As a parent, I understand how desperately we want to protect our kids from harm. As an Emergency Department Physician, I recognize that there are certain patterns of injuries and illnesses we see time and again. I’ve often wished I could share my experience with other parents to help them know common pitfalls to avoid.
Being a parent is a tough job, even in times of pristine health. Add an injured toddler or sick baby into the mix and the rest of the world simply disappears. I hope these simple tips help you keep your kids healthy and safe.
- It is all fun and games until someone dislocates an elbow.
We have all been tempted to lift or swing our children by their hands or wrists. They love it and squeal for more. But, be cautious. You don’t want to be among the countless miserable, guilt-ridden parents who come into the ER with a crying toddler that won’t move their arm following such fun and games. Commonly known at “Nursemaid’s Elbow”, it is a dislocation that occurs at the elbow in toddlers and young children who are lifted by their hands, wrists, or distal forearms. It also commonly occurs when an adult is holding the hand of an active toddler and the adult jerks back on the arm of the child. Luckily, there is an easy fix and no permanent harm done. In fact, it can be fixed within a matter of moments using a simple relocation procedure. Within minutes, our little patients are scrambling around the room as if nothing ever happened.
- Be careful going down the slide with your child.
Summer is on the way and it is time to go to the playground with your little ones. We want to teach our kids all about the joys of velocity, so we carry them up the slide, plop them in between our legs, and away we go. But wait! This can be a dangerous choice because if a child’s leg gets twisted on the way down the slide it can result in a broken bone. Four to six weeks with your toddler in a leg cast is the perfect way to spoil your summer plans. All that is required for this injury to occur is for your child to catch their rubber-soled shoe on the slide, or for the fabric from their pants to get caught underneath an adult’s leg. Then one hundred-plus pounds of adult jettisons the child down the slide and produces just enough torque to snap a little bone. A better choice is to let your kids go down by themselves when they are ready. Or, if you feel the need to take them down the slide, make certain that their legs (and arms for that matter) are securely on top of your lap and not in direct contact with the slide.
- Absolutely NO running with anything in the mouth.
No food. No pencils. No toys. Nada. Enough said!
- Teach good hand washing hygiene.
I often tell my patients to conduct their own personal experiments to see how likely they are to attract colds and viruses. Here it is: count the number of times you touch your face during the day. Seriously. Your hands come into contact with hundreds of places during the course of a day: grocery carts, door handles, computer keyboards, telephones, you name it. The person who was there just before you could have had a raging influenza or been puking their guts out for the past 2 days. All it takes is an untoward swipe of your finger under your nose and “voila”, that virus now has entrance into your respiratory or gastrointestinal tract.
And what about your kids? They are ALWAYS touching their faces and school is a virtual petri dish of germs. So all you can do is simply teach them how and when to wash their hands. Try to make washing fun. I recommend hand washing before meals, after bathroom visits, and after visiting any public places. A little hand washing goes a long way and may save your entire family weeks worth of feeling miserable with a cold or flu. And if it is too much to expect your kids to be vigilant hand washers, at the very least, you can keep your own hands clean and prevent your co-worker’s cold from making the rounds in your home.
- Do not fear medication.
Despite your best efforts at hand washing, kids get viruses. When your kids are sick with a virus they feel miserable and therefore, so do you. And just like when you get a virus, your child may have a sore throat, fever, headache, muscle aches, and nasal congestion. There are safe over-the-counter medications to help relieve these symptoms. By bringing your child’s fever down, you will help them to sleep and stay better hydrated. If you are concerned that your children have something worse than a simple virus, then you should seek medical attention. Follow the directions on the bottle for dosing and frequency of dosing and be sure to be informed regarding side effects or contraindications.
Keep all medicines and poisons out of your child's reach.
Most parents do a thorough “toddler” proofing once their little one becomes mobile. As your children grow, I recommend child proofing your home two or three times per year. Do a walk through of your house. Analyze what types of things are in your children’s reach. All medicines, alcohol, and cleaning products should be out of a child’s view and reach. And never, ever put cleaning products in unmarked containers or in drinking containers. As they get older, remember to teach them to say no to drugs AND prescription drug abuse.
Wear a helmet.
The most important thing you can teach your child is how to use their brain. You must also keep that brain healthy and safe. In my experience, there is nothing more depressing than a perfectly healthy child who sustains a traumatic brain injury. The life full of potential suddenly turns into a life needing perpetual nursing care.
Make helmet wearing a must during the following activities: bike riding, skate boarding, scooter riding, horseback riding, skiing, snow boarding, trampoline, and football.
When in doubt, make them wear a helmet.
- Take off your child's socks.
Kids don’t walk anywhere. They run! Numerous preventable injuries happen when kids run across a tile or hard wood floor in their socks. Bare feet have much better traction and result in much less frequent injuries. If you have smooth surfaced floors in your home, make it a habit to strip off your kid’s socks with their shoes when you get home.
Finally, if you are ever in doubt, there are doctors and nurses in the Emergency Department 24 hours per day to make sure that you and your family stay healthy and safe.