kids

Amid grief from the tragic death of a 4-year-old, an Aussie family has created something positive.

Michelle McLaughlin’s four-year-old son, Tom, was a “cautious” child.   He was well-versed on road safety and he was well-behaved on regular road-trips to his pre-school and his sister’s primary school.

“He was a really good little boy, he didn’t ever do anything once wrong around a car or in a car-park, he was always telling other people to be careful,” said the Sydney mother.

In January 2014, Michelle and David McLaughlin took their children –  Tom,  Sophie, 7, and baby Hugh –  on a holiday to the central coast. On the second day, Tom was tragically killed in a pedestrian accident on his way to Macmasters Beach.

“He was getting ready to use his surfboard, and a beach was just 200 metres down the road where the accident took place. He was very, very excited. Santa had just given him that surfboard, and it was the first time he was about to use it,” Mrs McLaughlin said.

Tom (left) with his brother, Hugh and older sister, Sophie. Image supplied.

Only months after the accident, amid her sleepless nights, Tom's mother set to work to try and help educate others about pedestrian safety, in an effort to prevent future tragedies.

In April 2014, she created The Little Blue Dinosaur Foundation which has a strong focus on holiday time road safety with functional resources for parents and children.

"It’s the best way we could get our message out there, and I believe that there’s a risk for the circumstances around Tom’s accident to be repeated one day, so people need to be teaching and talking to their children about different looking roadways and exercise caution around them,"  said the 43-year-old.

Mrs McLaughlin found a gap in information about road safety, particularly during the school holidays - a time when school zones are not enforced, children are out and about, out of routine - and not in their usual surroundings.

"Roadways around beach hamlets look different.  There’s no typical curb and guttering, there’s often no line marking on the road, they’re often skinny and narrow and it’s confusing potentially for a child," she said.

"Families need to have a road safety discussion when they reach their holiday destination they need to familiarise themselves and then talk to their children about that new traffic environment and stay vigilant, because everyone’s excitement is high on holidays and there’s lots of different recreational activities happening so the routine is very much varied from the normal, and it increases the risk factors."

The McLaughlin family. Image supplied. 

The Sydneysider says parents need to hold their children's hands, particularly those under ten years old, because at that age their peripheral vision is not yet fully developed.

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"You can be vigilant and teach your children about road safety everyday, as I did, but at the end of the day these accidents happen in a moment, and it’s a lovely endearing quality that children are so joyful and excitable, but we need to keep that at the forefront of our minds."

The foundation has now teamed up with Transport for NSW to help produce the first curriculum-based road safety website in Australia - Safety Town.

Within the site, ‘Out and About with Sophie and Tom’, is a resource based on Tom, and his older sister, Sophie, now 10, which will be used by 1.1 million students in over 3000 schools across NSW.

"Sophie’s delighted with the resource because obviously she really misses her brother, they were very very close, and it’s been a really positive thing for Sophie to be involved in and see it come to fruition. "

"She is also like her brother – a very caring little girl, and she wants children to keep safe and not to get hurt in a roadway trauma."

Michelle's youngest child, Hugh, 3, can challenge his mother's hand-holding rule but they don't go out if he doesn't comply.

"I think it’s a really important message that people do hold onto their children hands when they’re out and about in car-parks, driveways and footpaths even. You can not just rely on your child to know, a moment can arrive when they do something out of character."

Amid their grief, the McLaughlin's family have been able to turn their loss into something positive.

"You can’t ever forget it, but you try and get through each day. Doing something like this has given us some meaning back, making sure that Tom still can achieve things."

"Obviously as a parent when you lose your beloved precious child, it’s devastating and it’s very easy to slip down into a really dark place but...we have to find ways to move in a positive direction."

"In my case, I had a one-year-old son and a seven-year-old daughter who was also very traumatised by what had occurred and we have to make sure that those children have a normal and happy life, as they deserve to have.  They were on track for that before this accident and there is no reason in my thinking, why it should be any different. We try really hard. It’s not easy to be strong, but we try really hard for our children because we want them to be happy and we do want them to see something good come out of such a really really devastating experience."

For more information - see The Little Blue Dinosaur Foundation website: http://www.littlebluedinosaur.org/ and ‘Out and About with Sophie and Tom

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