by Heidi Green
April 28, 2012
For families with young children, good weather and public playgrounds often go hand-in-hand. Sunshine and warm weather lead naturally to playtime excursions, and even the youngest children can be drawn to swing sets, merry-go-rounds, and slides.
While many parents steer their toddlers and preschoolers away from the dangers of active equipment intended for older children (such as monkey bars), they often adopt a more hands-on approach to playground slides, placing their child on their lap to ride down together. This way, many parents reason, their child won’t topple from the top of the slide. Safe from the risk of falling, the child—and parent—can be free to enjoy the thrill of the swooping ride to the ground. Or so the reasoning goes.
Unfortunately, the ride doesn’t always end with a laugh. As explained in a recent New York Times article, when toddlers go down slides on their caregivers’ laps, falls don’t happen, but broken legs sometimes do.
Injury data not collected
Data on playground injuries are scarce, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 200,000 children 14 years and younger visit the emergency room annually as a result of playground-related injuries.
A 2009 study of tibia fractures among children ages 17 years and younger seen during an 11-month period at an emergency room or doctor’s office in New York state found that 14 percent involved children younger than 3 years old, and that all of the studied injuries resulted from riding down a slide on a caregiver’s lap.
Parents unaware of risk
The physician who conducted that study, Dr. John Gaffney, reports that he has treated three such fractures within the past month for children sliding in the lap of a grandparent, a parent, and a babysitter. Such cases are common “as soon as the weather gets warm,” Gaffney observes in the New York Times article, because parents think they are “doing something good” for their child by “having them sit on [a] lap.”
If parents are aware of the risks, the injury is “entirely preventable,” says Dr. Edward Holt, the orthopedic surgeon at Maryland’s Anne Arundel Medical Center. In the New York Times article, he explains injury typically occurs when the child’s shoe catches on the side of the playground slide. When a child is sliding down on his own, the friction will slow or stop his progress, allowing him to lift his limb or twist his foot free before continuing down the slide. But when he is on the lap of a caregiver, the friction is not enough to overcome the downward force of their combined body weight. The limb is twisted and the leg bone broken as the pair continues down the slide.
The fracture may not be obvious right away, but the child will complain of pain and may be unable to put weight on the leg. Treatment is a cast from the foot to above the knee for 4–6 weeks.
In an effort to raise awareness, Dr. Holt developed a two-minute YouTube video on the problem and its prevention. To date, the video has over 60,000 views. He also designed a poster for use in doctor’s offices.
As summer approaches and families spend even more time at their neighborhood playgrounds, there remains a widespread need for heightened awareness of this particular playground risk.
What parents can do
Although playground injuries will never be eliminated, parents of young children can reduce the risk of injury while still enabling their children to have fun at the playground. Here are a few tips for keeping toddlers and preschoolers safe on slides:
Copyright ©2013 baby gooroo, inc.