Avoiding preventable injuries. Being an active child can mean crashing, tumbling and falling at times.
As a result of sports and recreational activity injuries, more than one million children end up in emergency departments annually. Emergency departments also treat injuries related to motor vehicle accidents 150 times per hour.
It’s important to know how to reduce the risk of preventable injuries in your child, particularly those that can lead to serious disabilities.
Preventive behaviors include: using the proper protective equipment when participating in sports; wearing the appropriate headgear when riding bikes, skateboards and scooters; ensuring correct car seat/booster seat use; buckling up at all times and limiting risky driving behavior.
Sports and Recreational Activity Safety
Physical activity promotes healthy growth and development, builds strong bones and muscles, improves balance, maintains and develops flexibility, helps achieve and maintain a healthy weight, improves cardiovascular fitness, helps relaxation, improves posture, increases self-esteem and offers opportunities to develop healthy relationships.
We have all observed disappointed physically active kids who are on the sidelines due to injury. The following tips may help reduce preventable injuries so our kids can continue participating in the activities they enjoy:
* Choose age- and skill-appropriate sports and activities.
* Ensure the environment — including the play surface — is safe for your child’s activity. Be sure there is adult supervision, and be alert to motor vehicle traffic.
* Make sure your child receives a pre-participation sports physical, to help rule out any potential medical concerns that may place him at risk.
* Ensure adequate hydration before, during and after sports/recreational activities to avoid dehydration and other forms of heat illness. Water is the best choice of fluid unless prolonged sweating times occur.
* Encourage warm-up and stretching before practice and games to help prevent strains and sprains.
* Require the use of proper equipment and safety gear that is the correct size for your child and is appropriately maintained. Protective equipment should be approved by the organizations that govern each sport. For example, bicycle helmets should have a safety certification sticker from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
* Discourage play techniques that place kids at increased risk for concussion and head injury. Know the signs and symptoms of concussion, and ensure a provider trained in concussion recognition and management evaluates your child prior to his return to play. Each child has a unique, varied concussion symptom picture (see Concussion Symptoms). Often symptoms are not immediately noticed or could be very subtle, making it difficult to identify whether a concussion is present. Remember: “When in doubt, sit them out!”
* Urge your player to take time off from the focus on a single sport to prevent overuse injuries.
* Encourage your child to speak up when injured.
Motor Vehicle Safety
Motor vehicle crashes are the second leading cause of death for children aged four to ten years old. Sadly, one third of children who are killed in motor vehicle accidents were riding without a restraint that could have saved their lives. Attention to strategies that lessen motor vehicle-related injuries is very important. From the first time your child is in a car seat through the milestone of teen driving, the commitment to motor vehicle safety should be a priority.
When your newborn leaves the hospital, the importance of using the correct and properly installed car seat is emphasized. However, as your child grows, understanding the age- and size-related car seat and/or booster seat recommendations can be confusing. Despite these challenges, this knowledge can save your child’s life. Often parents and caregivers move children to seat belts before their child is big enough, as they are not aware of height and weight requirements for the use of a seat belt only. Although seat belts are safer than keeping a child unrestrained, children who should be in booster seats but wear only seat belts are at risk of severe abdominal, head and spinal injuries in the event of a crash. The proper use of booster seats can reduce the risk of serious injury by 45 percent compared to seat beats alone.
You should review car seat and booster seat regulations specific to your state. In addition, know that most fire departments offer car seat checks that ensure appropriate type and proper installation. Check with your local department to schedule this free service.
Motor vehicle safety doesn’t end at car seats, booster seats and seatbelts. As children approach and achieve adolescence, an additional milestone presents itself: driving a motor vehicle, by themselves! The invincibility of teenagers — coupled with the distractions of phone conversations and texting — provide quite a dangerous temptation. Engaging in substance use while operating a motor vehicle further escalates risk of preventable injury. Establishing firm driving rules for your child is key. Agree to a driving contract with your teen, have transparent conversations consistently, observe state and community laws regarding cell phone use and passenger regulations to assure your teen’s safe decision-making.
Also note that many additional injuries occur while children are outside or around motor vehicles. Safe play environments and focused adult supervision are important. Appropriate protective gear, matched to the activity, is equally essential. Wearing a helmet should be non-negotiable for all activities that place a child at risk for falls, crashes and/ or contact to the head. You should role model this behavior for your children by wearing protective gear as well.
With attention to these safety strategies, you can reduce the risk of preventable injury in your family.
Traci Snedden, PhD, RN, CPNP, is an NP in the Emergency Department of Children’s Hospital Colorado and actively participates in research to examine best practices for concussion recognition and management. She is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Sports Medicine and is an Affiliated Scholar of the PIPER program at the University of Colorado School of Public Health, a multidisciplinary group that focuses on Pediatric Injury Prevention, Education and Research.