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How to teach road safety to toddlers

Crossing the road is something we do every day as adults, but for a toddler, learning how to cross a road safely is an important life lesson.

For many parents crossing the road with a toddler has the potential to turn into a nightmare. As adults we know all about the dangers of traffic but for a toddler a busy road is a new and often exciting experience.

Children need lots of assistance from adults in order to navigate the risks associated with road use so teaching them about road safety from an early age is essential to helping them learn to become safe road users. But just how do you teach a toddler how to be safe near traffic?

Set a good example

Helping your toddler learn about road safety begins the second you leave the house.

According to the Raising Children Network, going for walks and crossing roads — even quiet ones — is a great learning opportunity for your child that will help them develop their awareness of road safety.

“Your child will learn by example so make sure you always cross at pedestrian crossings or corners, wait for the lights and look in every direction to check there are no cars coming,” they suggest. “Stop at driveways and check there are no cars reversing or entering and even if your child protests or wants to run tell her she can only cross roads when she’s holding your hand.”

Toddlers are notorious for not stopping when you ask them to so make sure you keep hold of their hand at all times when around cars — even parked ones. Road safety experts suggest it is best to have an adult to hold a child’s hand when crossing the road until the age of eight but most children need supervision when using the road up until the age of 10.

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Establish clear rules

Your toddler understands more than you think so it’s never too early to establish and explain clear rules for traffic use. The most useful rules you can establish include:

Hand holding: It is essential to hold your child’s hand when crossing roads together and wherever there’s traffic or cars — even in your own driveway. Take special care where there’s a lot of traffic, high-speed traffic, narrow or non-existent footpaths or things that block the view, such as parked cars and trucks, trees, hill crests or crowded footpaths.

Use the kerb: Teach your toddler to only ever enter or get out of a car on the kerb side. Make sure they understand that they always have to wait for an adult to be present before trying to enter or exit a car, no matter where they are.

No running ahead: For active toddlers this is a hard one to enforce but running ahead, even if they’re on a footpath, puts your child at risk from cars reversing from driveways and other sources of traffic. Toddlers and young children are unpredictable and easily distracted and may not stop when you ask them to. Do not let them run ahead of you, even on a quiet road.

Stick to the path: Make sure your toddler understands that they may only walk on the footpath or a bicycle track and only when an adult is present. Toddlers — especially young ones — may be excited by traffic and see no difference between a road and a footpath.

Talk it out

Role playing and talking to your toddler about road safety is an essential step in helping them learn to be safe road users. You can start when your toddler is still in their stroller by pointing out the cars to them, telling them where they are going and why you are stopping and waiting.

When you are out and about with your toddler, explain what you are doing as you walk with them. Tell them why you are stopping at driveways or on corners, ask them to look both ways and suggest to you when they think it is safe to cross. Offer lots of praise when they remember to stop, look and listen.

Remind your toddler (and yourself) that even parked cars can be a danger. One in 10 kids hit by a car is injured in their own driveway so before you reverse your car make sure your child is either safely buckled in the back seat or in the arms of an adult who is in clear view.

Teaching your toddler about road safety doesn’t have to be a terrifying experience but it should be a serious one. The key to success is persisting in good modelling behaviour and involving your child in their own education. Like anything, using the road safely takes time and practice so get out there and enjoy the process.

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