Playgrounds offer kids fresh air, opportunities to socialize with friends, exercise and to have good old-fashioned fun, not to mention a myriad of developmental benefits. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), emergency physicians see 200,000 children every year with playground-related injuries, with 75 percent occurring on public playgrounds.
While this doesn’t mean you should forgo playgrounds, pediatricians recommend following some basic guidelines to ensure safe play.
“Your local playground is a great place for children to burn off energy while developing social, emotional, mental, creative and physical skills,” says Gwendolyn Wright, MD, a pediatrician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Hillcrest. “However, while we encourage children to get outside and play, we want to make sure they are safe.”
To get the most out of your playground experience, follow these seven tips:
Stay alert and always keep your child in sight.
“Parents can help keep their children safe and nurture positive emotional development by observing and facilitating,” says Dr. Wright. “If there is an injury, you will be right there to respond and assess the scope. Staying alert and nearby also helps to prevent children from wandering out of the area and getting lost,” says Dr. Wright.
Inspect the climbing structures, swings, slides and other apparatus for any potential hazards before allowing your children to play. For instance, S-hooks on swing chains should be firmly closed to form a figure 8. Slides should be in the shade and all equipment should be firmly anchored to the ground. Avoid any equipment that appears damaged or not maintained well.
Playgrounds should be designed for different age groups, usually infants and toddlers under 2, 2- to 5-year-olds and 5- to 12-year olds.
“Younger children should not play on equipment designed for older kids because the sizes and proportions won’t be correct, which can lead to injury,” says Dr. Wright.
“Smaller equipment and spaces can cause problems for bigger kids. Also, playing in the appropriate play area ensures that your child is playing with his or her peers and learning valuable social skills," says Dr. Wright.
Remove jewelry and clothing with drawstrings, such as drawstring pants and hooded sweatshirts, which can get caught on equipment and pose strangulation hazards. Even helmets can be dangerous on the playground, so save them for bike riding or skateboarding.
Always apply sunscreen once your baby is older than 6 months, even if it is an overcast day. Young skin is especially vulnerable and up to 80 percent of the sun’s ultraviolet rays penetrate clouds.
Before getting to the playground, talk with your children about playground rules and explain what they can and can’t do.
Encourage good manners. Basic playground etiquette for kids includes:
- No pushing or shoving
- Taking turns
- Not walking up the slide
- Sitting down on the swings
- Not throwing wood chips, dirt, rocks or sand
- Never leaving the area with anyone other than you
Explain to your children that they need to be aware of the space around the playground equipment so they don’t get kicked by someone on the swings or pushed by a child whizzing down the slide. Also, reinforce that bullying is never okay and that if they see something, they should get help from a trusted adult.
Scrapes and bruises are inevitable at the playground, but being prepared can help keep playtime on track.
“Creating a first-aid kit specifically for playground visits can help prevent mishaps from cutting playtime short,” says Dr. Wright.
Bring along some wet wipes, adhesive bandages, antibiotic ointment or cream, topical cream for a bug bite or bee sting, ibuprofen and gauze. Tweezers can come in handy for splinters and stingers, and scissors are useful for cutting gauze, tape, shoelaces and medicine packaging.
Sunscreen and insect repellent are two other items that could prove helpful. Put your playground first-aid kit in a durable and portable container.
“You can keep your visit to the playground positive by keeping your eyes on your children and setting the rules in advance,” says Dr. Wright. “Also be aware of when they’re tired, and it’s time to go.”