Healthy Child


Gearing up for spring

By Darcy Lewis

Spring is here and your child’s No. 1 goal is to head for the great outdoors with his bike, board or blades in tow. Your No. 1 goal, as always, is to keep him safe. To achieve both requires your child wears the right safety gear and wears it correctly—every time.

Despite the best intentions, crashes and falls can lead to bruises, broken bones and head injuries. According to the National Safe Kids Campaign, more than 3.5 million children 14 and under suffer sports and recreation related injuries each year. Each day, nearly 1,000 children are treated in emergency rooms for these injuries. So, the first step? “Kids absolutely should wear a helmet whenever riding anything with wheels or that requires balance,” says Dr. Garry Gardner, a pediatrician in Darien. “The combination of speed and wheels creates the risk of brain injury, the leading cause of recreation-related death.”

Fortunately, helmets are becoming more comfortable and cooler. Kids should wear a sport-specific helmet, if possible, because different parts of the head are vulnerable during each sport. But, if buying a helmet for every sport isn’t in your budget, at least buy one for each child. Then put your energy into making sure kids wear them. A bike helmet worn while skateboarding is better than no helmet at all. And there’s no need to bust the budget. A $20 helmet can meet safety standards just as well as a $60 helmet. Here’s a look at the safety gear needed for a variety of common sports.

Bike riding Helmet. “I always talk to my patients about bike helmets,” says Gardner. “Every summer, I see significant head injuries—concussions, facial fractures, skull fractures—among kids not wearing a helmet.” Look for a Consumer Products Safety Commission sticker inside a new helmet. The sticker is proof the helmet meets federal safety regulations. Remember, bike helmets are designed to withstand only one crash before being replaced.

In-line skating Helmet, kneepads, elbow pads, wrist guards. A bike helmet is fine for regular recreational skating, but replace it after a major spill. Gardner also emphasizes wrist protection: “The most common injury with skating and boarding are broken wrists from the child reaching out to break a fall. Wrist guards are much more comfortable than a cast.”

Skateboarding/trick skating Helmet, kneepads, elbow pads, wrist guards. A multi-impact helmet is better since frequent falls are expected. These helmets are made of expanded polypropylene rather than the softer foam in bike helmets. Look for helmets that carry the ASTM F-1492 sticker. (The ASTM, or American Society for Testing and Materials, sets standards for a wide variety of products, including sports safety equipment. The F-1492 designation refers to standards for multi-impact helmets. These standards are completely voluntary. Only bike helmets must meet government-set standards under the Consumer Product Safety Commission.)

Scooter riding Helmet, kneepads, elbow pads; NO wrist guards. “Wrist guards can actually make scooters more difficult to control, especially at higher speeds,” says Ashley Gold, program director of Safe Kids Chicagoland.

Horseback riding Helmet; optional protective vests. In addition to the danger of a serious fall, horseback riders face the unique hazard of being kicked by the horse after a fall, making a sport-specific helmet extra-important. Look for an ASTM F-1163 sticker in any equestrian helmet. Also consider a protective vest. Riders increasingly are opting for vests as an additional protection against a wayward kick from a spooked horse.

Compliance counts The best gear in the world can’t protect kids if it’s not worn. “With a 3-year-old, just let them know they can’t go without a helmet,” says Gardner. “With older children—especially middle schoolers—you need to convince them of the value of protective gear.” Try these suggestions:

• Be consistent. Insist on proper gear every time they ride, says Gold.

• Let your child know you trust her abilities but unexpected events can occur, says Gardner.

• Lead by example. “Adults are also susceptible to injury,” says Gardner. “And I couldn’t make my own kids wear helmets if I didn’t wear one, too.”

The most important piece of safety equipment is the ability to make good decisions. And the first good decision your child needs to make is to always wear that gear, even when mom and dad aren’t looking.

Darcy Lewis is a freelance writer who lives in Riverside with her husband and two boys, ages 3 and 8.


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