Is your child ready to walk to school? It can be scary for parents to make that decision, but teaching your child some basic rules and safety tips can help ease your concerns.
Statistics show why pedestrian safety is so important. Pedestrian accidents are consistently in the top 10 reasons for emergency room visits each year. Children walking to school are particularly at risk. One in five children under the age of 15 killed in traffic crashes are pedestrians.
Ask Yourself These Questions
Even if your child’s school is just down the street, it can be tough to judge whether it’s safe for them to walk there each morning. The first thing you should do is review the route and consider the following:
● Is the school within one mile of your house?
● Are there sidewalks along the entire route?
● Is there a lot of traffic on the roads they’ll be walking on?
● Will they need to cross any streets? If so, will there be a crossing guard to help them?
● How familiar are they with the neighborhood?
● Are their friends’ homes along the route that could offer a safe place for your child to wait in case of bad weather or other safety concerns?
Once you’ve determined a safe route to school, it’s time to consider your child’s circumstances and personality. Experts recommend parents let their kids walk to school alone when they are 11 years old, but age is far from the only factor when it comes to deciding if your child is ready to walk to school safely. Ask yourself these questions:
● Is your child inherently impulsive or easily distracted?
● Does your child understand the dangers involved?
● Would your child know what to do if something went wrong?
● Is your child generally aware of their surroundings and able to stay on the sidewalk?
One of the best ways to tell if your child is ready to walk to school alone is to set up a practice route to observe their behavior.
Safety Rules and Tips for Walking To School
Before sending your child off to school, it’s important to go over some safety ground rules. Here are some of the things you should cover:
● Make sure your child knows what to do if a stranger approaches them. You can find advice on talking about “stranger danger” here.
● Emphasize the importance of awareness. Remind your child to always be watching and listening (no headphones or earbuds) for cars and other potential problems.
● Explain that texting while walking is just as dangerous as texting while driving. Phones should stay in pockets or in their backpack when walking to and from school.
● Advise them to use crosswalks whenever possible and to always look carefully before crossing any street. Encourage them to walk — not run — when crossing.
● Let your child know that it’s OK to yell for help if they need to for any reason.
● Make sure their backpack has a reflective patch or strip, or attach a blinking bicycle light on it if they’re going to be walking during early morning or late evening hours.
● Arrange for them to walk with a sibling or friend. You could also see if your city offers a Walking School Bus program, which involves a group of children walking to school with one or more adult volunteers.
Leading by Example
So much of what kids learn comes from watching their parents, and pedestrian safety is no exception. Whether you’re practicing the route to school or strolling around the block together, modeling the behavior you want your kids to use while walking is a great way to teach them how to be safe.
Are You Interested in Learning More?
Sign up for our e-newsletter for more tips and best practices from pediatricians.Sign Up Here