How to start teaching your kids road safety

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Anyone who has a young child is very conscious of how oblivious they are to the dangers around them, especially those involved with road safety. It is very important that children learn from day one the habit of practicing street and sidewalk safety, and something that we, as parents, can't afford to be lax on. It's something that can be taught as early as possible and reinforced as they get older and more mobile - even from toddlerhood. Teach them to look both ways before crossing a road, even while holding an adults hand. Make sure you lead by example and always use the appropriate crossing, corners and by waiting at lights.

By applying the use of your child's dominant sense you can make the lesson easier for them to assimilate and learn.

Rhymes and songs are great ways to teach auditory children road safety basics. They will also love to ask lots of questions, so it is important to explain why the rules are there and what the consequences are in a straightforward way. Use stories and anecdotes to emphasise and bring to life the importance of being careful around roads.

As auditory children can lose focus when talking and listening, having a "no chatting" rule as you cross the road will help cement the need for focus when crossing. Be careful of the tone you use when teaching and delivering the rules, and try to make sure that it matches the message your words give.

Have your visual child sit in your car seat and see that it is impossible for a driver of a vehicle to see someone small in front of the car. This will give a strong message as to why they need to cross the road with an adult. Look stern when talking about the consequences of not following the rules about crossing the street, as your facial features will help to implant the message in a visual way.

Always lead by example by following the same rules yourself, even if you're running late and don't want to walk to the zebra crossing when the car is just across the street. Letting them always see you following road safety will ensure the uncompromising nature of the subject is enforced. Use star/reward charts when they do things well, and be sure to gush to friends and family when they begin to follow the rules.

Tactile children relate to the world from a physical stance, so explaining the physical consequences will make the importance of road safety more real: "If you run across the road without an adult, you may get hit by a car and won't be able to play soccer or wrestle with your brother." This will explain what they could miss out on if they decide to be spontaneous and remind them of consequences to something that the child physically likes to do.

Using your tactile child's love of rules is also a good way to instill road safety: "The rule is that you wait for Mummy to hold your hand before you cross the road." You will need to remind them, but do so with basic and directive words such as "Hold my hand," and "Wait at the lights", as tactile children work best with a "less is more" philosophy when it comes to verbal directions.

Taste and smell children are usually pretty timid with traffic and prefer to hold your hand at any time, but they can tend to run out if following a friend, or when seeing a friend across the road. Fortunately, they are easily influenced by a parent's disapproval. Let your child see how upset you would be, even at the thought of them crossing the road unaccompanied - it will make a strong impression, and she will tend to abide by the rule.

If particularly resistant, ask your child to hold your hand, and help you cross the road, rather than the other way round. They will feel that this is something they are doing to help you, not something only little kids do.

Priscilla Dunstan is a behavioural researcher and author of Child Sense and Calm the Crying. Learn more at