Many childhood injuries are preventable if you know the risks

A physician talks with an injured child and their parent in an emergency room.
“Our goal is to raise awareness of the seriousness of childhood injuries, and the fact that the majority of these injuries are preventable.” (Images: AdobeStock/Illustrations: David Chrisom, Boston Children's)

As the seasons change, Dr. Lois Lee can predict that certain types of injuries will appear in the Emergency Department at Boston Children’s Hospital. “Some things happen every year,” she says. With warmer weather, for instance, serious injuries occur when children fall from windows after screens they were leaning against give way. In the colder months, children come in with head and neck injuries, not to mention broken bones, from winter sport accidents.

Other injuries don’t rely on the seasons, particularly those that involve kids in cars. Whether it’s because a car seat was not installed properly or because a teen driver was taking risks behind the wheel, motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of injury for every age group.

While many children heal completely after an unintentional injury, others are not so lucky. “I don’t think many people realize that more children die from preventable injuries than all other causes combined,” says Dr. Lee.

National Injury Prevention Day will turn Boston green

Today, Boston Children’s joins the Injury Free Coalition for Kids to host the first ever National Childhood Injury Prevention Day in the United States. Dr. Lee is president of the coalition, which includes 42 trauma centers around the country.

Where to see green lights in Boston on Injury Prevention Day

  • Boston Children’s Hospital
  • The Prudential Center Tower
  • The spire at Atlantic Wharf
  • 100 Essex Street (Financial District)

“We’ve been doing injury prevention activities for years,” says Barbara DiGirolamo, injury prevention specialist with Boston Children’s Injury Prevention Program. “But coordinating our efforts on one specific day is new this year.”

As part of the national event, landmarks around Boston and the country will light up green this evening. “Our goal is to raise awareness of the seriousness of childhood injuries, and the fact that the majority of these injuries are preventable,” says trauma nurse manager Maria McMahon.

Prevention strategies for every age

What can parents do to protect their children from accidental injury without living in constant fear? Dr. Lee recommends that parents focus on specific risks based on their child’s age. For instance:

Infants

Image of crib, with a highlight on an infant properly swaddled in blankets.
Babies sleep well when swaddled in an empty crib.

Parents should take steps to prevent suffocation when sleeping for children under age 1. To prevent suffocation, sleeping infants should sleep on their backs in an otherwise empty crib with a firm mattress and no blankets, bumpers, or pillows.

Toddlers

Toddlers are curious and like to put things in their mouths. Get down on the floor and look for anything that could choke them or make them sick. This includes things like magnets and lithium batteries. Then put those things out of reach. In addition, make sure your children don’t play near open windows.

Children 2-9

An image of a car, highlighting a baby in an infant seat and a child in a car seat.
Proper use of car seats and seat belts keep children safer.

To protect your child from injuries from motor vehicle crashes, keep your toddler in a rear-facing car seat until they are at least 4 years old or reach the maximum height and weight limit suggested by the manufacturer. Keep your older child in a booster seat until they are at least 8 years old or 4 feet, 9 inches tall.

Children 10-14

image of a young girl riding a bike while wearing a helmet
Bike helmets save lives.

Around this age, many kids don’t want to wear bike helmets anymore. But when worn properly, bike helmets reduce your child’s risk of head and facial injuries if they get in a crash on their bike, so it’s worth it to keep insisting.

Teens 15-19

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of injuries and death to teenagers. Teach your teen to wear their seatbelt and never text and drive, and set a good example by following your own advice. If your child decides not to listen, make sure there are consequences, such as losing driving privileges for a week.

More resources

Parents can find more tips on how to protect their children from accidental injury through these trusted sources:

Promising signs

While 2020 marks this country’s first National Injury Prevention Day, there’s hope that years of educational efforts are paying off. “We are seeing signs that more kids are being placed in car seats properly,” says DiGirolamo. “I like to think that is due to awareness campaigns.”

Learn more about the Injury Prevention Program.

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