How to Stay Safe at the Playground
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, emergency departments treat more than 200,000 children ages 14 and younger for playground-related injuries every year in the U.S. Over half of those injuries are categorized as fractures, contusions, or abrasions. But not all children are lucky enough to walk out of the hospital after an accident.
Between 2001 and 2008, 40 children with an average age of 6 years old died from playground injuries, the majority from strangulation and falls. What's more, about 75 percent of all injuries happen on public playgrounds, making it imperative that parents keep a close eye when accompanying their kids to the park for an afternoon.
Here's how to pick a safe playground and be sure kids stay injury-free.
Find the Right Area
Playgrounds typically have structures designed for children ages 2 to 5 and ages 5 to 12. However, they aren't always grouped together by age category or separated by a gate. If your child starts playing in an area that's too advanced for them, gently guide them to where they belong. If they try to go back again, say, "We can either play here or go home. What would you like to do?" Before letting your child use an apparatus, shake it to see that it doesn't rattle, inspect it for broken parts, check the wood for splinters, and look for knobs that could trap clothing. More than 200,000 kids are treated in the E.R. for playground injuries every year, and a faulty structure is often the culprit.
Take it slow.
Even little-kid equipment may not be suitable for a 1-year-old. Avoid jungle gyms that are taller than 4 feet; your kid can use a mini version that has low steps and guardrails. They don't yet have the upper-body strength to hang from things, so skip the monkey bars. Look for a small slide that has a gentle slope, and hold your toddler's torso as they go down. Don't slide down with them on your lap, which increases the risk of a leg fracture. Stick to toddler-friendly bucket swings until your child approaches age 3. Your child may be curious about the sandbox, but its contents can be pretty nasty, and animals might be using it as a litter box.
Empower your toddler.
A playground will likely be full of older kids who may shove their way to get down the slide first. Try role-playing at home: If another kid is doing something your child doesn't like, they can practice using a firm voice and telling the other kid to stop. Tell your child to come to you if the problem persists. This will help them develop the confidence to navigate the playground independently by the time they head to preschool.
Sources: Cheryl Erwin, coauthor of the Positive Discipline series; Seth Scholer, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine; Karen Sheehan, M.D., medical director of the Injury Prevention and Research Center at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.
This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's June 2021 issue as "How to Stay Safe at the Playground." Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here