Safety and security tips for back to school

Des Ryan is a CRA volunteer board director and retired police officer who leads our safety and security work.

It is the end of August. Already! Summer holidays are nearly over, and the roads will be packed again as people return to work and the kids return to school.

If you are a driver, you are likely already aware of the usual pre-school drill: watch for children, be mindful of school buses loading and unloading, keep your speeds down in school zones (Always, you say!).

A couple other things I’d like to highlight:
– Never pass other vehicles, change lanes, or make U-turns while driving in a school zone.
– Unless licensed to do so, never use handicap or emergency vehicle lanes or spaces to drop off or pick up children at school.

So how about the kids? Regardless of how old they are, going back to school can still cause a bit of anxiety. Even getting to school can be a big deal. As you know, the best way to keep your little one (more or less) calm is for you to be (more or less) calm, which means anticipating some of the obstacles they may encounter.

If you’re walking your child to school, leave enough time to arrive at school at least 10 minutes prior to start time. Expect delays (Squirrel!). No point being in a panic before the day even begins. And take the same route there and back every day. It’s easy for little ones to get confused and turned around (did I say Squirrel already?), and they need to know how to get home alone, even if you anticipate always dropping off/picking up.

Of course, you’ll be walking on sidewalks, using designated crosswalks and/or traffic-controlled intersections and street corners as part of your route. And nobody’s running across the street. Oh, and remind your charge not to pop onto the street between parked cars — nobody needs that.

If your child is now too old to be seen in public with you, encourage them to walk to school with their friends. Safety in numbers. Remind them not to talk to strangers or get into a vehicle with anyone, even if they know them (you don’t want to know those stats about offenders known to the victims, I’m sure), unless you have already agreed that this person is okay.

Pre-emptively give your child the language and a few moves that will help them if a stranger approaches them, regardless of their age. And make sure you child knows that they need to tell someone in authority (i.e. you, a teacher, or a caregiver) about the incident as soon as possible.

If your little one is going to ride a bike to school, do a couple of practice runs before school starts. Make sure they know how to get there (and back) safely, even if you intend on going with them every day. Of course, they will have a helmet that fits that they will wear the entire time that they are riding their bike (see previous post for helmet safety and Highway Traffic Act fines!). As well as being the law, stats suggest that, in the event of an accident (which could be as minor as falling over at the stop sign) wearing a helmet reduces the risk of head injury by as much as 85 per cent. Good enough for me!

Also, if your child is big enough to ride on the road, make sure they know the rules, stay on the right-hand side, and uses the appropriate hand signals (signals, not gestures). If your child is old enough to ride to school on their own, suggest that they ride with a buddy. It’s easier to see two or three bikes than one.

And now that we are on the road, what about those backpacks? I’ve seen ones that look like they weigh more than the kid! To prevent injury, backpacks should have wide straps, padding in the back and shoulders, and should not weigh more than 10 to 15 per cent of a child’s body weight. And, while it may seem obvious, place the heavier items in the backpack first. The closer the heavier stuff is to the child’s back, the less strain it will cause. And try to have your child use both backpack straps and distribute their stuff as evenly as they can. I know….

Last little reminder: Depending on your child’s age, get rid of the drawstrings on their jackets and hoodies. They don’t serve any real purpose and they can cause some problems.

And now that the kids are back in school, we can all have a moment to ourselves for a coffee, beginning to end!

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