A simple rule for getting toddlers to hold hands crossing the street

Kim's idea is so simple and smart:

Here's my tip for keeping toddlers from walking out onto the street or parking lot unsupervised. It relies on the good old "neutral third party" idea. Just tell them it's a universal rule that they always have to hold an adult's hand when they walk on "the black street." In our town, almost all parking lots are black with white lines. So, when the child is lifted out of the car, they can stand on the white line and walk along the side of our car, but may not venture off it until an adult holds their hand. Similarly, when you're walking down the sidewalk and encounter a cross street, they will stop and reach for your hand before stepping onto the black street. My son just turned four and this has been working flawlessly for us since we started when he was about 18 months. After he got used to it, he just naturally reaches up for my hand now and absolutely will not venture onto the black street, even if his ball rolls onto it!

When we visited the volcano in Hawaii, we parked and had to walk along an old closed road that was covered in lava at the end. No cars were allowed between the park ranger station and the lava, but my son still insisted we couldn't possibly walk on the black part without holding hands!

Related: Keeping kids safe in busy parking lots


  1. Nahtan says

    We just told our daughter she can’t go in a parking lot without holding our hands, and she does it. She’s 3.5 now, and it’s never been an issue.

  2. Leigh says

    Great idea! I just started telling my 2 year old that it was a part of my job as mom to do certain things… like brush his teeth, wash his hair, and change his diaper. He just started fighting me on these things, and when I said it was a part of my job and it was part of the rules that I have to do my job, he let me do them! I didn’t think about extending the “rules” to other things… the rules will now be extended!

  3. none says

    One day while walking through a parking lot with DS, I started chanting in a sing-song voice, “Parking lot, hold hands, parking lot, hold hands…” and swinging our arms back and forth. He immediately caught on and now he reminds me to hold hands as soon as I open the car door!

  4. eloisa van says

    Yes, my approach is more efficient and safe. Once they learn you mean business on a certain color surface, like green, it works on *all* colors! In the goofy approach above the kids will die in droves if they visit a neighborhood with cobblestone (not black) streets. My kids will always remember the essence of the situation: street implies danger & defying my authority implies unpleasant punishment. Parents are drawn to marginally useful tricks to avoid confrontation. This is wrong. Sometimes we must confront. Parents! Don’t be weak. Your child will thank you later.

  5. Trisha says

    hmm, how about ‘confrontation’ without physical pain?
    My daughter (2) is reminded that the rule is we hold hands in the street and parking lot. Always. If she resists or refuses, her other option is to be carried, she hates that. I’m not avoiding confrontation.
    But I don’t think others are either with what you call ‘marginally useful’ tactics. Each child has a different disposition, so naturally different things work better for different children- no spanking needed- children are smarter than you think.
    But besides all that, how is a toddler supposed to understand the difference that there is “no hitting” when they are upset but you can spank or essentially “hit” them when things don’t go your way. THAT does not seem like something that your children will thank you for later.

  6. Zed says

    Trisha said it best, but I just have to second her point.

    Consequences — CONSISTENT consequences — work wonders with children. No spanking required! I don’t cower to my children, and I don’t avoid confrontation. I teach them good principles and swiftly follow up with logical consequences.

    This hack reminds me of that old story of the kid who is told multiple times not to go to the corner and yet he keeps going to the corner. When he is punished for the umpteenth time he finally says, “Mom and Dad, what’s a corner?” The parents didn’t know he was confused and all the “punishing” in the world didn’t teach him what the heck a corner was. This hack is merely meant as a teaching tool for the child to understand what “the street” is and what “the parking lot” is. Those are actually pretty tough concepts for a 2-year-old to grasp right off.

    Anyway, I think it’s brilliant. Thanks, Kim!

  7. Sarah says

    Am I the only one with strong-willed children?? I am VERY consistent with discipline, and sometimes a spanking gets through to them more tnan anything else. A little pain (I’m not talking a beating here) goes a long way in communicating a message quickly. Children most certainly DO understand the difference between spanking and hitting. Spanking is discipline – hitting is NOT discipline. Spanking can be done in the wrong way or with the wrong attitude on the parents’ part, such as anger, and this is a totally different thing that I do not advocate, but in my experience with 3 stubborn, strong-willed boys, a spanking, especially for toddlers who do not always understand a talking-to or even a time-out chair, is effective. I have read so many responses in regards to this topic, so I know the general consensus out there, and the general “trend” of the day – all of a sudden spanking is WRONG WRONG WRONG!!!! Hmmmm, well then, I suppose maybe we’ll see a swift drop in the amount of civil disobedience in this next “unspanked” generation, right? Lord help us.

  8. AmyS says

    I tell my kids, in a matter-of-fact voice, “My job as your parent is to keep you safe and healthy. This is the [insert safe or healthy as appropriate] part.” The options are do it my way (hold hands where cars can drive) or stay where you are (in the car, on the sidewalk) — sometimes be carried if we don’t have time to wait. My kids know the arguing or tantruming doesn’t work (when it comes up, not much any more, I calmly say “Does that ever work? and since it doesn’t, they stop).

    I have an extremely strong-willed daughter whom I have never hit/spanked/struck in anyway and never will since our house rule is “We only do to others what we would want them to do to us.” Hitting is never an option in our house. For anyone.

  9. eloisa van says

    It is good to elicit these comments, however the thinking needs to be more careful. Some examples that expose fundamental inability for analytical thought:

    1. One writer uses this statement “Each child has a different disposition, so naturally different things work better for different children” as support for reaching the conclusion “no spanking needed”. Hmmm… we need the full palette of options here, so let’s start by throwing one out! Brilliant!

    2. Same writer states “children are smarter than you think” and then immediately insults children’s intelligence by claiming they can’t distinguish between a hitting situation (e.g. bully walks up to geek and hits him in the stomach) and a spanking situation (father explains we eat dinner at 6PM and kids that refuse get spankings. little rebel refuses to come to the table for 10 minutes. father calmly administers a few swats on the rear to align rebel brain cells)

    3. A writer proposed a rule for family living “We only do to others what we would want them to do to us.” One need not think long to punch a hole in this little gem of liberal foolishness. Consider breastfeeding. So, writer, in your house do you confirm that the baby wants mama to attempt to nurse on baby before baby can nurse on mama? If not then amend your rule. Parents and children are not equal partners. Parent is lord to child as god is lord to man. Parent makes rules that child must follow. Parents can booze, children cannot. Is that fair? Dumb question. Need not be fair.

    Classic example: child takes an interest in sticking tongue in electrical sockets (at home and in the stores and airports, etc.) The humane approach is to spank the child so they experience a behavior-modifying non-lethal jolt of pain. The namby-pamby no-spanking-required parent giggles and sits the child down and tries to explain electromotive force, skin contact resistance, induced currents, et cetera, because, you know, children are so smart – they can do the algebra and calculate the probability of death & disfigurement after the electrical engineering lecture… and you know how that ends.

    Some facts we all must accept:

    1. Sometimes we are quite certain we are right but in fact we are wrong. Could be me in the case, but not likely.

    2. Toddlers do not understand Ohm’s law.

    3. Giving kids frivolous choices or believing them when the pretend to hate being carried *is* avoiding confrontation.

    4. Kids do not truly respect weak parents.

    5. If you cannot do calculus then you probably should check with someone who can before posting attempts at reasoning on the internet.

    Sorry for being blunt. This is tradition in my native country.


  10. Mike says

    The white line rule makes me a bit concerned. What happens when the come to a cross walk where the lines that make the crosswalk are painted white. Would they think it is safe to walk on it because it’s habit to walk on it in a parking lot?

  11. Parent Hacks Editor says

    EV: Thank you for writing back with such conviction (genuine, if a bit sarcastic and inflammatory). My initial skepticism had to do with what I thought was a random “just spank them” comment dashed off without a thought. Obviously that’s not the case, which I appreciate.

    I also recognize that there is a wide grey area around the topic of spanking, and physical discipline in general. While I would never advocate spanking, I also can’t argue that it’s wrong 100% of the time. As with most parenting decisions, I think it depends on the parent, the kid, the culture, and the situation.

    I’m not trying to sound wishy-washy. I come from a bi-cultural family, and my father grew up in India with strict social codes, corporal punishment at school, the whole nine yards. And he argues he’s the better for it. I was raised with plenty of “liberal, namby-pamby foolishness” and a little spanking every now and then, and I turned out OK, too.

    Parenting is part religion and part science: it’s as much based on belief and faith as it is on reason.

  12. Zed says

    EV: There is a major flaw to the logic that you are using. (Wait—there are two major flaws, the first being your implying that you’re the only intelligent one in this conversation. That is not true to the Parent Hacks spirit, and you should drop the “If you cannot do calculus then you probably should check with someone who can before posting attempts at reasoning on the internet” crap. That’s not bluntness from your native country; that’s just rudeness.)

    The second major flaw is that you have come to the conclusion that if a person does not spank they are automatically parenting with “namby pamby” explanations and “giggles.” That’s not the way it’s done in my home, and there is plenty of firmness (and excellent compliance, I might add). I’d love to explain even further, but you’ve already replied to others as though everyone but you is a fool, so why bother?

  13. Sarah says

    I just hope that the decision to spank or to not spank your children can be left up to the parent – spanking lately is met with such harsh criticism. And I do agree that it should be at the decision of the parent whether to spank their children or not.
    (And some children do not need spanking – a sternly-spoken word is enough to reduce them to tears and get the message across.)

  14. JT says

    I’m going to sidestep the spanking discussion with something I’m sure people will also think is cruel: I threatened my son with a leash.

    That is, I told my middle son when he was 3 or 4 and kept running away from the nanny (and often into the street) that I would get a toddler restraint for him if he refused to listen.

    I explained that we didn’t feel safe taking him out anymore, and neither did the nanny. Did he want to have to wear a leash outside like Nana & Grandpa’s dog? It would strap around his middle and we would make him use it whenever he went outside for a walk to the park (nearly every day).

    No, he didn’t want to wear a leash!

    That imagery stuck with him and he became much more responsive to “hold my hand, please.” I never had to buy one, thank goodness, because do I ever hate seeing them! But I’m a lot more understanding when I do…

  15. AN says

    JT – I love the leash threat. I had to use this threat on my baby brother whom I raised, and even went so far as to purchase and “try on” a toddler harness. At first he thought it would be fun to “play puppy”, but this ended when he realized that when in public he was “a big boy and not actually a doggie” (his words). Ever since then, he too has been more responsive to hand-holding requests. If he protests, I say, “Okay, I’ll get your leash from the car.” Never takes more than one reminder. I should add that he is a happy, intelligent, well-adjusted child who just happens to have an independent streak.

  16. sten says

    I very seldom disobeyed my spanking parents…while they were looking. And I resented their fear-based methods, which gave me no help in building internal motivation, and still held that resentment until the end of their lives.

    Good luck with your kids!

  17. AmyS says

    EV: Do you enjoy being attacked on the internet? If not, you should not attack others.

    Parent Hacks is about explaining what works for you and letting others make their own parenting decisions. Implying that children will be ruined if they are not raised the way *you* think they should be is truly offensive to me. My parents raised three, dare I say, great people without ever raising a hand to them. All their grandchildren are being raised the same way and are turning out wonderfully, if I do say so as proud mama and auntie.

    BTW, I’m an atheist who got A’s in college calculus, physics, logic and human development. And “namby-pamby” has never been used to describe me — “tough-but-fair,” yes. Hmmm, I am proud, aren’t I?

  18. eloisa van says

    I do not attack. I educate. I do not oppose a history of never raising a hand. I oppose a namby pamby state of mind that would take solutions off the table. Solutions as pure as mama’s milk. Toddler’s have a nice network of pain receptors. Might as well activate a few now and then. Regarding the phrases “works for me” or “works for you”: If using these phrases then probably already lost… that is, by failing to learn and incorporate basic universal truths, and instead creating a dysfunctional dynamic of special cases glued together with neurotic incentives, then there’s probably no way out of the maze. So it is the new parents that should listen to me most. There are fundamentals to know – I will teach more when ready.

    Makes no sense to be an atheist. A better choice is agnostic. Should not rule out things you cannot prove. Further, it is not to one’s credit to succumb to offense. Strong minds either let the words roll off their backs or learn from them. Read more carefully – the requisite is “ability to do calculus” not “having persuaded someone to award a certain letter grade in a class that may or may not have been rigorous”.


  19. Jeff says

    Aaaaahahahahah!!! Aaahahahahahahaha!!! Oh, Eloisa! That is rich!!

    “I do not attack. I educate.”
    “I will teach more when ready.”

    Aaaaahahahahaha!!! Oh my laughter!!

    Please! Please enlighten us with your deep wisdom! Hahahaha!! Man, what a good laugh.

  20. Mary says

    Seldom do I have the opportunity to read the trail of comments accompanying a hack.

    Today I took the time to dig in. Well! I have to say that I am rather surprised and disappointed by the wicked-step-sister bickering going on.

    Parent hacks is supposed to be a community of sharing not a three ring circus.

    I think it’s good to challenge ideas but with fair play and maturity.

    I grew up with these parenting words: If you have nothing constructive to say, walk away.

  21. Stephanie says

    EV said “Toddler’s have a nice network of pain receptors. Might as well activate a few now and then. ”

    Umm, we call that child abuse where I come from. Your comments are uncalled for, not to mention rude.