Easy Steps to Protect Children from Accidental Injuries

Bikes, scooters or skateboards—if it has wheels, the chances are good that your child will experience a fall related to it at some point. But how bad that fall is can depend greatly on how much protection from injury the child has, experts say.

Every hour, 50 children go to the emergency room because of a fall from a bike, scooter, skateboard or skates, the national safety organization Safe Kids Worldwide says.

Serious head injuries account for 11 percent of those visits, and 19 percent are from falls from scooters. The most common injuries, the organization says, are fractures of the shoulder, arm, elbow, wrist or hand.

But the organization says that many of these injuries can be mitigated with some prevention. Almost 40 percent of parents surveyed by the organization last year said their children, ages 5 to 14, did not wear a helmet consistently.

“Helmets reduce the risk of head injury by at least 45 percent, brain injury by 33 percent, facial injury by 27 percent and fatal injury by 29 percent,” Safe Kids Worldwide says.

The organization also recommends knee and elbow pads, as well as wrist guards.

And proper fit is important for that helmet, too. The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, which maintains a website of tips for cyclists young and old, says to expect to spend about 10 to 15 minutes fitting a helmet. They recommend making sure that the helmet fits snugly, but also say that there are other considerations after strapping it on.

“When you look upward the front rim should be barely visible to your eye,” the BHSI says. “The ‘Y’ of the side straps should meet just below your ear, and the chin strap should be snug against the chin so that when you open your mouth very wide you feel the helmet pull down a little bit.”

Also have your child shake their head after adjusting the straps. If the helmet can be moved more than an inch afterward, it may indicate that the straps aren’t locking in place.

“For a final check, look in a mirror or look at the wearer whose helmet you are fitting,” the BHSI adds. “Move the helmet side to side and front to back, watching the skin around the eyebrows. It should move slightly with the helmet. If it does not, the fit pads are probably too thin in front or back.”

If it seems like children fall more frequently than adults, Safe Kids Worldwide says there’s an explanation for that—and it’s a good reason to make sure they’re adequately protected in the event of a fall.

“Children 14 years and under, and particularly those under age 10, are at a greater risk for a fall when on wheels because they have a higher center of gravity, are less developed physically and have poor balance compared to adults,” the organization says.

“They also have slower reactions and are less coordinated than adults, leading to being less able to break their falls. Finally, children typically overestimate their skills and abilities and are less experienced in judging speed, traffic and other risks.”

But if a child does fall, triaging the situation can help parents decide when to hit the ER or visit their pediatrician.

In the case of a fall that resulted in a bump to the head, observation is often the first step.

“The first step is to see if the child was knocked unconscious. If the kiddo is not knocked unconscious, then it’s safe to observe them at home for about four hours,” says Christopher Dreiling, M.D., pediatrician and physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Dallas. “Take them in if they begin vomiting, complaining of a bad headache, acting altered—or if you just aren’t feeling good about how your child is acting, bring them into the pediatrician.”

“If the child is knocked unconscious for a length of time and/or is altered when he or she wakes up, go straight to the ER,” he adds. “But if they’re acting completely normal, you’re probably fine to just observe them and go on.”

Do you suspect that your child broke a bone in that fall from their bike, or that funny landing when out skating?

“If a child falls and there is deformity or swelling, use an ER,” says Lindsey Dietrich, M.D., orthopedist and physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Arlington Memorial.

“Pediatricians are capable of ordering X-rays but frequently their offices are not equipped to splint or cast a broken bone,” she adds. “So another option is calling the pediatrician and asking for a fast referral to an orthopedic specialist.

“Kids under 13 rarely complain of injury pain like adolescents or adults, so if pain persists more than a day then it should be evaluated by a doctor,” Dietrich explains. “Any persistent swelling should be evaluated as well.”

Dietrich’s important rule? “Young kids and athletes frequently fracture/break growth plates rather than spraining things, so my rule is that if they complain three times—have it checked out,” she says.

Need to find the closest ER? Check our “Find a Facility” page and select “Emergency Rooms” on the map. If your child is seriously injured, call 9-1-1.

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