It’s one of every parent’s worst nightmares. Your school-age child has a ball roll into the street or your toddler darts across the road to get the playground. It strikes terror in all parents. Children must learn to cross the street safely.
Crossing the street independently is an important life skill for children and a major step toward young adulthood and autonomy. But learning to street safety is essential for children’s health and well-being.
Pedestrian injury is the third leading cause of injury-related death for 5- to 14- year olds, according to the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
The Centers for Disease Control found that toddlers are most often hit by cars in driveways, preschoolers are hit by cars when they cross the street in between parked cars, and school-aged children are most hit when they cross in the middle of the block. Thus, teaching children how to safely cross the street is critical for their personal safety.
Safekids.org has done research that children cannot judge the speed and distance of an approaching vehicle until age 10. Newer research from the University of Iowa shows that children do not develop the perceptual judgement, motor skills, and self-control until age 14.
Thus, crossing the street is a complex skill that requires a lot attention, visual perception, and decision-making skills. So we need to be explicit and purposeful to teach our children to cross the street safely.
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Street Safety Can Save Your Child’s Life
While we don’t want to give our children more material for their nightmares, most children respond the best when they understand why they need to learn a skill. A healthy sense of fear about street safety can motivate children to act safely.
Similarly, research in teaching and learning demonstrates that when students know what they need to learn and why it’s important, they learn more quickly and retain the information better. So be explicit with your child and say, “You’re going to learn how to cross the street safely so you can stay safe around cars.”
Explain the reality: cars have a hard time stopping when they’re going fast. Do any experiment with match box cars. Show your child how far a toy car can travel across your kitchen floor before it stops. It’s the same with actual cars; there is a minimum amount of road a car needs to travel before it can stop.
Also explain cars often aren’t looking for children. Children are shorter and many drivers are distracted by cell phones despite the law. Or drivers are in a hurry and don’t want to stop even though it’s the law in many areas.
We want our children to have a healthy sense of danger around cars so they can stay safe.
- Related: 10 Water Safety Rules to Teach Your Children
- Related: Fire Escape Plan for Kids – free printable plan
Rules to Cross the Street Safely
Be very clear when you teach your child the rules for crossing the street.
Some of the important rules for your child to know are:
- Your child needs to find a safe crosswalk. Teach your child to look for a marked cross walk. This makes it a lot easier for drivers to see them. If they can’t find a marked cross walk, have them find corners with stop signs where drivers already have to stop.
- Never cross if a car is parked too close to the intersection. A driver always needs to see your child.
- Never cross between parked cars. Feel free to show them the photo above. Drivers can’t see your child.
- Show your child how to wait patiently. Children need to learn to be patient to be safe.
- Cross the street without your phone or ear buds. Our eyes and ears need to ready to look and listen for cars and phone and ear buds distract from that.
It’s really important that you follow these rules when crossing the street with your child. Remember, more is caught than is taught to children – your modeling and example matters more than what you tell them to do.
Steps to Cross the Street Safely
Children learn well with visuals and the brain remembers pictures better than words. So use our I Can Cross the Street printable to teach the steps for safely crossing the street.
Here are the 6 steps to safely crossing the street.
- Stop your body and wait.
- Wait for all the cars to pass. If a car seems to stop for your child to cross, explain that your child needs to look at the driver to see if the driver notices your child.
- Look right for any approaching cars.
- Look to the left for any approaching cars.
- Listen for approaching cars.
- Cross street with walking feet. Don’t walk too slowly or too quickly.
How to Practice Crossing the Street with Your Child
Walk to a safe location with a cross walk in your neighborhood and actually practice with your child.
First, model all the steps with your child. Show them how you do all the steps.
Be explicit. Say, “first we’re going to stop our bodies and wait. Then, we will wait for all the cars to pass. Next, we look to the right to check for cars. After that, we will look left. We will listen carefully for cars. Then, we use safe walking feet to cross the street.”
If a car stops for you, say “Look at the driver. Does he see you?” Then explain you’ll look the opposite direction, too.
Then hand off the clipboard with the visual to you child and ask your child what you need to do first. Make sure to praise if he or she can state the first step. If not, point to the visual and explain again.
Next ask you child to tell you the second step. Again praise or point to the visual. Repeat this will all six steps.
Then, rehearse several times.
After you’ve practiced this one occasion, decide where you can keep the visual in your house for future reference and when you can practice again.
Crossing the Street Safely
It’s critical to our children’s safely that they have a solid understanding about the risks around road safety. Then they need to learn the rules about where to cross the street and be able to remember all the steps for how to cross the street safely. Last make sure you give your child loads of actual practice in crossing the street safely.
Get your free I Can Cross the Street printable here.