5 tips to help your child safely walk to school
Many of those who are parents today might remember a long walk to school or riding the bus. Those living in sprawling neighborhoods without much in the way of sidewalks may feel like walking to school isn’t a safe choice for their child, even if school is just a short distance away. Pediatrician Lauren Clayton, MD, explained how to ensure your child or teen can walk to school or head to the park or a friend’s house on foot without worry.
How dangerous is it for children to walk to school?
“Walking to school is a great way to get in some of the daily physical activity that is recommended for good heart health,” said Dr. Clayton. “It is important, though, to follow some simple safety rules to keep the risk of injury low.”
Unintentional pedestrian injuries – like getting hit by a car while walking across or down the street – are the fifth leading cause of injury-related death in the USA for children aged 5 to 19. Teenagers are at a significantly higher risk than younger children, although that might be simply because they’re more likely to be out walking without parental supervision.
If school is a short distance away and it’s walkable, there are ways to make your child’s trip to school safer and lessen the chance of serious injury.
Five tips for safely walking to school
Make sure your child knows to look both ways – twice. Nearly every parent has told their children look both ways before crossing the street, but it’s worth it to reinforce this rule, and even to ask them to take a second look before they cross. Even as they begin walking, your child should take care to keep checking left and right as they walk.
Stick to the sidewalk whenever possible. The walk to school is safest when children and teens stay to the sidewalk, and only cross at street corners with marked crosswalks and traffic signals if possible. If there are no traffic signals, common in smaller, more rural communities, your child should walk while facing traffic and stay as far to the left as possible.
Take out earbuds and put away phones. It makes sense your child or teen might want to listen to music on the way to school – how many of us listen to music or radio while driving the car? But wearing headphones, looking at phones or having a phone conversation is distracting and dangerous while walking. Remind your child of the importance of being aware of their environment at all times.
If they’re under 10, make sure they cross the street with an adult. Every child is different, with some maturing emotionally or physically earlier than others, but most kids simply aren’t able to safely judge the speed or distance of oncoming cars before the age of 10.
Be a good role model. For kids and teens, what their parents or guardians do often matters far more than what they say when it comes to modeling safe behavior. If you routinely cross the street when the crosswalk light is a red hand, you may be unintentionally teaching your child that it isn’t important to follow pedestrian traffic rules. Set a good example by putting your phone down while driving or walking around cars, following traffic signals and staying aware of your environment.
“You might also consider asking your child to wear a very brightly colored jacket, or buying a backpack with reflectors in order to increase how visible they are to passing vehicles,” said Dr. Clayton. “Reflectors can also be purchased on their own to add to the backpack if you already own one.”
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