ATLANTA -- As a pediatrician and medical director of the Injury Free Coalition for Kids of Atlanta, Terri McFadden, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at the Emory University School of Medicine, has treated her share of childhood injuries. Yet many of them, she says, can often be avoided if parents become more aware of what can be done to prevent injuries from occurring. Now as thousands of metro Atlanta children prepare to head back to school, Dr. McFadden offers several tips on how parents can keep their children safe and injury-free.
"Childhood accidents are some of the most preventable injuries," says Dr. McFadden, who also serves as director of ambulatory pediatrics for Hughes Spalding Children’s Hospital of the Grady Health System. Her organization, Injury Free Coalition for Kids of Atlanta, is part of a national initiative funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "Parents just need to be aware of what they can do to help keep their children injury-free. Injuries are not inevitable, and parents need to know that they can be prevented."
One of the first things Dr. McFadden advises parents to do before their children return to school is to organize walking groups to assure safe passage between home and school. And yet another safety approach includes giving clear instructions to latchkey kids. Parents should expect their latchkey kids to check in every 20 to 30 minutes; not have visitors in the house; and not do cooking in the absence of their parents.
"Parents need to make safety paramount as their children’s return to school approaches," Dr. McFadden says.
Clothing should also pass a rigorous safety test. For instance, drawstrings on jackets and sweatshirts should not extend more than three inches to prevent being caught on playground equipment and school bus doors.
Bus safety is just as important. Children should sit quietly in their seats, and always follow the directions of school bus drivers. According to the National Traffic Safety Administration, 22 million children ride school buses each year. In 1999, the organization reported that 18,000 children were injured on school buses, and 164 were killed in school bus fatalities.
Dr. McFadden also advises parents to teach their children how to cross the street and to follow the rules of crossing guards at all times. If children ride their bikes to school, they should always wear bike helmets to prevent head injuries.
"Just by taking such simple steps, many childhood injuries can be avoided and possibly even prevented," Dr. McFadden notes.
For children who will be playing sports upon returning to school, Dr. McFadden suggests that parents keep their children well-hydrated. Coaches and trainers should also make sure that children drink lots of water and be aware of signs of heat exhaustion and high body temperatures. Children walking to and from school in hot weather should also drink lots of water.
She also offers the following advice:
- For children who walk to and from school, it is important to walk facing on-coming traffic and to stay on the grass or sidewalk.
- Playground safety is just as important. According to the National Program for Playground Safety, more than 200,000 children are injured each year on playgrounds throughout the United States. "Just because it’s a school, doesn’t mean that it’s safe," Dr. McFadden says. "Schools have to have the proper equipment and it has to be well-equipped, and there has to be appropriate safety surfacing underneath, which is very important."
- Children should never go to strangers’ cars and also never help strangers who appear to be in need. Instead, they should immediately notify the nearest adult. And should a stranger approach them and open his car door, children should scream and run.
- After exiting the school bus, children should make sure they make eye contact with the bus driver to let him know they are crossing the street. They should also never linger and talk with friends once the bus driver has put up his stop sign.
Ana Everett, program coordinator for the Injury Free Coalition for Kids of Atlanta, notes that children must also be supervised at all times. "The best thing that parents can do is to make sure their kids are always supervised," Everett says. "That way, they can significantly reduce unintentional injuries."
In doing so, parents and caregivers should always carefully monitor children’s activities. Everett also suggests that parents ask questions to learn more about the outcome of childhood injuries, as well as know who is supervising their children at all times.
"Even into high school, parents should always know where their children are, and who they’re with," Everett notes. "The supervision can happen in different ways, because there are levels of supervision depending on who is actually coordinating the supervision."
According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 percent to 25 percent of all children sustain an injury sufficiently severe to require medical attention, missed school and/or bed rest. The center also reports that unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death in children from 1 to 21 years of age.
The center reports that the leading causes of fatal injuries are motor vehicle crashes, fires and burns, drowning, falls and poisoning. Injuries involving children are most likely to occur in the home, at school, and after school.
As part of its mission, the Injury Free Coalition for Kids conducts injury surveillance and injury prevention activities (educational programs and safety product distribution) designed to lower risks of injury to infants, children and adolescents; educate communities about injury prevention; and develop safe environments and safe activities for children. All programs operate through developing interventions that raise awareness, change the community and home environments physically (through creation of safe play areas and elimination of community and home hazards) and socially through supervised extracurricular activities with good mentors.
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