Kiddos fall all the time. It’s part of growing up. And at times, these little “Humpty Dumpty moments” can be adorable as kids start to find their legs to crawl, run and climb. But things can escalate quickly.
Falls are one of the most common causes of kid injuries. Head, neck and back injuries, breaks and sprains from falls are among the top reasons why kids are admitted to the emergency room every day.
While there’s no way to prevent all falls, there are some child fall prevention tactics you can use – inside and outside your home – to lower the chances of your child sustaining a serious injury.
Child fall prevention 101: Supervision is key
So you’re telling me to keep an eye on my kids? Condescending as that sounds, it bears mentioning because serious injuries can happen in an instant.
That’s why infants should never be left unattended in high places like changing tables, beds or sofas. Yes, they may appear to be preoccupied. Yes, it may seem like you have a few seconds to safely grab that fresh pack of baby wipes from the other room or preheat the oven – especially if they’ve stayed put before. But it only takes one roll at the wrong time for things to take a traumatic turn.
When it comes to toddlers and big kids, don’t leave them unattended around fall hazards such as open stairs, playgrounds, porches and balconies. Slips and trips can happen very easily.
So before you turn your attention elsewhere, even for a few seconds, make sure your child will be as safe as possible, no matter what they’re doing.
How to protect babies and toddlers from fall hazards at home
Follow best practices for baby furniture and equipment
Our top baby fall prevention tip? Don’t use wheeled baby walkers.
Baby walkers are wheeled platforms that babies can push or scoot around the house in. But the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly advises parents to avoid walkers because babies can easily fall over in them, roll down stairs or get into dangerous spots. Studies have also suggested that baby walkers not only increase the chances of falling, but can also hinder the learning process.
So, instead of a wheeled baby walker, consider using a stationary walker or activity center. Rather than wheels, these have seats that rotate and bounce. Just make sure your baby is old enough to use one of these devices to safely play and stretch their legs. They need to be able to steadily hold their head up on their own – which usually happens between 4 and 6 months old.
When it comes to baby jumpers or swings, let your little one jump, bounce and swing to their heart’s content, but don’t leave them alone for extended periods of time. While it may be tempting for you to let them be so you can get a few tasks done, a bad jump or bounce could lead to a fall. Also, if your baby falls asleep in their jumper or swing, their airway could become restricted.
As for other baby equipment and furniture like high chairs, strollers or changing tables, if it comes with safety straps, use them. And if you need to be away for more than a few seconds, transfer your infant to a safer space.
Know how to prevent your child from falling out of bed
When constructing cribs or beds, it’s crucial to pay attention the safety warnings and follow the setup instructions exactly. From the very start, kids get used to having guardrails in their bassinet or crib. So when they try out a new bed, they may not even realize they can fall out of it.
When it’s time to switch from a crib to a toddler or full-size bed, install a toddler bed safety rail to keep your child from rolling over the edge in the middle of the night.
Also, kids often end up in their parents’ beds. In the morning, while they’re still asleep, don’t try to sneak in a quick bathroom break. Adult beds can be quite high off the ground. If your child wakes up and no one is there, they could take a bad tumble out of bed. And if your bed is placed near an open window, they could climb up and fall out.
Take steps to prevent bathtub falls and slips
Kids aren’t supposed to stand in the bathtub but let’s face it – they’re going to do it anyway.
To help prevent bathtub falls and slips, get a non-slip kids’ bath mat for the bottom of the tub. These mats use suction to stick to the tub floor and are usually squishy – which can help provide a softer landing if a fall does happen.
Also, invest in a bath spout cover. These fit snuggly over tub water spouts and are usually made of soft rubber. So, if your child falls on the water spout fixture, a spout cover can help protect their head and face.
Restrict access to, and tidy up, danger zones
Kids love to play on stairs and push doors to see if they open. Before leaving your kiddo alone, make sure all gates, doors and other dangerous areas – like those leading to porches, decks or balconies – are either locked or blocked.
Child-proof stairs by installing safety gates or by securing the doors that lead to the stairs. Keep all stairways clear. Clutter isn’t just a tripping hazard for your child – it can also cause you to trip while carrying your child.
Rugs are another common tripping hazard for kids and kid-toting parents. Placing a non-skid surface under all rugs and mats can prevent them from sliding and can also help keep those toe-catching corners down.
Guard your windows
Don’t rely on window screens alone to protect your child from falls. Install window guards or child safety window locks. Also, consider moving furniture like chairs, sofas and cribs away from windows so kids can’t reach them. Screens keep bugs out, not children in.
If it’s climbable or reachable, make sure it’s not tippable
Falling furniture and flat-screen TVs can be deadly to a small child. These types of accidents happen more often than you might think (every 43 minutes, to be exact).
In response to rising injuries, the U.S. Product Safety Commission launched Anchor It! – a campaign to educate parents about why it’s important to anchor furniture and how to do it properly. This can be an excellent resource for where to buy anti-tip devices, how to install them and more.
How to address child fall hazards when you’re out and about
You may not be able to child proof the outside world, but you can take steps to make it safer for your little tyke.
Secure safety straps when using carriers and carts
Whatever contraption your child is in – be it a baby stroller, a baby carrier or a shopping cart, make sure every strap and latch is in its proper place.
Kids can be especially prone to falling out of shopping carts. At some point, every parent will get to the checkout line with a few surprise items in their cart. Kids are curious and they often reach for items on store shelves or racks. And if they aren’t properly belted in, they can easily fall out during a grab attempt.
Take special care when using escalators
For starters, if you’re pushing your child in a stroller, use elevators rather than escalators to travel between floors at malls, airports, office buildings and so on.
Escalators are not designed for wheeled devices. The steps are narrow, so front and back wheels cannot be on the same step. This means strollers are titled back, which can make them easier to tip and flip.
If you’re going to hold your child while riding an escalator, carry them firmly in one arm while holding the handrail with the other. If your child is riding the escalator alongside you, hold their hand, do not allow them to sit down, and help them step on and off. Also make sure they’re not able to touch anything they shouldn’t (because they’ll try).
When using an escalator or elevator, tuck in any loose clothing, and scoop up blankets and stuffed animal tails to prevent them from getting caught in elevator doors or escalator conveyors.
Keep an eye out for slick and slippery surfaces
When entering and exiting stores, be on the lookout for wet spots that could cause slips and falls. This is especially important in the winter, when snow and ice are getting tracked indoors.
The same goes for ice and snow outside. While kids are closer to the ground, they can still have bad falls. This is particularly dangerous for little kids who may not have the balance or reflexes that older kids and adults do.
How to protect little and big kids when they’re playing
Take steps to prevent playground falls
Playgrounds are one of the most common locations for fall-related injuries, and it’s not hard to see why. Most playgrounds require some type of climbing, which means your kid is playing at heights.
Also, playground equipment is often designed for kids of a certain size, so there could be gaps a small child could fall through or become stuck in. And just because your little kid is eager to venture over to the bigger kids’ playground equipment, doesn’t mean they should. Bigger kids whizzing by can accidentally knock over the wee ones.
Most playgrounds don’t do a daily safety check, so that’s your job. Do a quick scan of the area to make sure all equipment is safe to use. Peek into slides and tunnels, and inspect the grounds for broken glass, rusty or sharp surfaces, or anything else that could cause an injury.
Also, choose playgrounds that have impact-absorbing surfaces under equipment. This includes materials like playground safety mats, wood chips, sand, shredded rubber or synthetic turf.
Take (some of) the danger out of trampolines
Kids love trampolines. Pediatric trauma doctors? Not so much. In fact, trampolines carry such great risk of injury that the AAP strongly discourages having one.
If you must have a trampoline, or your little jumper wants to hop on the neighbors’, make sure it’s safe – at least as far as trampolines go.
A trampoline should have all its springs and bolts, and they shouldn’t be corroded. It should have safety pads to cover up the frame and spring hooks. And there should be a safety net to prevent kids from falling off the trampoline.
Before your kids hop on, make sure they remove any jewelry or items in their pockets. After they hop on, watch them for a while and make sure:
- They’re using the ladder to get in and out
- They’re staying near the center of the trampoline
- They aren’t jumping too high or trying dangerous moves
- Only one person is on the trampoline at a time
- Items aren’t going underneath the trampoline
- If the trampoline safety net fails or they somehow jump over it, the area around the trampoline is clear of anything dangerous they could land on like toys, yard tools or a fence post
Bikes and trikes
Bike safety tips for parents
When your kids are little, you may attach a kid’s seat to your own bike or use a pull-behind kid carrier to transport them. But it’s important to know that either of these options are not safe for children under one year old.
Once your kids reach an age where they can ride with you, make sure you:
- Follow the guidelines and safety protocols of any product you’re using
- Make sure your kiddo wears a properly fitting helmet (When they eventually ride on their own, they’ll be used to a helmet and hopefully not fight you on wearing one.)
- Stick to bicycle-only trails and stay off streets as much as you can to avoid traffic hazards
Bike safety tips for kids
Around three years old, many kids can start to ride a tricycle. If you’re not sure whether your kiddo is ready, go by coordination, not age. And make sure the tricycle you buy is the right size, not something they need to grow into. Your kid should be able to reach both pedals while they’re seated.
Keep a watchful eye on your budding cyclist. That may seem obvious but it won’t be long before your kid pedals faster and farther. Also make sure they’re always a safe distance from stuff like pools, hills and cars (moving and parked).
When your kid graduates to a two-wheel bike – usually between 4 and 7 years old – teach them the rules of the road right away. Only allow them to bike in the streets when you’re with them, and they’re skilled and knowledgeable enough to do so safely.
If your big kid will be riding their bike to school, sports practice or wherever, consider making that first trip with them so you can point out any potential dangers they’ll need to watch out for.
Preventing fall-related sports injuries
Injuries are a part of playing sports – and always will be. When it comes to helping prevent fall-related sports injuries, here are some tips:
- Make sure your kiddo has all the right protective gear and it’s the right size. Ill-fitting gear can be just as dangerous as no gear at all, especially for sports and activities like skiing, snowboarding, rollerblading, biking and so on. This is particularly important to remember when it comes to helmets, since helmets help protect against more serious brain injuries.
- Emphasize technique. Anything from tackling to swinging a golf club can be performed much more safely when proper technique is used. Learn what proper technique looks like and continue to stress it to your child throughout the season, not just the beginning.
- Don’t allow your child to play through pain and make sure they get regular rest – at least one day off per week.
If your child does take a tumble, know when and where to get help
Kids fall down a lot in their lifetimes. But these child fall prevention tips can help you reduce the chances of a fall – and the severity of an injuries when falls do happen.
So, what do you do if your child is injured by a fall? First, try to stay calm. Second, assess your child’s injuries. This includes looking for signs of head trauma, bleeding, difficulty breathing, broken bones and any other injuries.
If your child’s injuries don’t appear to be serious or you’re not sure, call your doctor or head to the emergency room right away. If your child appears to have more serious injuries, head to your nearest Level 1 pediatric trauma center.
Level 1 pediatric trauma centers like ours at Regions Hospital specialize in treating the most serious and complex kid injuries. They have the staffing, resources and expertise to provide the highest level of care. In fact, our pediatric trauma program includes an ongoing partnership with Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare – an internationally renowned children’s health care provider that’s located just steps away from the Regions Hospital emergency wing.
Learn more about Regions Hospital’s own Level 1 pediatric trauma center – the east metro’s only Level 1 pediatric trauma center – located in downtown St. Paul.