Teach Kids to Ride Safely

Mother teaching her child how to ride amusement rides safely

Use the 3 R's of Ride Safety to prepare kids for the unusual experiences they'll encounter when they visit a carnival or amusement park. Kids' amusement rides might seem simple and oh-so-familiar to us older folks, but remember that most everything is new to a child.

Here's what kids need to know before you go

  • Rides - How do amusement rides work? How do you pick rides that will be fun, but not too overwhelming or scary? How do you get in and out safely? How might the experience feel? What should you do if something unexpected happens or they get scared while riding?
  • Rules - What rules do you have to follow on every ride? What's the safest riding position for kids (bottom in the seat, both feet on the floor, and both hands holding on)? Why are those things important? What are the rules for waiting in line? How do you know when it's safe to get on and off? What do you do if you're confused or can't work the safety equipment?
  • Rewards - What are the rewards for following the rules? Small immediate rewards earned after each successful ride are the best way to keep little ones motivated and reinforce safe behavior. These can easily be worked into any park or carnival visit without spoiling your kids or breaking your budget. For example:
    • Praise - Praise is the best reinforcer and it's free! Give your kids hugs and compliments each time they remember to follow all the safety rules on a ride.
    • Point System - Set up a point system with rewards for safe riding. One safe ride might earn a jelly bean or a Lifesaver. Let them count up their "safety points" to earn a snow cone at lunch, or a stuffed animal at the end of the day.
    • Kids Earn the Privilege to Try Bigger Rides - If you've got a child who's always looking toward bigger, better, wilder thrills, make him earn the privilege of riding a bigger ride by showing he can follow all the rules on smaller rides. A half day of responsible riding in the kiddie section might earn him a trial spin on a big-boy family ride. It's always a good idea, though, for mom or dad to ride along just in case. Remember that all amusement rides are powerful machines. Overconfidence can get kids in over their heads.
    • Make Safety a Family Value - Let the whole family accrue safety points toward a future amusement park trip. That introduces teamwork into the mix and gives mom and dad incentive to model the rules. Research shows that children are more likely to consistently follow safety rules if they see their parents doing so.
    • Don't Ignore Unsafe Behavior - Keep the focus on positive reinforcement as long as that's working, but it's also important to set and enforce consequences for unsafe behavior. If your child fails to follow the rules on a ride, let him sit out the next ride to show you're serious. If he misbehaves again, explain that you'll have to protect his safety by taking him out of the park. Sometimes thrill rides are simply too much for a young child to handle. When he's old enough to ride safely, you can bring him back for another visit.

Talk with kids ahead of time, then repeat the lessons throughout your visit

  • Like any other message about child safety, the 3R's need to be repeated and reinforced over and over again. Teaching children to be safe is a process, not a one-shot excercise.

As your children grow and mature, so should your ride safety messages

  • Each new age and stage of development introduces new physical and emotional elements into the safety equation. The fearless 5-year-old who couldn't get enough coaster runs last time your family visited a theme park might be considerably more fearful when he's seven -- or vice-versa.
  • The taller kids grow, the wilder the thrill machines they're allowed to ride. Each new experience introduces new elements of speed, height, force and thrill as well. As your children transition from kiddie rides to full-sized rides, make sure you talk with them about the forces of motion and the more intense experiences.

Never rely solely on rules to protect young children

  • The 3R's play an important role in helping children develop safe riding habits, but parents and chaperones should never rely on rules and instructions alone to protect young children around heavy machinery.
  • Hands-on adult supervision is the safest course when children are small. If your child is too young to cross a busy street by herself, she's probably too young to protect herself from amusement ride ride dangers.

Related Safety Tips

Toddler riding with an adult
Watch Children Carefully
Amusement rides are fun and exciting, but they can also pose risks to young children.
Father and child riding amusement ride
Top 10 Tips for Parents
Treat amusement ride safety seriously, just like traffic safety, water safety, and bike safety.
Boy next to height limit measure
Minimum Height Restrictions
For some kids on some rides, minimum height limits set by manufacturers may be too low for safety.
Toddler riding a kiddie coaster
Should Kids Ride Without an Adult?
Be cautious when deciding whether your child is really old enough to ride alone.