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How to Get Kids to Wear a Bike Helmet

Getting some kids to wear helmets can be infuriating. It often as not leads to a stand-off between a grown up and a child, that inevitably ends in a major tantrum, the bike being taken away, everyone losing their cool and being late for school or wherever you were trying to go.

This can cause a major problem, especially when you want your kids to bike and scoot so that they’re getting some fresh air and exercise, and actually using their limbs for good instead of to inflict pain on each other. It’s healthy, gets them outdoors, gets the blood pumping before school, teaches balance, encourages road awareness – and you don’t want them missing out on all of that just because they refuse to wear a helmet.

Of all the battles you have daily with your kids, wearing a helmet should probably be a deal breaker. I let LOTS of stuff slide that I know I should really enforce (wearing pants at the dinner table, eating off the floor, and other such less than ideal behaviours), – but not this one.

Any time I’m tempted to avoid the meltdown and cave, the “what ifs” and stats come to mind – the main one being that wearing a helmet can reduce the risk of severe brain injury by 88%. Here’s a pretty comprehensive overview from Safe Kids Worldwide who produce some great content around kid safety.

In Europe, 34% of all bicycle related injuries presenting to A&E departments are head related. (Source: Eurosafe Report)

Why do Kids Refuse to Wear Helmets?

Despite us adults being aware of the reasons why kids (and everyone) should wear a helmet, kids are either oblivious, or not interested. There are lots of reasons why kids won’t wear helmets, so it’s about working with those – or more accurately “around” those.

Reasons for Not Wearing Helmets (according to kids):

  • Helmets are uncomfortable (too tight, the strap pinches, hurts my ponytail, too heavy)
  • Helmets are not cool
  • I don’t need one – I’m invincible
  • My parents don’t make me
  • It’s hard to argue with some of these, if this is actually what the kid believes – so it’s all about finding ways to make helmets work for kids.

Top Ten Tips for Getting Kids to Wear Helmets

There are lots of tried and tested approaches, and here are the top ten top ten tactics for getting children to wear helmets…in no particular order.

One: Add a Helmet to the Toy Box Early On

By just slipping a helmet into the toy box, it helps familiarise a child with it. Any time they hop onto a truck or onto someone to ride them across the room, stick the helmet on their head to introduce the concept.

A helmet is then not a new foreign concept that you are introducing at the same time as introducing a bike or scooter for the first time.

Have a helmet in the toy box from early on to get kids used to it

Two: Wear One Yourself

For a (fleeting) period in their little lives, your kids think you’re cool. “Cool” may be a slight stretch – but they certainly look up to you. They are learning from you not by what you say, but by what you do. You can’t expect them to listen to you tell them to wear a helmet, if you are not doing the same. Trying the “adults have harder heads” line won’t wash for too long. If you have an issue wearing a helmet…add one to your wine box, and practice wearing it when you are half cut.

Lead by example and wear a helmet yourself

 

Three: Establish the Habit Early

Make sure their first bike or scooter, or the first time you take them on your bike, that they are wearing a helmet, and it goes from there. It’s harder to get a child to start wearing a helmet if they haven’t from the start (but not impossible).

Even better, make sure the are wearing a helmet when they start out on little ride-ons as a toddler. This not only protects from head bumps when they tumble off, but also instils the habit and creates a norm around helmet wearing.

Helmet on Toodles

Four: Fit the Helmet Properly

If a child’s helmet is slipping off their head, or over their eyes, you’ve little chance of keeping it on their head – and it’s not that much use there either.

Do a quick test to make sure you’re child’s helmet is fitted correctly so that your kids will be more comfortable, and the helmet will actually do its job:

  • Eyes: Put the helmet on the child’s head – ask them to look up, and they should see the bottom rim of the helmet (you should only be able to fit two fingers above the brow – between helmet rim)
  • Ears: The straps should form a “V” under their ears – and be tight – but not uncomfortable
  • Mouth: Ask the child to open their mouth as wide as they can – the helmet should “hug” their head. If it doesn’t – tighten the strap (you should only be able to fit one finger between strap and child’s chin)

Five: It’s Easier when their Friends Wear a Helmet

This is risky territory. You obviously can’t go around telling other kids what to do, but maybe dropping a few stats in the ears of the parents might encourage them to enforce a helmet rule too.

Six: Turn to the Cool Kids

If the cool kids in the neighbourhood aren’t wearing helmets, turn to the celebs – or whoever your child looks up to.

For really small kids, it can work to show them their favourite characters wearing helmets, since let’s face it, sometimes they are more likely to do what Doc McStuffins or Peppa Pig suggest they do, than you.

Doc McStuffins

If it’s good enough for Doc, it’s good enough for them (Source: Disney)


Bigger kids might be less than impressed with Doc McStuffins and her pals, so you have to bring out the big guns for them.

Tony Hawk

You don’t get much cooler than Tony Hawk, and he even has his own brand of helmets

Seven: Buy Kids a Helmet they Actually Like

Given that children around six or seven can start to think it is uncool to wear a helmet, at least if you buy them one they think is half cool, you have a better chance of getting them to wear it. Get your child involved in the buying process, and allow them to pick their own.

Timmy Bike in all the kit

Sometimes having all the kit is important to kids – and that if that includes a helmet, then winner

Eight: Discussing the Risks with your Child

While you don’t want to terrify your child into wearing a helmet, and risk nightmares or being too scared to cycle or scoot, it can be helpful discussing how a helmet protects their head and brain – and how important this is to do. Don’t underestimate how much kids take in – some of this might just make sense to them.

Nine: Rewards and Bribery

Helmet-wearing is one of the asks we have of our kids that could actually save their lives – it’s not just something we’d like them to do. It’s one of those times that you may have to resort to rewards and bribery to get the job done. Whatever works!

Ten: Lay Down the Law – No Helmet, No Wheels

As a last resort, it may be necessary to lay down the law if your child really won’t wear a helmet, and not allow them out on the bike, board or scooter. This could lead to an epic meltdown, but if you ask me, you’ll have less regrets about that, than if you’re dealing with a head injury.

The hope is that the child will reason that they had better comply next time and wear a helmet, or else risk being left behind again.

Try, try and Try Again

It can wear you down if helmet wearing is a daily battle in your house. But it’s about finding the way that works with your kid – because this battle, is definitely one worth winning.

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