Trying to help your young child have a fun, injury-free playground experience is a natural instinct. But it can backfire
Many worried parents go the extra mile to try and keep their young children safe, but sometimes overprotective moms and dads are more problem than solution. Case in point: Slides. "When your toddler is clamoring to ride down the big-kid slide at the playground, most parents assume that the safest thing to do is put her on your lap and ride down with her," says Lylah Alphonse at Yahoo Shine. In fact, that's a great way to break your child's leg. "It's so common, but parents say: 'How did I not know about this?'" says Dr. John Gaffney. Here, a look at the unintended dangers of parents at the playground:
How does sliding with kids break their legs?
Often, a toddler's rubber-soled shoe brushes up against the slide while he's riding down on an adult's lap, causing the foot (and only the foot) to stop. "You've got the combined weight of the parent and the child, and the long run of the slide, and the foot just gets bent back," causing the shin bone to snap, Dr. Susan Haralabatos tells The Oregonian. "If a foot gets caught while the child is sliding alone, he can just stop moving or twist around until it comes free," adds Tara Parker-Pope at The New York Times. That's awfully hard when the little one is sitting on mom or dad's lap.
How often does this happen?
Nobody keeps national statistics, but Dr. Gaffney, at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y., saw so many cases he went back and counted: In 11 months, he'd treated 58 fractured toddler tibias, and eight of them — or 14 percent — were from adults taking kids down playground slides. Indeed, says Andy Dworkin in The Oregonian. When it happened to my toddler, and his friend just moments later, "I thought it was a freak accident." But the emergency room nurses said such injuries are so common they have a name: "Toddler fractures."
Why is this so common?
Toddlers "break things rather than sprain things," says Dr. Haralabatos, and the most common thing they break is their shin bone. From when they can walk until about age 5, kids' "bones are rapidly changing and growing," making them especially susceptible to fractures. (Watch Dr. Edward Holt explain further in a video below.)
Are there long-term repercussions?
Most of the time the child needs four to six weeks in a leg cast to fully mend. But there's a risk of psychological trauma, too. "The end result of these mommy-and-me, or daddy-and-me, slide accidents is often a tiny leg sporting a cast," says Betsy Shaw at BabyCenter, "and a grown adult, parent or babysitter or older sibling, carrying around a shed load of guilt for doing something they thought might protect their child from harm but turned out to do exactly the opposite."
What's the solution?
It may be hard, especially for parents who tend toward hovering, but "this may be one of those counterintuitive cases when a child is safer by himself," says Parker-Pope. Let the kid slide alone, even if you have to start him at the slide's halfway point, or at the very least, "remove a child's shoes before riding down the slide" on your lap, making sure to keep his legs tucked in.
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