Monday, October 31, 2011

Teaching Kids to Navigate the Streets

Age 10 is a guideline, but that doesn't mean your 10-year-old is ready. Some kids are cautious by nature, but others are impulsive. They may be distracted easily by their friends and may forget to pay attention to what they're doing. You have to decide if and when your child is mature and responsible enough to face traffic alone, based on your observations of how well he's learned the necessary skills and how consistent he is in using them.

When you begin to let your child cross streets alone, start gradually and work up. Restrict him at first to quiet streets. Only after he's established a track record of practicing safe pedestrian skills should he be allowed to attempt busier intersections.

Long before your child reaches 10, you can be getting her ready for safe street-crossing. Begin as soon as she starts walking. It's much easier to teach her safe habits from the beginning than to have to break bad ones later.

Beginning Lessons
The critical lesson for toddlers and preschoolers is never to play in the street or a driveway. Teach them always to stop at the curb or the grass edging the roadway because the street is for cars. Stress especially that they can't run into the street to retrieve a toy.

Teach your child good safety habits while holding her hand and walking with her in your neighborhood. Stop whenever you reach a corner and make a big show of looking left, right and left again before stepping off the curb.

Rules of the Road
Continue to reinforce the safety messages once your child is in kindergarten. But now you can add some practical lessons. When you walk to an intersection, ask your child whether it is safe for the two of you to cross. This helps you figure out how well he is grasping the rules.

Be patient. Navigating traffic is a complicated process for which he is not yet ready. Praise him when he makes the right call. Remind him, though, that he's still never to cross the street without an adult.

Here are fundamental rules to teach your kids:
1. Walk on sidewalks or shoulders, not in the street. 
2. If there are no sidewalks and you've got to walk on the shoulder, walk as far off the road surface as possible, facing traffic. 
3. Cross at a crosswalk or corner, not mid-block, and especially not between parked cars. 
4. Look left, then right, then left again before crossing the street, and keep looking all ways until you reach the other side. 
5. Try to make eye contact with drivers before crossing in front of them so you're sure they see you. 
6. Obey traffic lights and “Walk/Don't Walk” signals, and stay within designated crosswalks. 
7. Keep a lookout for cars that are turning or backing up, especially around driveways and garages. 
When you're nearing the time you think your child is ready to solo, have him take charge of your walks, making decisions and leading you across streets. This lets him be on his own but with you still nearby to intervene if he makes a mistake.

A Green Light Doesn't Mean “Go”
Learning to handle traffic signals is tricky. Tell your child that a green light means she should stop at the curb and look both ways to make sure the traffic has indeed stopped. The same goes when the “Walk” sign is flashing. You have to allow for the possibility that a driver will ignore the light. Just because one car stops doesn't mean one coming the other way will.

If a child is in the middle of the street when the “Walk” sign switches to “Don't Walk,” the rule is to keep moving at a brisk pace (but not run) to the other side. She shouldn't stop in the middle of the street or turn back the way she came.

If your state allows right turns on red, teach your child that, at some intersections, drivers are allowed to turn even if they don't have a green light and may not always remember to yield to pedestrians.

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