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How to keep your little one safe while on the playground

How to keep your little one safe while on the playground

Luckily, most playground injuries are easily solved with a Band-Aid, hug and kiss. However, more serious injuries may occur, including concussions or traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control reports that playground related injuries have increased more than 50% between 2005 and 2013, with traumatic brain injuries increasing nearly 60% with most of those occurring from playground injuries.

Although playgrounds have become safer over the years with the installation of soft surfaces below play areas, the rates of injury are still rising. Swings and monkey bars are the equipment pieces causing the most frequent accidents due to their potential velocity and height, respectively. Additionally, injury risk is associated with different age groups and their preferred equipment. Swings and slides were commonly linked with TBI in 0-to-4 year olds. Children 5-to-9 years old were most likely to be hurt while playing on monkey bars or swings. And children 10-to-14 years old were most likely to have injuries from playing on swings, monkey bars, or playground gyms.

Playing outdoors is an important component of healthy childhood development. Gross motor physical development is supported when children practice their balance, flexibility, strength, speed, and endurance while playing. Also, being outdoors, away from screens and digital equipment, helps children learn other forms of entertainment. Additionally, the inherent socialization that occurs while children use the same space and equipment encourages healthy habits around sharing, fairness, and cooperation. Therefore, the risks of concussions and TBI should be moderated to reduce risk while encouraging the positive benefits of outdoor, recreational free-play.

What can we do to reduce the risk of accidents at the playground?

Parents can help reduce the risk of concussion or TBI by following a few simple guidelines when taking their child to the playground:

  • Make sure the playground has a soft material under the equipment such as wood chips, sand, mulch, or rubber.
  • Read playground signs to determine if the equipment is suitable for the child’s age group.
  • Inspect the playground equipment to assure it is in good working order and has appropriate guardrails to prevent falls.
  • Look around the playground for any other potential causes of falls such tree stumps or broken benches.

How can we set a good example so our children learn to play safely at the playground?

Additionally, parents can reduce the risk of concussion or TBI by teaching their children a few healthy habits and supporting their child’s normal development:

  • Teach children to identify and appropriately react to their inborn fear. Fear is a natural, self-preservation instinct that humans have to avoid danger.
    • Some fear needs to be overcome while other fear is meant to avoid injury or death. In either case, parents can teach children to identify their fear and evaluate it to help them make good choices with their bodies.
  • Bring children to equipment that is appropriate for their age and abilities. Avoid bringing children to playgrounds or equipment that is too advanced for them.
    • Seeing other children play on equipment that is too mature for their natural ability can lead some children to engaging in activities that their bodies and minds are not yet ready to manage which may result in injury.
  • Do not help children onto equipment that they are not able to manage independently. Putting children in positions in which they cannot safely extract themselves increases the risk of injury.
    • Many parents with good intentions help their children climb higher, swing faster, or navigate complex structures that their child cannot independently manage. This creates situations where children strive for riskier activities and, if the parent is not attentive to them 100% of the time, may cause injury or falls because the child is unable to manage their own safety.
  • Monitor the playgroup of children and intervene if some members are encouraging unsafe play. Parents can help re-direct children to safer play activities to protect all group members.

It should be noted that it is impossible to completely avoid the risk of concussions or TBI. If children fall from high heights or are ejected forcefully from swings or merry-go-rounds while playing, do not hesitate to take them for an evaluation with a health care provider. The good news is that the statistics show that 90% of children who are taken to emergency departments for injuries related to playground accidents are treated and released.

Playground time encourages outdoor, recreational free-play that is beneficial to children’s overall physical, mental, and social well-being and development. Parents can support these important tasks by promoting physical play multiple times per week and reduce the risk of injury by following these simple guidelines. Taking inventory of the playgrounds safety in terms of structure and function, limiting children’s activities to fit with their physical and mental abilities, and monitoring the play of the individuals and groups helps to keep everyone safe, healthy and happy.

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Thursday, 13 December 2018

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Dr. Deanna Marie Mason

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