Posted on 6 Oct 2017
Keeping kids safe during outdoor play
This content has been clinically reviewed by Maneesha Agarwal, M.D.
Spring has finally arrived, and your children are ready to head outside to play.
Before they run out the door, though, keep in mind the following tips to help ensure their safety.
Every year emergency departments treat more than 200,000 children 14 and under for playground-related injuries. About 45 percent of the injuries are severe fractures, internal injuries, concussions, dislocations and amputations. Whoa!
To avoid these dangerous tumbles, toddlers, preschoolers and young school-age kids should always be supervised at the playground by an adult, especially when play involves climbing or being up high. This means keeping a close eye, and avoiding getting too distracted by your phone or a book – remember, accidents can happen in an instant.
It’s also a good idea to give playground equipment a once-over to ensure it’s safe:
- Are there moving parts on play equipment that can pinch a child? Any hardware jutting out that could cut a child or cause clothes to become entangled?
- Is a wooden structure free of splinters and nails or screws that stick out?
- What’s underneath the play equipment? If it’s asphalt, concrete or dirt, find another playground with a softer surface like sand or pea gravel that will cushion a child’s fall.
- Remember that metal slides get sizzling hot in the warmer weather and can seriously burn a child’s hands and legs. Plastic slides can get hot, too. So on a sunny day, check them before the kiddos take their first ride down.
Everything look safe? Let the fun begin, but remember not to allow younger children to play on equipment meant for older kids, like seesaws. The safest playgrounds have separate play areas for toddlers, preschool and school-age kids.
Helmet use by bicyclists is estimated to reduce the likelihood of a head injury by 50 percent and of head, neck or facial injuries by 33 percent. We know it can be tough to get your children to wear a helmet all the time, but to protect against head injuries, you should insist that your child wear a properly fitting helmet each time he or she rides on a bike, skateboard, scooter or hoverboard. Doing this early helps develops a helmet habit.
Here are some other important facts and tips to remember about helmets:
- Did you know different sports require different helmet types? The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has a guide for buying the correct helmet for your child.
- Not all helmets protect your child’s head (despite what the packaging may claim). To identify a qualified bike helmet, look for a sticker that says “CPSC” on it. Helmets for skateboards and hoverboards should have CPSC and ASTM F1492 certifications.
- Correctly wearing the helmet is vital. It should be level on the head and cover the forehead, not tipped forward or backward. Fasten helmet straps so that you can fit about two fingers between chin and strap. The helmet should be snug on the head but not overly tight.
- Make sure your kids don't throw their helmets around since this can damage them.
- After a crash involving a helmet, buy a new one. They don't work well after a major crash.
In addition to helmet use, teach kids younger than 10 to ride bicycles on the sidewalk instead of the street. Older children should ride bicycles on the right side of the street so that they travel in the same direction as traffic.
Point out that they should always look out for cars and trucks, even if they’re riding on the sidewalk because a vehicle can pull out of its driveway into their path.
Teach kids to walk their bikes across busy roads using a crosswalk.
Kids should also be cautious around others using these fun objects. Children can get injured by bicycles, skateboards, scooters, or hoverboards as an innocent bystander.
It's not a popular fact, but it's a reality: trampolines are dangerous—especially for children younger than 6. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has cautioned against home trampoline use since 1999. The AAP recommends that mini and full-sized trampolines never be used at home, in routine gym classes or on playgrounds. They should only be used in supervised training programs for gymnastics, diving or other competitive sports.
Most injuries occur when more than one person is using the trampoline; this is especially true at trampoline parks, where recent research reveals kids are likely to suffer more severe injuries.
Kids can get hurt when they:
- Land wrong while jumping
- Land wrong while flipping and during somersaults
- Try stunts
- Strike or are struck by another person
- Fall or jump off the trampoline
- Land on the springs or frame
That said, kids love trampolines. So if you choose to have a home trampoline, the AAP recommends the following safety precautions:
- Adult supervision at all times
- Only one jumper on the trampoline at a time—75 percent of trampoline injuries occur when more than one person is jumping
- No somersaults
- Adequate protective padding on the trampoline that is in good condition
Be aware that surrounding trampolines with netting offers a false sense of security and does not prevent most trampoline-related injuries. Injuries usually happen on the trampoline, not from falling off.
Another quick note: Verify that your insurance policy covers trampoline-related claims. Most insurance companies require added coverage.
Participating in sports is good for kids, but injuries do happen. And not using proper protective equipment, or using equipment that doesn’t fit properly, is a major cause of these sports injuries. To reduce that risk, don't forget:
- Goggles are often worn for soccer, basketball, racquet sports, snowboarding, street hockey and baseball/softball while fielding.
- The most protective eye gear is made from polycarbonate and has been tested especially for sports use.
- If your child wears glasses, you’ll probably need to buy prescription polycarbonate goggles. Kids should not wear their regular glasses on the court or field.
- Make sure eye protection fits securely and has cushions above the eyebrows and over the nose.
- These protect the mouth, teeth and tongue.
- Kids should wear a mouth guard if they’re participating in a contact sport where a head injury is a risk. These sports include football, basketball, hockey, volleyball, martial arts, boxing and wrestling.
- Mouth guards can be fitted by a dentist or purchased at a sports store.
- If your child wears a retainer, make sure he takes it out before exercising or playing sports.
- If you're unsure, ask your child's coach if he needs a cup for his sport.
Wrist, knee and elbow pads
- Make sure these essential pads are in good condition and not worn out.
- There are shin, knee, elbow, wrist, chest, shoulder, hip and thigh pads.
- Check with your coach or doctor to determine what kinds of pads your child needs for his or her sport.
- You may know that sports like football, baseball, softball and soccer require cleats. But you may not know that sports like skateboarding and biking have special kinds of shoes, too. Ask your coach or doctor what shoes are best for your child’s sport.
- Ensure shoes fit correctly and are supportive. Check that cleats are not worn out and tread on sneakers is still doing its job.
Finally, make sure your kids warm up their muscles before participating in a sport. If they get injured, keep them off the court or field until they make a complete recovery.
With these precautions in mind, your family is ready to head outside and soak up the sun. Have fun out there!
This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.
Additional injury by prevention resources
For more tips on keeping your kids safe and injury-free, visit Safe Kids Georgia, the injury prevention arm of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. Through their statewide network, Safe Kids educates families and the community on childhood injury prevention best practices.