Teach children to become safe pedestrians

REGULAR readers of my columns will know that I fully support and endorse children walking - walking to school, to the park, to their friend's house or to the corner store.

Walking places is much more than regular exercise. Besides the value of getting outside and moving their bodies, kids are learning how to get places on their own, being offered a chance to function without a parent hovering over them, and starting to take responsibility for their own behaviour.

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But we don't just open the door and let them roam. They need to learn.

The Insurance Corp. of British Columbia sent some good tips for parents wanting to help their children become safe pedestrians.

It starts with the parents getting actively involved, and the kids will learn better if it's fun. Start walking with them right from infancy so they are used to the concept and don't assume it takes a car to get everywhere. Once they are beyond the stroller stage you can point out signs and have them tell you what they mean. See how many signs they can guess and how many they notice. Teaching them how to walk in your neighbourhood is important but with a bit of fun the kids will listen and learn.

As with everything we do, we need to be good role models. Scooping a child up in your arms and dashing across the street mid-block will not help them be safe at all. You may tell them to cross at intersections, to use a route that includes pedestrian lights or to cross with the school crossing guards but if you are jaywalking, that will be the stronger lesson. They will learn to do as you do, not what you say.

Kids love rituals and rules, so focus on the basics when teaching them how to be safe when walking. Teach them to:

- Stop: Before crossing, always stop at the curb. Make sure all vehicles have stopped.

- Look: Look left and right for oncoming vehicles.

Then look again over your shoulders for vehicles that might be turning. Teach your kids to keep looking for approaching vehicles as they cross.

- Listen: Listen for approaching traffic that you can't yet see.

- Make eye contact: Children must assume that drivers have not seen them whenever they are around roads. Even if the walk signal is on, teach your children to make eye contact with drivers before they cross.

- Walk: Teach your kids to never run when crossing a road.

When you are walking with them have them learn to walk on the inside edge of the sidewalk. And if there is no sidewalk they should walk on the side of the road facing the traffic.

Consider the routes you are taking. As much as possible have them walk on streets with sidewalks and traffic lights.

Parking lots can be a real hazard. Drivers are trying to get into their spot and seeing a child while they maneuver to park can be difficult. Make sure your kids know to be extra vigilant in parking lots.

I always recommend that you walk regular routes with your child, chatting about the safest way to make the trip. Then when you walk have them do the talking about safety and how they would behave. Then have them walk alone, but with you following behind them so you can see that they really do know what they are doing.

Children can only become safe pedestrians if they are taught what to do and then are slowly but surely allowed to walk to their destination.

With some training and practice kids can be getting themselves, on foot and safely, from one place to another.

Kathy Lynn is a parenting expert who is a professional speaker, broadcaster, columnist and author of Who's In Charge Anyway? and But Nobody Told Me I'd Ever Have to Leave Home. For information or to book Kathy for a speaking engagement, go to her website at www. ParentingToday.ca.

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