Kids are unpredictable, aren’t they? This is especially true when something exciting is on the horizon-like the return to school at the end of summer. It’s easy to see why this is such an exciting time. They get to see friends that they haven’t seen in a while, and will be returning to their favorite classes and before or after-school activities. But in all of that excitement, unexpected injuries are right around the corner at any given time.
“Injuries?” you might ask, “Why would back-to-school season be any more dangerous a time than any other part of the year?” That’s a good question! As adults who can’t watch our children every second that they’re at school, we might not see a lot of the contributing factors to these bumps, scrapes and bruises. And we might not be able to remember what it was like for us when the school year began in our youth, how excited and frazzled we were to return to that routine.
The truth is, even the most mellow child can behave excitably and dangerously once they are back in school. Because young children don’t think ahead to the consequences of inattentiveness when they are running across the playground, they are at a surprisingly high risk of injuries both big and small.
Oftentimes, we don’t give much thought to this subject until something actually happens and we’re rushing to the doctor for splints and stitches. But if you’re aware of what the most common types of schoolyard injuries are, you can plan a time to chat with your child about how to act safely while still having fun.
The 5 Most Common Back to School Injuries
1). Ankle Injuries
We’ve all sprained or twisted our ankle at one point or another; it’s a remarkably easy thing to do. Dashing across uneven surfaces, like hilly sports fields or jumping on or off of playground equipment are common causes of this particular type of injury. When kids are in the midst of a good ol’ game of tag, for example, they’re probably not thinking about where their feet are going-at least, not until they end up with a very sore ankle.
2). Knee Injuries
Knees are the most common sites of playground scrapes and bruises. Sliding on the ground, falling, shoving (even on accident!) and failing to warm up before sports exercises can cause some pretty painful injuries that range from a little bump to serious problems that need a doctor’s attention. The knee is a pretty complex part of the body that contains a lot of components: muscles, bone, cartilage, ligaments and tendons. These things can become torn or strained, especially during sports and certain games. Not only are knee injuries exceptionally painful for adults and little ones alike, they can put you (or your child) out of the game for months-or even the rest of the school year.
3). Head Injuries
Though the cranium houses the most vital organ in the human body, it is surprisingly delicate under certain circumstances. Blunt force trauma, like an accidental elbow to the head during a tackle, can cause concussions and even more severe brain injuries. Even a simple collision with another student can become quite dangerous if their heads smack together, or if the child runs into a flag pole for instance. Most children aren’t entirely aware of what their bodies are doing when they are at play, and that includes their head.
4). Wrist Injuries
If a person falls, their most natural instinct might be to reach out and brace themselves with their hands. This is a protective instinct that our bodies use to prevent damage to our heads and other parts of the body, and has probably saved you a time or two from some potentially nasty falls. But as much as this simple action can help prevent greater injury, it can also cause some pretty painful injuries all on its own. The wrist can become twisted and sore, or even break if put under enough force (for example, if a child jumps from the top of the jungle gym and tries to catch themselves on the ground).
5). Neck Injuries
While we might not think about it this way, the neck actually endures a great amount of stress each and every day. Not only does it support the head, it also enables a full range of sight by allowing us to rotate it and see everything around us. This action is supported through the use of ligaments and muscles that are present in the neck-and these ligaments and muscles can become strained. A sudden awkward movement, a nasty spill on the playground or an unexpected action on the sports field can cause that sharp, immobilizing pain of strained neck components-or even a broken neck.
Preventing the Most Common Back to School Injuries
In all of the back-to-school chaos that marks the end of summer, you’re probably not thinking that much about injuries. There are supplies to buy, teachers to meet and other steps that you might have to take to get your child or children ready for the new academic year. In fact, the risk of back-to-school injuries might not even be a blip on your radar. This might be the first that you’ve even heard of “back-to-school injuries.”
The anxiety of the new school year’s beginning can cause kids to act a bit unlike themselves. Frazzled nerves can cause a child to be jumpy or otherwise feel unwell, which can contribute to falls on the playground or inattentiveness on the sports field. While we can’t prevent all of the slips, falls and scrapes, there are things that parents and other caregivers of children can do to minimize the risk.
Emphasize safety on the playground.
Did you know that playground accidents account for most injuries during the back-to-school season? Kids age five to fourteen end up in emergency rooms pretty commonly because of falls on the playground, including falls from playground equipment. This shouldn’t be too surprising. After all, in the excitement of returning to school most kids aren’t putting a great deal of thought into safety precautions. There are friends, clubs, sports and classes to think about, after all!
That’s where you, as the parent, guardian or school faculty member come in.
Times of play where students have access to playground equipment of any kind should be supervised by an adult, or adults who can pay excellent attention to their surroundings. School faculty members and parent volunteers should use this time to strongly encourage and enforce rules that are in place for their safety: rules like no pushing.
School officials should be making sure that all play equipment is safe to use, but as a parent or guardian you might want to check for yourself. If nothing else, it could help to ease your mind to check out the playground while you’re dropping your child off or picking them up at the end of the day. Look for indicators of disrepair or rust and bring it up to the school if you notice anything amiss.
Sending your child to school with certain types of clothing can pose an unexpected hazard on the playground. Shoes with slippery soles can cause falls, drawstrings or extra-baggy clothes can get caught on things and vision can be obscured by hats or hoods. Their clothing choices in the morning merit a second’s worth of thought, just for safety’s sake.
Be diligent at pickup and drop-off times.
The street in front of a school is a hectic place when school starts or lets out for the day. There are busses, cars, bikes, other vehicles and pedestrians all in this one fairly limited space, and it poses a degree of risk. In the case of very young school children, the parent or guardian should meet them on the school grounds and walk with them rather than waiting for them inside of the car. This is a great time to emphasize the “look both ways before crossing” rule that they will use when they are older and walking on their own.
Because these areas can be so crowded, it can be easy to look away for a second right before your front bumper smacks into the car in front of you. Even small accidents at low speeds can cause injuries, so be alert and keep your eyes on the road.
If your child takes the bus to and/or from school, you should give them a few instructions on safety etiquette for this mode of transportation. The bus ride to or from school can be exciting. They get to hang out with their friends, make plans and relax, and sometimes they forget that it can be dangerous to stand on a moving bus. Remind them to keep their seats in the seats, and keep from excessive roughhousing.
If your child takes their bicycle, make sure that they have their helmet and know their route-as well as the importance of crosswalks-before the day begins.
As adults, it can be easy for us to forget that children don’t know everything that we know about personal safety. That’s why we have to make a point to remind not only them, but ourselves, of these basic things that can spare your family a trip to the emergency room.