Saturday, May 19, 2012

Weathering the Bumps & Bruises of Toddlerhood

As a child enters their toddler years and grows increasingly mobile, an upswing in injuries is never far behind. As toddlers begin walking, caretakers watch as a child injures themselves left and right. Many parents become concerned about the number of serious bumps and bruises that their child is sustaining. You may wonder: "he's taken some major spills lately. Should I be worried that he's getting hurt so often?"

Bumps and bruises are an inevitable part of childhood. Your child builds their motor skills through attempting new feats and pushing their boundaries, and this experimentation and boundary pushing means they will be living life at the edge of their current motor abilities, leading to more injuries. The good news is that serious injuries from a toddler's wipeout on flat, level ground are rare. Most spills in toddlerhood can be easily resolved with plenty of TLC and a band-aid or two, along with encouragement to get up and keep exploring. Although it's natural for parents to want to avoid seeing their child in pain at all costs, a few bumps and bruises are an unavoidable part of childhood. Moreover, though they may cause temporary pain, over the long haul those scrapes and dings play an important role in your child's learning how to weather pain and persevere amidst setbacks.

The real concerns are things that could cause serious or life-threatening injuries. Falls from stairs, decks; windows; or other elevated surfaces can be deadly. This is nothing that can't be guarded against with a little childproofing and extra vigilance, however:

1. Install safety gates on stairs.

2. Install window guards on your child's bedroom/play areas.

3. Don’t open the windows all the way, which makes it easy for a child to stumble and tumble through the screen (which will not hold the weight of a toddler falling through it).

4. Supervise children closely around all decks or elevated surfaces.

5. Visit for more tips and information on childproofing your home.)

Another potential problematic situation could occur when a fall results in a child hitting their head just right (or rather, wrong) against the edge of a table or some other protruding object. This can direct the energy of the blow to an acute spot on the temple, and in rare but nonetheless frightening cases, can inflict a fatal injury. (Though it doesn't happen often, we've documented cases of a child hitting their head on a coffee table, brushing it off and continuing about their business, only to be rushed to the hospital and pronounced dead later that night.) You can help protect against such injuries by installing foam corner guards on any problem areas in your home.

Most head injuries result in little more than a headache, but others can be far more serious. If a child seems confused or lethargic after hitting his head, you need to seek immediate medical attention. Be particularly watchful after any falls that cause a child to hit his head against an acute object, such as the edge of a table or a concrete divider. If a child seems OK but the hit sounded brutal, keep a watchful eye and use your best judgment. When it comes to head injuries, it's best to play it safe. At least 99 times out of 100 you'll have wasted a trip to the ER out of an over-reaction, but it's that one time in a hundred when the situation is serious that we don't want to miss.

Other signs that your child may have taken a spill that requires medical attention are if he or she can't seem to bear weight on a leg, is favoring a limb, or has a cut that's large or one that won't stop bleeding. If she's in obvious pain, that's another sign something more serious may be wrong.

What will others think?
Another common yet often unspoken concern is this: "My god, when people at daycare or at the park see this bruise, they're going to think I beat him." On several occasions I've had a teary-eyed parent ask me not to call social services because a child fell down and got a bloody lip or was hit with a ball and developed a black eye. Parents can relax. With only a few exceptions, most people understand that kids, especially kids this age, often hurt themselves. Unless the bruise is shaped like a hand print or otherwise indicates something amiss, you should be in the clear. Remember: child care workers and teachers ALSO spend their days around children who manage to fall and injure themselves in every manner conceivable; and thus they generally understand that wobbly-legged tots are going to sustain more injuries.