The most marvelous things about you are contained in your brain. When your child rides a bike, scooter or skateboard, or even when she goes sledding in the winter, she should show her brain some love and wear a helmet.

Parents, that means you too. Since children often follow your example, modeling the appropriate behavior will increase the likelihood your child will wear a helmet.

“Every time you get on a bike, it should be second nature for you to put your helmet on before riding. It’s the same as getting in your car and wearing your seat belt,” says Mike Gittelman, MD, an emergency medicine physician in the Division of Emergency Medicine at Cincinnati Children’s.

A strong advocate of helmet use, Gittelman says head injuries are the most serious injury treated in connection with bike riding, and studies show only 30 percent of kids in Ohio wear a helmet while biking, skating or riding a scooter. Apart from the automobile, bicycles are tied to more childhood injuries than any other consumer product, including trampolines, ladders and swimming pools.

Wearing a helmet not only makes safety sense, it might also be the law where you live. Many cities, including Cincinnati, require all cyclists under the age of 16 to wear a helmet on all public properties.

“By wearing a helmet, you can reduce the risk of head injury by 85 percent and severe brain injury by 88 percent,” Gittelman says. “Some families say they don’t want to fight with their kids. Kids say it’s not cool, but people used to say that about seat belts.”

Experts say proper fit is crucial to a helmet’s effectiveness. That can be a challenge if a child is inheriting a “hand-me-down” helmet. The key is to make sure the helmet is certified*, that the pads fit the head at the front, back, sides and top, and that the chin strap is snug. The helmet should sit on top of your head in a level position and it should not rock back and forth or from side to side.

Replace any helmet if the padding is worn down, the helmet has a crack or dent or has been involved in an accident in the past.

Gittelman, who is co-director of the Comprehensive Children’s Injury Center, also emphasizes that cost need not be an obstacle. Although some kids might be drawn to a costlier model with a fancy design or colors, or more air vents, for daily use, Gittelman says, “there is little or no difference between an expensive helmet and one you can get for 10 dollars or less.” If you are looking for helmets at less expensive prices, the Family Resource Center at Cincinnati Children’s has them available.

“You only have one head,” Gittelman says. “Protect it.”