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When your child refuses to wear a helmet
Sasha Kensington
Sasha, congratulations on helping your daughter reach this milestone. However, it’s crucial that she always wear a helmet when riding. Helmets can reduce the risk of head injuries, the leading cause of death in bike accidents, by as much as 85 percent.

Although many people think that they don’t need to wear the helmet when they’re riding close to home, this is actually where most bike injuries occur. The helmet should be worn on all rides, no matter how short. It’s good that your daughter is proud of her new riding skills, but even expert riders can have serious bike injuries caused by uneven surfaces and collisions with cars.

Children often come up with other excuses why they don’t want to wear the helmet: it’s ugly, it’s too heavy and hot, it messes up their hair, their friends don’t have to wear one. But this is an important safety issue, so be firm about it.

Here are some suggestions for encouraging your daughter to wear her helmet:
  • Have your child wear a helmet as soon as she starts riding a tricycle. The earlier the habit starts, the easier it is to continue.
  • Let her choose her helmet. She’ll be able to select the one that’s the most attractive and most comfortable.
  • Wear a helmet yourself, and point out older children and other adults (including bicycle racers) who wear helmets. Younger children like to imitate older kids and adults, and it’ll be helpful for her to see that you can still be “cool” wearing a helmet.
  • Explain to your child why the helmet is necessary. If she understands the importance of her brain and how the helmet protects it, she’s more likely to use the helmet. Explain that a single bike accident without a helmet could permanently damage her brain or even kill her. If you have friends who are doctors, have them talk to her about patients they’ve seen who’ve had bike accidents without helmets.
  • Know your state law about helmet use. If helmets are required for children on bikes, tell her that she can get in trouble with the police if she’s not wearing one.
  • Praise her for wearing the helmet. Positive reinforcement helps.
  • Don’t let her ride without it. Be consistent. If you see her riding without a helmet, consider taking the bike away for a period of time. If she refuses to wear it, tell her that she’ll need to walk instead of riding her bike.
  • Talk with the parents of your child’s friends to make sure everyone agrees that helmets are required. Also, praise your child’s friends when you see them wearing helmets.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician