left again. This is an important habit to get them used to because it’s a key safety habit to have once they begin driving cars. Yikes!
- When your child demonstrates that she’s got the stopping and looking part of street crossing down, it’s time to get them to also pay attention to the sounds around them. Have them listen for oncoming cars and count how many seconds it takes from the time they hear an engine to the time the car passes by. This is a good idea to try near bends in the road. Although it’s best to teach children to try to avoid crossing streets near bends or blind corners, there will come a time when they may find it’s necessary to do so. In this situation, looking both ways just isn’t enough of a precaution. Children must know to listen for the sounds of traffic as well.
- This is the time to teach your children that it’s NEVER a good idea enter a roadway from between parked cars or on a hilltop. Remind them to ALWAYS use crosswalks, bridges, elevated walkways, etc. whenever they’re available. If they must cross a street that is void of crosswalks, it’s vital that they know to cross at an intersection in order to remain as visible as possible. Remember, children are small. They’re harder for drivers to see and so they must compensate for this by making themselves as obvious as possible.
While it’s important for toddlers and young children to understand these basic rules, it’s also vital that they aren’t given too much responsibility. According to Kidssafe, children’s brains are not fully developed to handle the complex decision making required to safely navigate a busy roadway until they’re about ten years old. Stay close by and keep an eye on your children while they learn to implement the lessons you’ve taught them.
Road Safety for the Upper Elementary Set
Once children become more experienced walking down streets and making safe crossings, it’s time to progress to the next level. Allowing the light-of-your-life to venture out of sight to a friend’s house or the park for the first time is nothing short of nauseating. Stay calm and remind yourself that you’ve done a solid job imparting road safety rules to your child. Go over the rules a few more times (for your own peace of mind,) and make sure your child knows to come home at the EXACT SPECIFIED MINUTE you’ve set, otherwise, you might faint dead away from worry.
Why Walk When You Can Roll?
There will be times when your child doesn’t want to walk to the park. He’ll want to ride his bike, or scooter, or skateboard. This can be tricky territory but it must be confronted nonetheless.
Before you allow your child to take flight on wheels, you must be sure they understand the rules.
- Teach your children proper hand signals (left hand out straight when they want to turn left, or turned up at the elbow in a right angle when they want to turn right.)
- Make sure they understand that stop signs and traffic lights apply to them when they’re riding a bike or scooter/skateboard/rollerblades, etc. and that, whenever possible, they should remain on the sidewalk. Although it’s expected that adults ride in the road, skirting the curb, the same expectations do not apply to children. No one will complain if they see your child riding his bike on the sidewalk, providing they aren’t posing any danger to others walking along in the shared space. This is also a good time to re-iterate your earlier advice to proceed along the sidewalk in the direction of oncoming traffic. A* wonderful blog by Wendy Bumgarnder for Very Well, explains the best ways to keep you and your loved ones safe when walking on roadways.
- Make sure your child remembers to wear bright colors and a helmet. It’s much harder for drivers to see people dressed in dark colors, especially on gray days or in inclement weather.
- This is also time to make sure that, in no uncertain terms, is your child EVER to stop to talk to strangers, especially if that stranger is in a car. Explain to them that this is NEVER okay and that, if they ever find themselves in a situation when a stranger approaches them, it’s perfectly okay to be rude and walk away. It’s also necessary to teach your children not to fear being embarrassed by screaming and making a general ruckus if they feel they’re in danger. For guidance on teaching your child to stay safe from predators, check out this piece from the Huffington Post.
- Make sure your child knows that if they are approached by a dangerous stranger, they should remain as visible as possible in a highly trafficked or populated area. Assure your child that they will never be punished or reprimanded for not responding politely to a stranger that makes them feel unsafe.
- Spend time role-playing possible scenarios with your child to make sure that they’ll be as confident as possible if they ever find themselves in this situation.
Children must also learn that safety rules apply to them when they’re riding in cars and other vehicles.:
- Make sure that they are always buckled. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), one third of children aged 12 and under who die in car crashes are not properly buckled.
- Teach your children that they must always keep their arms, and heads inside the vehicle at all times.
- They should also be taught how NOT to distract their driver by creating situations in which the driver must focus their attention on their passengers instead of on the road. Screaming, kicking, throwing, and other generally annoying behavior such as this should never be tolerated. (I have actually pulled my car over and sat quietly waiting for my lovelies to remember their manners. When that didn’t work, I turned our car right around and drove it straight back into our driveway. They missed their playdate and the promised cookies and ice cream that went along with it. But, they learned a valuable lesson. After that, all it took was a “reminder” about that day to keep them mindful of the rules they were expected to follow.)
- Also, in an ideal world, it’s also a good idea to avoid drinking and eating in moving vehicles to avoid any possible choking hazards that can happen if a car must make an abrupt stop or travels over a large bump or other such terrains. Again, this is the ideal. I’m a parent, too, which means that at the same time you were shaking your head saying “Yeah, right!” I was laughing at my own advice. It’s nice to dream.
For the Older Child/Teenager
Well, up to this point, you’ve done your very best teaching your child about road safety. They understand the rules of the road, they know how to safely walk along busy streets and to use crosswalks effectively. They understand how to avoid stranger-danger and how to be a considerate passenger in a vehicle. Now it’s time to tackle the scariest, most nerve-shredding part of this whole ordeal – letting your child roll away in a friend’s vehicle or drive off on their own. Oh My Gosh! It’s awful. The first time this happens, it’s hard enough just to breathe much less keep your cool and smile as they take off. But, wait just a second. There are some things you need to go over with them before that big day comes.
Rules for Your New Driver
- If your child has gone through the gauntlet of driving classes and testing, then they’re probably pretty aware of the rules of the road. Nonetheless, it doesn’t hurt to remind them to ease up on that gas pedal (faster doesn’t mean they’ll get there any earlier. How many times have we been passed by some dork driving 80 mph only to end up behind them at a red light?)
- It’s also a good time to remind them that while they’re driving, they’re the boss of the car. If a passenger is acting like an idiot and distracting your kid from driving properly, then it’s totally okay not to offer them rides anymore. Yes, it’s a lot to ask of your child to stand up to those kinds of peer pressures but remind them of this: She’s the one with the car. If her friend wants to ride in her car instead of the school bus, she’s got to obey your kid’s rules. Yes, it’s awkward and no, not every kid will follow this advice, but, maybe, just maybe, yours will.
- Make sure they understand that it is NEVER okay to use a cell phone while driving nor is it ever okay to be driven by someone who uses a cell phone while driving. This is tricky territory for your child. In all likelihood, they won’t want to confront the driver and ask them to put their phone down. Or, they may think that the text or call coming in is important. (Nothing is so important that it can’t wait a few minutes.) This is when you must be as assured as you ever think you can be that your child has the self-confidence to stand up to this very real pressure.
It’s Time to Let Them Know You Mean Business
Remember earlier when I advised you to keep the learning fun and free from fear? Well, forget all about that now. If your child is old enough to drive or to get in a car with a friend who drives, they’re old enough for some gruesome truths. Pull out the big guns, Mom. Don’t hold back here. Show them the statistics, and, to more effect, make them watch the videos and look at the photos of accidents that have occurred due to distracted driving. Be “that parent” who goes completely overboard explaining to them how vital it is that they understand the dangers of taking the risk of text (or call) and drive.
While you’re at it, this is a good idea to talk about driving under the influence. Yes, your child may roll his eyes at you, especially if you decide to jump up onto your soapbox while his friends are within earshot, but don’t back down. They may pretend to be annoyed but, trust me, they’re listening. Make sure, after you’ve finished your diatribe on the dangers of cell phone/alcohol/drug use while driving (or even while not driving,) you make it crystal clear that if they EVER find themselves in a situation that could put them in danger, they can call you for a safe ride home and that NO QUESTIONS WILL BE ASKED OR SEVERE PUNISHMENTS DOLLED OUT. People make mistakes and your child will make plenty of them. What’s most important is that he feels safe enough to rely on you before he makes a bad decision.
Be The Person You Want Your Kid To Be
Most importantly, remember this: None of this advice is worth a hill of beans if you don’t model the behavior that you’re asking your kids to adopt. They’re watching you. All. The. Time. Make sure you take advantage of their attention and behave the way you expect them to behave. Obey the rules of the road. Adopt basic safety habits. And, never, EVER, use your phone while driving or get behind the wheel if you’ve been drinking.
Teaching road safety is a long and arduous process, but you can do it. Take it step by step and take the time you need to make sure your child understands your rules. You and your child will be very grateful you did.