Teaching Safety to your Child

Toddlers and traffic have a lot in common. They are both unpredictable, impulsive, and difficult to control. Especially in a downtown areas such as Vancouver, where the sidewalk is constantly interrupted by roads, alleys, driveways and parkways. Then there is the traffic that uses the sidewalk to rollerblade, skateboard or cycle illegally. As long as babies and toddlers are safely belted in their strollers, they are usually safe. But when they start gaining their independence and mobility and insist that they want to walk, then the challenges begin.

It is in the early years that the children need to be taught and re-taught – the rules of the road. This takes a lot of commitment and repetition on the part of parents and other caregivers. Here are some tips for teaching children to learn what to do on city streets.

1. Be a good example children learn by copying you; if they see you jaywalking or riding without your seatbelt, then they will be tempted to do the same
2. Repetition children need to hear the rules over and over before they understand them, and they need to experience follow through; again, and again, and again
3. Point things out show the children the man wearing the bicycle helmet, or the mommy wearing her seatbelt; try to focus on the positive, rather than the negative
4. Know your particular neighborhood each neighborhood has its own particular danger area, as well safety oasis. Teach your child what to do if they are ever in a scary traffic situation and you aren’t around to help them. Where can they go? Who should they call? If they are very young, some people recommend putting a phone number in their pockets, or writing it on the tag of their shirt; each person has their own comfort zone in this regard
5. Follow all the rules all of the time always wait for the light to turn green before crossing the street; stop completely at every stop sign; don’t jaywalk or tailgate; make sure you enforce this on a consistent basis
6. Use “Stop; Look, Listen” before you cross the road; Stop and wait until it is safe; Look right; left; right; Listen for traffic behind you or fire engines and police cars racing towards you with their sirens
7. Use simple words for very young children share the sidewalk; wait; S-T-O-P please; green light; our turn to talk; don’t overwhelm them with technical explanations
8. Go over the rules of the road as you are driving teach children respect for other drivers; respect for pedestrians; and how to handle yellow lights (no, this doesn’t mean speed up) or crosswalks
9. Make children aware of potential dangers without scaring them unduly, children need to be aware of speeding drivers, drunk drivers, out-of-control cars, skateboards, rollerbladers, cyclists, even the motorized wheelchairs driven by some racing senior citizen!
10. Reinforce, reinforce, reinforce once you think your child knows the road, give them plenty of opportunity to put these into action; go for safety walks, where you leave the stroller behind and just walk around several blocks to practice your safety rules. These need to be established beforehand. Things like: Always hold my hand while crossing the street; Stop, look, listen; Wait for the green light etc.
11. Be aware of other safety issues relating to cars:
a. Ensure you put the carseat in properly; research this thoroughly
b. Ensure children use a carseat or booster seat until they weight at least 80 pounds; each state/country has its own rules regarding this
c. Ensure children never ride in the front seat until age 12 or until they weigh at least 80 pounds. Too many of them have slipped under their seatbelt and been thrown clear or been crushed by the air bag.
d. Ensure the caregivers watch the crawling, walking toddler. Many have been run over in their own driveways! Dad needs to go to work, Junior toddlers behind the car and WHAM, he/she gets hit.
e. Ensure that you never leave your child in the car alone. Children (and dogs!) can die, even after a short time, due to overheating and dehydration
f. Ensure that children don’t play ball or ride their bicycles in the middle of the street; even though you may live in a cul-de-sac or quiet street, they may not know the difference between that and a busy highway
g. Ensure children wear protective gear, such as bicycle helmets or kneepads, when appropriate
h. Finally, always know where your child is; you are their last line of defense. It is too easy to become complacent

When putting these tips into action, it is important to start out with your personal list of safety rules. Your spouse/partner, parents, or any other caregivers need to be made aware of these rules and asked to follow through with them. It is otherwise too confusing to a young child. Once the rules are established, then you can just plan the walk and walk the plan. Have fun, and don’t forget to smell the roses along the way!