Supporting your child to become a safe pedestrian

At Cyclabilities, we have identified some clear strategies you can use to support the development of your child’s pedestrian safety skills. It’s likely that these will seem common sense, however breaking them down and understanding how these strategies can support your child will allow you to reflect on how you can incorporate these into your everyday life.

Modelling and sending consistent messages

Yep. This bit comes down to you! What you say and what you do… and essentially making sure they’re the same. The research very clearly shows that parents are the key source of road and pedestrian safety knowledge for children. From the outset make sure you are teaching your child that roads can be dangerous and are not a safe place to play. Ensure that your messages are consistent and repeated often. This manual covers some of the basic messages you should be passing along.

But, of course, there’s a catch. It can’t just be about what you say. You also have to practice what you preach! You have to demonstrate the behaviours you want to teach your child. Children are much (much, much) more likely to adopt safety behaviours if these behaviours are consistently role modelled by parents. This is clearly demonstrated in an American study looking at road safety behaviours. The study found that while 78% of parents indicated their child wearing a helmet was ‘extremely or very important’, only 25% of the parents wore one themselves. As a result, only 40% of children indicated that they regularly wore a helmet (News for parents).

While this study focused on developmentally typical children, we feel these findings are absolutely transferable to children with additional needs. In fact, at Cyclabilities, we don’t think we can overstate the importance positive role modelling! Particularly for children who struggle with attention and behavioral regulation, consistently demonstrating positive safety behaviours is a key way you can support your child to develop their pedestrian and road safety skills. For children with these particular issues, repetition and consistency are vital for skill consolidation.

Talking Traffic

‘Talking traffic with kids’ or ‘commentary walking’ is a concept used by the Kids and Traffic group at Macquarie University ( We love it. It essentially brings together a lot of the best practice elements of teaching kids road safety. Pretty much, the concept focuses on adults talking to kids about all the things they do to keep safe while in a traffic environment as they’re doing them.

This practical process allows you to explain a skill and clearly demonstrate it in context. Your child then has a concrete example of how to stay safe. They get to see each of the skills you are working on teaching them. You can break the skill down into chunks that suit your child’s developmental stage and learning style. You can make these components digestible and relatable. The more examples of each skill they can file away, the more likely they are to develop a good understanding of both the skill and the context in which it should be applied.

There are endless things ‘talk traffic’ about with your child. We suggest starting by walking around your local area together. Because the setting is familiar, this will give your child the chance to focus their attention on the things you’re doing, and allow you to reflect on some of the things you take for granted.

Maybe start by looking at some of these:

  • Which are the busy road? How can you tell the difference?
  • What are the signs on the road? What do these signs tell drivers and pedestrians?
  • Driveways, foot paths, alleyways. Label and explore these concepts with your child.
  • Why it’s important to hold and adults hand?
  • Why it is important to stop at the edge of the driveway, road, curb or crossing?
  • The difference between moving and parked cars?
  • Identifying the direction of the traffic.
  • Steps you take before crossing a driveway, road or car park (stop, look, listen, think).

Your safety skills are so ingrained you take them for granted. It’s easy to forget that you have had years (years and years) to master these skills. It’s important to remember road and pedestrian safety is made up of a complex set of skills and judgements that we make largely invisibly and unconsciously (Kids and Traffic). If we don’t talk to children about the things we do to keep safe it is very difficult for them to learn these skills.

It is also important to remember that while kids speak the same language as us they can often have a different understanding of words and concepts. This can be a particular problem for children with additional needs who often see and experience with world in slightly different ways. Be consistent and repetitive. Also, work on developing strategies to check your child is both hearing and understandingthe message you’re trying to deliver.

Holding Hands

Another really simple one. Hold your child’s hand. Just holding your child’s hand will dramatically increase their safety. The consistent messages from child safety groups are as follows:

  • Children should hold an adults hand on the footpath, crossing roads, around driveways and in car parks (pretty much anywhere there are traffic safety hazards) until they are at least 8 years old. It’s important to remember that these guidelines really focus on developmentally typical kids. Children with additional needs may need a much long period of physical support to keep them safe.
  • If they can’t hold an adult’s hand they should hold onto a pram, stroller, bag, trolley or the adults clothing.