Traffic crashes involving pedestrians are far too common and our children
are especially vulnerable. While we may not be able to control drivers
on the road while our children are walking, we can teach our children
to be as safe as possible and do their part to make our streets safe.
Of course, teaching your kids anything can be difficult, so we’ve
compiled 11 tips for pedestrian safety education that you can implement
into your daily routine right now.
1. Educate Yourself First
First and foremost, you might find it difficult to teach pedestrian safety
to your children if you don’t exactly know what it means, yourself.
Fortunately, parents don’t need a credential to teach these important lessons.
All it takes is five minutes to familiarize yourself with the rules of the sidewalk and you’ll
be an expert.
In fact, we’ll list out the rules for you right here:
Stick to sidewalks whenever available. If a street doesn’t have a
sidewalk, you should walk as far to the left as possible on the side of the road
facing oncoming traffic. Why? Although it goes against the flow of traffic and might
seem wrong, facing oncoming traffic gives you a better visual of potential
hazards ahead of you and gives you time to react if you see a car veering.
- Look left, right, and left again. Before crossing any street or driveway,
your child should stop. Look to the left to gauge oncoming traffic nearest
to them, look to the right, and then look back to the left in case the
traffic has changed. Continue looking back and forth until you’ve
made it safely to the other side.
- Walk, don’t run. It is always important that your child be walking,
not running, especially when crossing the street.
- Always use crosswalks. Children should never dart out into a street or
cross in between cars. Understand that drivers only expect to see pedestrians
in cross walks, so darting out in the middle of the road or between parked
cars can catch a driver off-guard.
- Make eye contact with drivers. Before crossing the street, children should
make eye contact with drivers. This signals to both child and driver that
they are aware of each other. If you can’t make eye contact with
drivers, it’s best to wait, because it might mean that he or she
does not know you are there.
Avoid distractions. Kids today love their digital devices as much as we
adults do. Teach them early that these devices can be dangerous distractions
that should be put down while on the road. Whatever they are doing can
wait. If it’s an emergency, tell them to stop walking and find a
safe place before taking out their phone.
Bonus: teaching this particular rule will come in handy down the line when they’re
learning to drive. I know... too soon.
- Be visible and alert. At all times, children should be alert for potential
dangers. This is especially true when it’s dark out. At these times,
your kids should be wearing bright and/or reflective clothing to ensure
they are visible to drivers.
- Avoid walking home alone. Children under a certain age should never walk
without an adult. However, there are benefits to encouraging even children
of older ages to ensure they are not walking alone, including having someone
who can call for help in an emergency.
- Your child should know his full name, address, and phone number in case
of an emergency.
2. Start Early to Develop Safe Habits Later
There’s plenty of research that supports the notion that the earlier
you teach a child, the better. However, it’s also important to understand how your
child’s age can affect his or her learning. Knowing the way a child’s emotions and mental capacity develops
can help you understand how best to teach her about pedestrian safety.
Here’s a good breakdown
of a child’s development:
- Ages 2-3: Children can understand stories and can recognize and name pictures
of familiar items and activities, so this is a great time to introduce
traffic safety through picture books. They also begin to understand rules
when they are enforced on a consistent basis.
- Ages 3-5: Children begin to learn social skills, so introducing friends
to the process of learning traffic safety can help foster cooperation.
Kids this age become more adventurous, which means it’s crucial
that they understand basic traffic safety rules. This is also the age
that kids are the most curious, begin to develop fears, learn how to follow
rules, and thrive in imaginary and make believe scenarios.
- Ages 5-7: This is perhaps the most effective age for children to learn
about pedestrian safety. At this age, children have developed their own
personality and learning style, and are also learning to be self-sufficient.
Children at this age are cooperative, competitive, and open and eager to learn.
Missed the early boat? That’s perfectly okay! Of course, it is
never too late to teach a child to be a safer pedestrian. Jump start your kid’s
learning today—no matter how old he is!
3. Discover How Your Kid Learns
Each of us have different personality traits, interests, and habits that
affect the way we learn. When deciding the best way to teach your child
about traffic safety, it’s important to understand how he or she
learns and what materials might be the most effective.
The seven styles of learning include:
- Auditory – learning through sounds
- Verbal – learning through words
- Visual – learning through images
- Logical – learning through reason
- Physical – learning through action
- Social – learning in a group
- Solitary – learning alone
These aren’t necessarily boxes – your child may thrive at different
degrees through multiple learning styles. Try to find one or two that
stand out and stick to those methods, but don’t be afraid to experiment
with the other styles as well! Not sure what fits your kid best? There
are plenty of online quizzes – like
this one from Scholastic – that can help!
4. Make it Fun and Interactive to Get Your Child Excited to Learn
Think about your least favorite classes in school. Chances are they were
all pretty boring and mundane. How much of the information in those classes
did you actually retain? Children learn best when the material is fun
and interactive, so it’s important to incorporate that when teaching
them about safe walking habits.
Ideas for fun learning materials:
- Playing games. It’s obviously no big secret that children love to
play, or that you can use playtime as an opportunity to encourage learning.
Apply that to traffic safety as well. Play out imaginary traffic scenarios
to teach them right and wrong in a safe, fun environment.
Reading. There are a number of fun children’s books on traffic safety
you can buy. In a bookstore or online. Try
Red Light, Green Light on Google Play by Anastasia Suen.
Send your visual learner to YouTube. Videos are one of the most effective
teaching tools, especially for traffic safety. Videos let children see
traffic scenarios played out in fun and entertaining ways. For instance,
here’s a full
Pedestrian Safety for Kids.
5. Practice, Practice, Practice ‘Till Its Perfect
Walk everywhere! Along the way, practice all the tips and tricks to teach
your kids the rules of the sidewalk in action. Practice makes perfect,
but in this case it also encourages your kids to maintain an active, healthy,
and environmentally-conscious lifestyle. Plus, it’s a good way to
let them release some energy in a way that doesn’t drive you crazy.
Where can you walk to?
- A local park or community pool
- A friend’s house
- Nearby store or restaurant for snacks
It’s important to stick to safe routes that they know, and to try
to plan a route that has sidewalks and few crossings and avoids high-speed
or busy streets when possible. Having fun and rewarding destinations like
a community pool gives your child incentive.
6. Engage Your Children to Measure Progress
While you’re out for strolls with your children, any moment can be
a teaching moment. It’s important that you’re not only telling
your kids what to do, but encouraging
them to tell
you what they should be doing. This way, you can gauge whether or not they
are retaining the information, and build up their confidence as well.
Some examples of engaging your kids include:
- Before leaving, ask your children if they know the safest way to go.
- If they begin to run, play, or pull out their phones, stop them and let
them tell you why their behavior was unsafe.
- Stop at every crosswalk and ask them what direction you should look.
- Ask them to tell you when it’s safe to cross.
7. Get Them Involved in Community Safety Events
Pedestrian safety is an initiative that’s highly pursued in many
communities, especially those like San Francisco, where walking and biking
are common modes of transportation. Getting your children involved in
a local event for pedestrian safety is a great way to help them learn.
It also teaches them the importance of community involvement at an early
age, and exposes them to a social learning environment as well.
How can you find pedestrian safety events?
- Look online
- Talk to your child’s school
- Work with a local organization, such as a church, Boys and Girls Club,
or the YMCA
If you live in San Francisco, for example, Walk SF hosts a number of
pedestrian safety events, including
Walk & Roll to School Day, a global celebration that encourages kids to be more active and safe.
8. Talk and Listen to Make Your Child Feel Involved
It’s important when teaching your child that you make sure they feel
like their opinions and questions are acknowledged and addressed. Additionally,
encouraging them to communicate with you can help you understand their
concerns about traffic safety and whether or not they feel comfortable
on the road.
So how do you encourage them to speak up?
- Ask if they feel afraid while walking and why? Talk about ways they can
- Encourage them to ask questions about things they don’t understand
or can’t remember.
- Ask them to give you examples of unsafe behavior while walking.
- Let them suggest places that you can walk to and talk about the potential
hazards along the way. How many crosswalks? Are there sidewalks?
9. Invite Friends Along to Make Traffic Safety Cool
Humans are all social beings who enjoy doing things that other people are
doing, particularly people who we respect and admire. When others are
doing something, it’s typically good indicator that it’s trendy
and cool. Kids are no different. They are more likely to be eager and
willing to learn about traffic safety if their friends are learning with
them. Talk to the parents of your child’s friends to organize group
walks during which you all teach your kids together about safety.
Ideas for engaging friends include:
- Start a walking/biking club with friends and family
- Invite neighbors and friends to the community park or pool for a play date
- Have an ice cream party in which you all walk to the closest ice cream shop
10. Encourage Children to Apply Knowledge in Creative Ways
Application is one of the best ways to ensure that children are understanding
and retaining traffic safety. Encourage them to get creative and have
fun with it. Let them apply their knowledge about traffic safety through
creative outlets such as:
- Drawing pictures
- Writing a song, story, or a poem
- Performing skits
Making a music video!
11. Do As I Say
And As I Do
Your children look up to you as a role model, so it’s important that
you not only
tell them about pedestrian safety, but that you exhibit it as well.
- Follow all traffic rules while walking and driving.
- Put your phone down!
- Pay attention to your surroundings.
If you slip and your child calls you out on it, try not to push back, make
excuses, or get irritated. Instead, praise them! It means that not only
are they learning to be safe, but they’re also helping others –
you! – to be safer, as well. You’re both doing something right!
Hit the Road!
It’s time to grab your kiddos, put on some comfy shoes, and hit up
your local park. You have all the tools and resources you need to start
teaching your kids that walking should be a safe and fun way to get around.