Safety First

9 Common Ways Parents Accidentally Injure Their Children

It's never easy for you to see your kids get hurt, but it's especially difficult when it's your fault.

Originally Published: 
Close up of a child being swung by their arms.

It sucks when your kid gets hurt, but it can be particularly devastating when it’s your fault. And unintentionally injuring your children while playing with them is a fairly common occurrence. One of the reasons parents seem to bump their kids’ heads into walls so often is that moms and dads assume their children are safest with them, and so tend to take fewer precautions during play, says Alison Tothy, M.D., an emergency room doctor and professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago.

“In the end, it’s more important to interact with your child” than to worry about potential injury during play, Tothy says. Still, there are a number of common injuries requiring medical attention that can be avoided with a little awareness.

Here’s what playful parents need to be more careful about.

Swinging Your Kids By Their Arms

Radial head subluxation, otherwise known as “Nursemaid’s Elbow,” is a common childhood injury that typically occurs when parents swing or spin their kids by their hands. When a small part of their tiny elbows move in the joint, their arms go limp. It’s not quite a dislocation, but it sure is terrifying. And although it’s a minor injury that parents could theoretically fix at home, a doctor needs to diagnose it and make sure it’s nothing more serious than that.

Nursemaid’s Elbow can be avoided by simply not swinging kids by their hands, but Tothy notes that it can also happen when parents are forced to quickly yank their children out of oncoming traffic. In that case, trust your intuition. A limp elbow and a trip to the ER is obviously better than the alternative.

Playing “Airplane”

Lying on the ground to make your superhero of a kid fly with your feet may seem like fun, but it’s one of the easiest ways to drop them. Falls are the most common non-fatal injuries in children, says Christopher Hollingsworth, M.D., a father and surgeon at Goals Plastic Surgery. When you consider the length of your legs, plus any potential hazards like coffee tables lingering nearby, the cost of this kind of flight is too damn high.

Tripping While Holding Them

Tripping while carrying babies and toddlers is pretty typical but, in rare cases, such falls can result in serious head injuries, according to pediatrician Donald Shifrin, M.D. In more than 20 years of experience, he’s found this to be rare and never encountered any deaths from it. But moms and dads can still avoid such accidents by at least ensuring that their homes are relatively free of Legos and other little hazards. In other words, before you pick up your kids, make sure you’ve picked up their toys.

Tripping Over Children

Toddlers are small and parents are tall, which can be a toppling combination, Shifrin says. You’re heavier than you think and if you fall on your kid, the effect can be similar to a piece of furniture pinning them down. To prevent this, parents need to learn how to fall the right way. For Hollingsworth, jiu-jitsu has helped him build up this new muscle memory, and the control has been crucial when falling with his daughter. Although this may not be a practical solution for every parent, it does make a case for staying in adequate shape to keep those dad reflexes sharp — along with telling your kid not to grab your feet like that, a tactic that is by no means foolproof.

Fingers Caught in Doors

Whether it’s at home or in the car, getting digits caught in doors is an accidental injury that can happen to adults, so it’s no surprise kids can hurt and break their fingers this way. Parents can avoid being responsible for this by slowing down and checking for tiny hands before rushing to shut anything — especially car doors, which can be brutal. However, in most cases it’s a sibling hurrying to open a toy box or a toddler experimenting with doors, Tothy says. In those instances, there are not a ton things parents can do beyond supervising as closely as possible, and even then accidents happen. When they do, kids eventually stop repeating this moderately painful mistake.

Sports Black Eyes

“Children are also commonly injured by thrown objects,” Hollingsworth says. And if your kid isn’t that great at sports yet, you may end up giving them a black eye while playing catch. Rest assured, these kinds of black eyes are pretty common, and doctors are skilled at screening for abuse, so nobody is blaming you. But, for the sake of your kid’s face, wait until they know how to catch before practicing your fastball.

Tossing Kids in the Air

Toddlers love it, dads love it — moms sometimes even tolerate it — but throwing your kid in the air is just asking for trouble. While every parent thinks they’ll never miss that catch coming down, it does happen. “One dad tossed his toddler in the air and he ended up with a broken nose,” Shifrin recalls. Your kid is going to fall enough on their own without their parents help. This is one shot you don’t have to take.

Balancing Baby

Hundreds of YouTube videos feature the weird tradition of men balancing babies on one hand. The popularity of this odd stunt may be thanks to Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who poses for photo ops while balancing other people’s babies. But the risks of falling from that height outweigh any photo-op, and babies are more vulnerable to serious head trauma than bigger kids. So just don’t. (We’re talking to you, Trudeau.)

Roughhousing Too Hard

Despite the many developmental benefits of roughhousing, accidents do happen. Parents can minimize the risk by only roughhousing in safe areas, free of obstacles to trip over or fall on.

Surprisingly, Hollingsworth says most dads are aware of their own strength, but underestimate how strong their children can be. Kids tend to have big heads relative to their bodies, which puts them at a greater risk for head and neck injuries while roughhousing. One way to minimize risk is to enroll your kids in martial arts classes, where they’ll learn how to fall safely and develop a better awareness of their bodies, Hollingsworth suggests.

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