by Heidi Green
August 25, 2010
It’s that time of year! Many parents are getting ready to send their children back to school. But clothes and shoes, backpacks and notebooks probably aren’t the only things they’re thinking about. School safety tops the list of worries for many parents. Will my child get to school safely? Will he get sick? Will she eat a healthy lunch? Will she fall during recess and scrape her knee? While accidents do happen, there are ways to talk to your children about staying safe at school. Here are 10 tips to share with your family:
1. Know the numbers. Make sure your children know their full names, home phone number, and address. You may choose to have your children carry a list of important numbers in their backpacks, including work and cell phone numbers for both parents. Make sure they also know to call 911 in an emergency.
2. Get there safely. For pedestrians or cyclists: Make sure your children walk to school with a sibling or a friend. Choose a route with the fewest street crossings. Whenever possible, plan crossings at intersections with crossing guards. Tell your children to obey all traffic signals, signs, and authorities. If they are biking or riding scooters, make sure they’re wearing age-appropriate helmets and pads. For bus riders: Remind children to stand back from the road while waiting for their bus and to wait until the bus comes to a complete stop before approaching the street. Also, tell your children never to bend down in front of the bus, and to cross at least 10 big steps in front of it. For car riders: Be sure to drop off children as close to the school entrance as possible, preferably letting them out along a sidewalk and avoiding parking lots, where cars are in constant motion.
3. Avoid strangers. They’ve probably been hearing it since they were babies, but remind your children to never, ever talk to strangers. Remind them to keep their distance and to never accept rides or gifts from anyone you or your children don’t know well or don’t trust—even if that person calls them by their name. You may choose to have a code word or phrase for your family to use in case your plans change and someone other than a parent (e.g., a friend or neighbor) needs to pick your children up from school. Tell your children never to leave school with anyone who cannot tell them the code word or phrase.
4. Play safely. To minimize cuts, bruises, scrapes, and even hurt feelings, teach your children good playground behavior: No pushing, no shoving, no bullying, and no crowding. Remind them never to wander off.
5. Look at outdoor equipment. Take a look at the playground and athletic equipment at the school. Look for hazards such as rusted or broken equipment or unanchored soccer goals. Report any hazards to the school.
6. Avoid bullies. As much as we might hate it, bullying happens. Teach your children strategies for coping with such behavior. Tell them not to give in to a bully’s demands, but to stay calm and walk away or tell the person to stop. If the bullying persists, children should talk to their teacher.
7. Eat safely. In addition to packing healthy lunches for your children, you’ll want to make sure that your children practice good lunchroom safety. Many schools now ban food sharing, but lunchroom monitors can be busy and kids do like to share. Tell your children not to share their foods so that they and their friends aren’t at risk for unexpected allergic reactions. If your children buy their lunches at school, pay attention to the school menu. Communicate with the cafeteria manager about nutrition, allergy, or other concerns.
8. Avoid germs. Exposure to germs is inevitable when your children are in the classroom and handling shared equipment all day long, but ensuring your child knows and practices good handwashing can help minimize their risk of illness. It’s important to rub soapy hands for a full 20 seconds before rinsing. (Singing the “ABC song” or a couple of verses of “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” even just internally to themselves can ensure that children wash long enough.)
9. Enjoy after-school safely. Make sure that school staff or volunteers in charge of after-school activities have appropriate training. Whether the after-school program is an independent child care center or a school-sponsored facility, be sure that staff-to-student ratios are small enough to ensure adequate supervision.
10. Get home safely. Of course, children should obey the same traffic safety tips for getting to school safely when they’re on their way home. In addition, tell children to use both straps of their backpack, not just one, to alleviate back strain. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), packs should weigh no more than 10-20 percent of a child’s body weight. If you have concerns about how much your child is lugging to and from school each day, talk to school staff or consider purchasing a backpack with wheels.
Heidi Green has been researching and writing about women’s and children’s health since she moved to Pittsburgh more than 10 years ago. She is also a children’s book reviewer in her spare time. She is mom to Ben, Katie, Sam, and Max.
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