By Sandy McKay, MD FAAP
Parents are naturally protective of their children, and we are constantly worrying about how we can keep our kids safe. When my kids were young, I seriously considered wrapping them in bubble wrap. My oldest would get hurt walking and could trip on air. My baby continues to be a daredevil despite breaking his leg jumping off the couch. It should not be surprising to any parent that the leading causes of injury and death in kids are car crashes, firearm injuries, falls, burns and drownings. We have instituted several laws to help protect children from injury, like car seat and booster seat requirements, keeping pools and firearms inaccessible to little ones, and simple things like wearing bike helmets. But what more can we do? We need to let kids explore, learn and thrive. However we must promote the idea of being safe, and focus on those steps that can help prevent and reduce injury in children.
Safety starts with newborns, with safe sleep practices. When we started laying babies on their backs to sleep, we saw a 70 percent reduction in sudden infant death. Promotion of safe sleep is a simple way we can protect infants. We all know the benefits of car seats and booster seats: to protect kids if they were to be in a crash. No parent questions the benefits of using a car seat for a baby, yet a recent study demonstrated that nearly all new parents leaving the hospital for the first time with their newborn had an improperly installed car seat. Injury prevention starts at birth and must be continued throughout adulthood. It matters because toddlers are curious and teenagers are impulsive.
In addition to motor vehicle safety, parents must practice responsible firearm ownership. Keeping your firearm locked and unloaded is another way to prevent young children from accessing your weapon as well as keeping your ammunition also locked, in a separate location from the firearm. Having sidewalks in neighborhoods can help reduce child pedestrian injury, as can having crosswalks. Installing a fence completely around a pool is another layer of protection for children, as is teaching children to swim. Keeping children off of countertops and from climbing stairs can sound simple, but I cannot count the number of times I have turned my head for a second and found one of my children using their toys as a tool to climb onto the magical countertop. Children have amazing problem-solving skills. Parents have to always be thinking one step ahead.
Nov. 18 is National Injury Prevention Day, a day dedicated to keeping our children safe. This is one day to highlight how we must be thinking every day about reducing childhood injuries. It involves knowing the risks inside your home and community, and thinking like our little problem solvers. We need to be thinking one step ahead, and we can identify the risk factors to predict injury. Remember, if we can predict it, we can prevent it. By making a commitment to help prevent childhood injury not only on Nov. 18, but every day, we can work to keep our kids safe and let them grow up to #BeInjuryFree.
Sandra McKay, MD, is an associate professor of pediatrics at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and a pediatrician with UT Physicians, the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School and is affiliated with Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital in the Texas Medical Center.