I only have 3 rules for my own kids; wear helmets, buckle up and brush your teeth. Otherwise, I let my kids run, jump and play without much intervention. But that’s because I’m a pediatrician that works in an emergency room and I know what’s really dangerous. Your child is far more likely to be harmed by things you aren’t even thinking about. Here’s what makes my palms sweat:
New parents choose baby’s first solid foods carefully to make sure they are soft and small enough. But when kids are learning to eat they will gag, and struggle a little as they tackle new textures. Kids have a built in safety mechanism that closes their airway if food is trying to get in. So an 18-month-old may gag and choke when they over ambitiously shove a taco in their mouth. But that’s how they learn to eat. Introduce a variety of textures and sizes of food for kids to tackle, particularly so they grow up to be adventurous eaters — and ignore their gagging and spitting noises.
What choking hazards should you worry about? Popped balloons are one of the most dangerous, so I never take my eyes off a baby playing with a balloon. In the pediatric ER we see a lot of young kids who have swallowed coins and other objects. Typically it happens when the child is alone with their older sibling. So in terms of choking risks, leaving young children alone to play with older kids is a slightly riskier situation since older kids may have toys that are unsafe for young kids.
And don’t let kids run with a lollipop or toothbrush in their mouth. While not a common injury, it can be very dangerous if a child falls and punctures their palate.
2. DOG BITES
Parents worry about the cleanliness of animals because they often come to the emergency room explaining that they are concerned their child got sick from playing with a cat or dog. But don’t worry about a pet being “dirty,” there’s virtually no risk of infection from a dog lick. Instead focus your efforts to prevent dog bites. By far the most harmful animal injuries I see are from a friendly family dog attacking a child. Teach your child how to approach a dog and to never take something away from a dog. Every dog, no matter how mild-mannered, is capable of biting a child.
You take your kids to swim lessons and warn not to run around the pool. But that’s not gonna keep kids safe around water. We can fix a cut chin or bruised knee from tripping on the pool deck. So why do swimming pools scare me? Kids drown right in front of you. Even older kids who know how to swim can drown. And unfortunately swim lessons really aren’t protective. Be sure to have a dedicated set of eyes on the pool at all times. Consider having a ridiculous looking “lifeguard” hat that you can pass around between adults at a pool party to designate that one person is always responsible for keeping an eye on the swimmers. And if you are visiting a house with a pool, make sure there is a locked door or gate between the child and the pool and keep a close eye on roaming toddlers.
Most parents are careful to lock away medications and cleaning supplies at home. Yet, one of the most common accidental poisonings occurs in the home. The scenario? Friends and family visit and leave their medications out or in their purse where toddlers sneak right in to grab some “candy.” So be aware when guests visit; hide their diabetes and blood pressure medications away from the reach of little hands. Kids ingest all kinds of inappropriate substances and you can always call poison control for advice. But be aware of the most dangerous substances in the house: laundry pods, acetaminophen (Tylenol), and iron tablets.
You find yourself calling out “be careful” across the playground. But kids need to play hard and explore the world to grow up to be confident, enterprising adults — and sometimes that means getting hurt. So I give my kids more freedom on the playground than most, and I encourage my kids to go skiing, paragliding and rock climbing. But I will always be wary of ATVs, motorcycles and other high-speed toys. Falls from these machines are far riskier. I’m also careful around trampolines (aka “orthopedic fracture machines”). The majority of trampoline injuries occur when there is more than one person on the trampoline at a time, so our rule is one person at a time – or if you must let several kids jump at once – have shifts for little kids and big kids.
Injuries from falls increase exponentially as the height of a fall increases. So, a fall down stairs is actually not terribly dangerous as it really is a series of very short falls. On the other hand, a fall from a window can be extremely dangerous. So be sure your windows can’t open from the bottom and never place a low piece of furniture under a window. Children are enticed to climb on a trunk to look out a window and risk a big fall.
Being a parent is an anxiety-provoking state. It’s easy to see everything as dangerous when you aren’t sure what’s worth worrying about. But the truth is that kids need to face adversity when they play. They need to trip, fall, scrape their knees and experiment with the world to learn that they are more capable then they realize. Resist the urge to catch them every time they fall and maybe you’ll see they will fall a little less and create a little more.