Many young children spend their evenings playing in the park to burn energy, socialize with friends and learn or master new exercises. In the park situations are created where children can hurt themselves. Very active children who move vigorously can have accidents, friends can engage in more risky behaviors and mishaps can occur when new exercises are practiced.
Fortunately, most of the injuries in the park are easily resolved with a band-aid, a hug and a kiss. However, more serious injuries can occur, including concussion. Recently, the US Center for Disease Control has published data showing that injuries related to playgrounds in the park have increased more than 50% between 2005 and 2013, with a 60% increase in brain injuries.
Although over the years the parks have become more secure thanks to the installation of soft surfaces underneath play areas, the injury rate continues to rise. The swings and monkey ladders are the games that cause more accidents because of the speed and height, respectively. In addition, the risk of injury is related to age and the type of game. The swings and the slides were related to concussion in children from 0 to 4 years old. Children from 5 to 9 years old are more likely to crash while playing on swings and monkey ladders. Finally, children 10 to 14 years old are more likely to suffer injuries on swings, monkey ladders or exercise equipment installed in the park.
Playing outdoors is an important part of children’s development. While playing, children reinforce their physical development by practicing their balance, flexibility, strength, speed and endurance. In addition, being outdoors, away from screens and digital equipment, children learn other forms of entertainment. Likewise, the inherent socialization of the game in the park occurs while children use the same space and the same games encourages healthy habits related to sharing, with the concept of equity and cooperation. Therefore, while we must try to reduce the risks of accidents, it is important to consider the benefits of outdoor play.
What guidelines to follow to reduce the risk of accidents in playgrounds?
Parents can help reduce injury risk by following some simple guidelines when taking their children to the park:
- Make sure that the park has a soft material under the play areas, such as wood shavings, sand or rubber.
- Read the park posters to know if the games are appropriate for child’s age.
- Inspect the facilities to ensure they are in good working order and have adequate handrails to prevent falls.
- Look around to identify any other potential cause of falls such as tree stumps or broken benches.
What should we teach our children to play safe in the park?
In addition, parents can reduce the risk of accident by teaching their children a few healthy habits that will help their development:
- Teach children to identify and react correctly to the feeling of fear. Fear is a natural instinct of self-preservation that humans have to avoid danger.
- Some fears have to be overcome, while other fears are intended to avoid accidents. Parents can teach children to identify their fear and evaluate it to help them make the right decision.
- Take the children to a park appropriate for their age and their possibilities. Avoid taking children to parks with games too advanced for them.
- Seeing other children in a game that is too advanced for their natural ability can lead some children to participate in activities for which their bodies and minds are not yet ready, which can result in injuries.
- Do not help children access equipment or games that they cannot handle independently. Putting children in situations where they cannot get out on their own increases the risk of injury.
- Many parents, with the best intention, help their children to climb higher, swing faster, or access equipment that the child could not reach independently. This creates situations in which children are not safe and, if the parent is not attentive to them 100% of the time, can cause injuries or falls.
- Monitor the group of children who play together and intervene if a member is encouraging unsafe practices. Parents can help redirect children to safer activities.
It should be noted that it is impossible to completely avoid the risk of concussion. If children fall from a high altitude or are forcefully thrown from the swings or merry-go-rounds while playing, do not hesitate to take them to the doctor for an evaluation. The good news is that statistics show that 90% of children taken to the emergency room for injuries related to accidents in the park are discharged after the initial exploration.
The time in the park encourages outdoor play that is beneficial both physically and mentally well-being and for the social development of children. Parents can influence these benefits by promoting physical play several times a week while reducing the risk of injury following a few simple guidelines. Assessing the safety of the park in terms of structure and functioning, limiting children’s activities to those that suit their physical and mental abilities, and supervising the games helps to keep everyone safe, healthy and happy.