Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute

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Introducing Your Child to Bike Helmets

Summary: Some good ideas here from concerned parents, plus the usual negatives from the usual handful of Internet posters who oppose helmet laws.

The Original Message

We're thinking about buying a Burley trailer to use w/ our 1-year-old son. However, we know he won't like the helmet. When we tried one on him today, he fussed mightily and pulled it off. He does this with any kind of hat. Does anyone have any suggestions for getting him to accept the helmet? We won't force him to ride in the trailer if he doesn't want to -- but we'll never know if we can't get him to wear the helmet properly. Are we trying too young? Should we wait a while until he understands the concept of "no helmet, no ride"?
My daughter did the same thing - it was a major hassle getting her just to try them on, and it took us a long time to find one that fit properly because of her obstinance. But we made a game of it at home, wearing our helmets around the house, and got her accustomed to the idea long before we even exposed her to the bike; she still didn't like to wear it for more than a few minutes, but at least she didn't run away when she saw us approaching with it. The whole time we made sure she understood that it was a bicycle helmet, and that we always wore it on bicycle rides. The first time she actually got to ride the bike, she quickly forgot she was even wearing it, and soon was reminding US that we had to wear our helmets whenever we went for a ride (this at the age of 14 mos.) The "no helmet, no ride" tactic is understandable to a toddler, but something of a chicken & egg conundrum; they won't know what they're missing until they take a ride, but they can't take a ride until you can get a helmet on them...once our daughter took that ride the helmet thing fell into place.

Two additional suggestions: make sure it fits - not only for safety, but also because if it's constantly falling down over his eyes or chafing he's not going to want to wear it; and find a helmet with a closure that can't accidentally pinch his skin, 'cause if you do you'll never get it on him again (seen it happen.)

We used Burley DeLite trailers for both of our kids, and personally, I think they're the best thing since sliced bread (see my message under the thread, Kid Carriers). I also know that Burley recommends that children riding in a trailer wear a helmet, but after an initial trial, we let the kids go without. In a smaller child, the back of the helmet presses against the seat back, and forces the child to either tilt her chin down, or lean forward or to the side, and our daughter complained of a stiff neck. Also, we figured that since the child is secured by a five point harness inside a very stable, tip-resistant trailer with a roll cage, that the helmet would probably be overkill. And any impact severe enough to crush or penetrate the trailer would probably be lethal, helmet or not.

We told our kids that when they got big, that they'd get their own bikes, and they'd get to pick out their own "big kid" helmet. Make sure you always wear your own helmets. Give him your old cycling magazines to play with and cut up - they're loaded with pictures of people in helmets. If he likes to play with costumes, give him an old helmet to play with (give a kid a black helmet and a black towel to tie around his neck and he's Darth Vader). And when he gets that first bike, take him up to your local bike store and let him pick out his helmet. They may not have a big selection in the smallest sizes, but I've seen helmet covers for children that look like a shark's fin or a dinosaur's back that may please him. Make buying him his first big kid helmet a small rite of passage; take him out for an ice cream afterward, and let him show off his new helmet to everybody when he gets home. And once he's got his helmet, make it the absolute, cast iron rule: "No helmet, no ride". Just like seatbelts in the car, this issue is non-negotiable. Nobody in our family rides without a helmet, and we even have a couple of spares that we keep around for when our kids want to bring a friend along on a ride, and the friend shows up with no lid.

Our 2-year old insisted on putting his helmet on before our abbreviated ride on Sunday. It's not always like that. Yes, have the kid wear the helmet for short periods around the house. Leave it lying around so that he/she can play with it. Let them wear it unbuckled at first.

For fitting, do it in short sessions. Put it on quick, see what needs adjusting, take it off, make adjustment, try it on again a bit later.

Try to distract the munchkin when putting it on or wearing it with a toy or snack. We knew we were victorious when Nicky played for a bit while wearing the helmet. This took a couple days/weeks.

He's been riding in the trailer (second-hand Burley D'Lite) for almost a year now and likes it for the most part. Only occasionally on rides does he get tired of sitting and let's us know that we need to find a place to let him run around. Rides including parks are best. :-)
Our 2 YO daughter loves to ride in our Burley and we've taken her on lots of adventures. She spends a lot of time on her tricycle too. Like your son, she also hates helmets/hats, and you know what - we don't make her wear a helmet on her bike or anywhere else.

Our philosophy is that physical fitness is more likely to be a health concern than the minor injuries that can be prevented by bicycle helmets. If a helmet ultimatim means she won't ride the bike, we'd rather she rode the bike without the helmet, the opposite of "No Helmet, No ride."
IMNSHO, bicycle helmets are very trendy right now and the issue is out of proportion. Consider this, there are 42,000 motor vehicle occupants and 6,000 pedestrians killed each year relative to about 900 cyclists. The major cause of all of these is head injuries. Typical bicycle accidents and injuries are minor. That's what styrofoam helmets are designed for. It is highly debatable just how effective they are at preventing more serious injuries. And even they were 100% effective, there are plenty of other activities that risk head injury as well.

Riding a bicycle is a safe, very beneficial thing to do. It is not especially hazardous, neither is riding near the bicycle strapped securely in a Burley. Burleys are very roll resistant. If the bike falls the Burley will not. Even if it did roll, there are bars preventing contact.

Sorry if I sound a little defensive. Our municipality has a child helmet law. Laws like these are really popular but after doing some reading and reflecting, I think they are wrong. There is absolutely no reason the state should be involved in this decision. It is not an absolute, it is a judgement call, one that belongs with parents.

With that said, if you want to go with the helmet ultimatim thing, please consider the helmet you choose carefully. For example, imagine wearing one those extry-extry safe Toddler helmets (you know, the ones with very few vents and tons of coverage) on a hot day. Be sure the helmet has adequate ventilation. Also, the helmet's effectiveness is greatly compromised if the helmet doesn't fit properly or is loose. You're going to have to replace it every few years, and be sure it is strapped tightly.

Just another perspective.
You may want to get an opinion from your child's pediatrician too. Some of the helmet advocacy websites mention this in particular referring to very young children and their ability to support the weight of the helmet. I doubt this is a concern with a one-year old but it couldn't hurt to check out. In our house helmets are just a normal part of biking or blading, and my daughter is quick to grab her helmet at the mention of "going for a ride". Let others say what they will, after several spills on dirt bikes and some otherwise close calls for me, I am VERY comfortable with using protective gear routinely!!!

Just my opinion, although I'll defend it to the death!!! ;-)
> Yes, bicycling without a helmet is an evil, evil thing. It's much better
> for a kid to never ride a bike at all.
Yup...at least at my house it is. BTW, I don't have many iron-clad rules, but those that pertain to my perception of safety are absolute when it comes to my kids. Besides, if you stick to your guns and don't waffle on the issue, the child will come around. Remember, you are the parent and since you pay the medical bills and insurance, you get to make and enforce the rules.
>Of course none of that makes it right. Just a case of one person's will over
> another's. That's what MHL is about. In the case of children, Other
> parents' will over mine.
> Fascism by any other name ...

It's always inspirational to read some parent's meanderings about what they think of as safety. I find it quite easy to see that Kathleen's total understanding of bicycle safety issues are found in a Bell Sports advertisement.

Put a helmet on the little bugger and let him play in the street.

You might also take him to a family ride, or a major event, where EVERYONE is wearing a helmet. Where there are lots of other little kids running around with theirs on.

There are bike safety coloring books with lots of helmeted characters, including the dinosaurs. That could be worth a try.
And now to be really heretical...

Why bother? would you rather your child rode a bike without a helmet or didn't ride a bike? that seems to be the choice you are setting forward.

And your child is in a trailer, where they are strapped into a roll cage and most unlikely to fall off or over. I would rather put a suitable hat on for the conditions (sun hat or woolly hat or whatever) and then, when they want to ride their own bike, bring up the 'be like mummy and daddy, wear a helmet'.

Well, actually, I would do a 'be like mummy and daddy, stop before entering the road. Look carefully for traffic.' and generally teach them from day 1 to be safe on the streets. I probably wouldn't bother with a helmet.

It may well be overkill inside a trailer, but our son received his training early about the necessity of a helmet when riding. Now that he's five, the only "problem" we have is getting him to take the thing *off* when he's in the house. C'mon, son, ... (and it's an hour or more later). Those snakes do look cool, though...

Incidentally: when he was first learning to balance his own bike, the helmet saved his face from some minor abrasions.

Those early lessons can be a lot easier than after they are older and harder to train. Of course, for all I know he will rebel when he gets to his teens. He does seem far more favorably atuned to motor vehicles than his old man. In comparison with the no/helmet, the issue of bike/auto is a far bigger issue.

We have a page up on persuading your teen to wear a helmet.