Parking Lot Child Safety

One ChildnParent reader wrote: “My daughter just turned 5 and has Down Syndrome.  When I pick her and her little sister up from daycare, I have a hard time holding on to both of them and their stuff.  Sometimes Amelia will run out into the parking lot, usually towards the car, but one time just OUT.  I’m afraid she’ll run into the street, which dumps out from an expressway.  How do I give her consequences?  I don’t want to hit, but I can’t exactly give her a time out in the car or the lot.  And by the time I get home, the memory of why she’s being punished is gone.”

I had a similar problem when my daughter was in kindergarten.  She and her 2-year-old brother became very competitive about being the first one to get into the car when I picked her up.  It was a struggle for a while, me fruitlessly yelling, “stop” while they raced towards the parking lot.

In this case I found a reward for good behavior worked better than a punishment. I reminded them not to run and to stay by me before we left the building.  I told them there was a snack waiting in the car for those who walked nicely next to me.

Teaching your kids pedestrian safety from a young age is important since auto pedestrian accidents are the second leading cause of injury related deaths in children.

Try these parenting tips to keep your kids safe in the parking lot.

Talk it out.

Kids behave better when they know what to expect to encounter and what is expected of them.  Before you go out the door, talk to your kids about how to behave in the parking lot. Tell them to stay close and never run.  Review safety rules like looking both ways.  Praise them for their good behavior while you are walking to the car and when you get inside.  My kids love it when I let them call Dad or Grandma on the cell phone to brag when they’ve behaved well.

Lessen the load.

If there’s something you can leave in the car, do it.  The less stuff you have to deal with, the more free your hands are to take care of the kids.  Even children as young as 2 or 3 can carry their own stuff in a small backpack with little trouble. Take your shopping cart all the way to the car, even if you just have one bag.  Do anything that will leave your hands free to take theirs.  Remember whatever you may feel you need to carry is not as valuable as your child.

Take a “hands on” approach.  Even if you can’t hold on to your kids, they can hold onto you.  Kids can hold onto your pockets or purse, or a shopping cart or stroller.  When standing near the car, they can keep a hand on the car.  Giving your child a specific place to hold helps her remember to do so each time.

Smaller children can also hold the hand of an older child.  Giving an older child this responsibility can help them model good behavior for the younger child.

Make it a Game.

Ask your child to count steps, or name the colors of the cars he passes on the way through the parking lot.  Teach children to wait for your signal before venturing off in a parking lot.  Say “red light” when you want them to stop, and green light when it’s okay to go.  Help your children go slowly by having them walk like they are stuck in gooey mud.

Be Alert.

Always teach your children to look both ways before walking into a traffic area. They should see you doing the same.  Teach them how to recognize dangers like running cars or corners where a car may turn into their path unexpectedly.  Point out these dangers when you see them.  Use traffic signals and crosswalks where available.  Always be alert in a parking lot. Watching your kids is more important than talking on the cell phone.

For more parenting safety tips, visit our Child Safety home page.