Healthy Living in the North

Preventing child falls in the home and at play

Children play on a net at a playground.

Summer is a great time of year to think about how to prevent child falls in the home and outdoors.

Did you know that falls are the leading cause of injury in BC children from birth to 14 years old?

I’m a parent and a nurse. Like all parents and caregivers, I want to keep my kids safe while allowing them to have fun and be physically active. I’m always amazed by how quickly children’s skills and abilities can change as they develop from one stage to the next. You can never be sure what they might get up to next!

Falls are a normal part of child development

Children are naturally curious, and they learn by playing and exploring in their environments. Falls and tumbles are a normal part of child development, and many falls result in no more than a minor scrape or bruise. Still, each year, more than 140,000 children are seen in emergency departments across Canada for more serious fall-related injuries.

Preventing serious fall-related injuries

Summer is a great time to think about how to prevent child falls in the home and outdoors. As temperatures rise, many of us open our windows to let in the warm, fresh air. For children under five years old, injuries often happen in the home and involve a fall from furniture, stairs, or a window.

Creating a child-friendly home

Children have large heads compared to the rest of their body. This affects their balance and puts them at risk of getting a head injury from a fall.

For information on how to create a child-friendly home, check out Home safety: Around the house from Parachute. There’s also information about head injuries on the Northern Health’s concussion page.

A child's feet are near the edge of a platform on a playground.

Each year, more than 140,000 children are seen in emergency departments across Canada for serious fall-related injuries.

Don’t let a preventable injury ruin your family’s outdoor summer fun

The sunny weather also draws families outdoors to enjoy activities such as biking, swimming, or going to the playground. Don’t let a preventable injury ruin your family’s outdoor summer fun! Parachute is a great online resource for injury prevention information.

Here are some easy precautions that Parachute suggests parents and caregivers take to prevent serious falls and help kids stay safe:

  • Use window stops and keep balcony doors locked.
  • Use stair gates in your home.
  • Place all furniture away from windows and balcony door handles.
  • Make sure playground equipment has barriers, is properly anchored and in good condition, and has a deep, soft surface.
  • Practise active supervision while still giving your child the chance to explore and develop.

More information

Dana Vigneault

About Dana Vigneault

Dana has worked in Public Health since 2007. She joined the Population Health team in 2018, as a Regional Nursing Lead for Injury Prevention. She is excited to be engaged in upstream initiatives, focused on preventing injuries and promoting healthy communities. Dana lives in Terrace with her husband and two children and enjoys spending time in the garden, at the lake and in the mountains.

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Children: keeping them safe from falls and injury-free

Kathy and grandson

Kathy spending time with her grandson.

Children – those active little beings designed to move, explore, interact with the environment, challenge our thinking and delight our senses. It’s a big responsibility keeping them safe from falls and injury-free.  This is especially true during the early years when their curiosity, coupled with their level of development, can put them in vulnerable situations that can lead to injury, at home, at the playground and at child care.

Reflecting back as a parent of three daughters, I wanted nothing more than to keep my girls safe from harm. This included: preparing our home, keeping curtain cords up high and out of reach, securing shelving units to walls, ensuring all hazardous products were inaccessible, and lowering the hot water temperature to 49 degrees Celsius. I thought I had it covered; my little home was safe. Then the unthinkable happened. My two-year-old daughter pulled out the drawers in the kitchen, used them as a ladder, scampered onto the counter and somehow tumbled off, resulting in a serious fall.

According to the Healthy Canadians website, every day two Canadian children die from unintentional injuries and another 80 require hospitalization. These are staggering statistics considering many injuries could have been avoided had better preventive steps been taken.

In my case, I was close by and a fall still happened. What had I missed?

Preventing falls involves a combination of safe environments along with active supervision. Active supervision, or the level of supervision that a child requires, will change depending on their age, physical health, social skills and risk-taking behaviors. In general, active supervision means being within sight and reach at all times, paying close attention and anticipating hazards when your child is playing or exploring.

As a Licensing Officer for Northern Health, monitoring licensed child care facilities, I see first-hand the importance of being proactive and thinking ahead when it comes to safety and preventing falls. Children attending child care programs need opportunities to be physically active, to practice new motor skills, to play freely and to explore. Falls prevention strategies are not meant to take away physical activity, but to create a safe environment in which physical activity can take place.  Active supervision is also important in child care settings. By watching closely, child care providers can offer support, while building on the children’s play experiences, promoting their overall development and ensuring that play is enjoyable. In childcare settings, supervision, together with thoughtful environment design and arrangement, can prevent or reduce the likelihood of accidents and the severity of injury to children.

As the years passed and my girls grew, our actions and focus on safety and falls prevention changed.  We no longer had safety covers on the electrical outlets, hazardous products had found their way back under the sink, fragile decorator accessories were everywhere and the girls were allowed freedom away from mom’s watchful eyes. Today, I now have four active, little grand boys visiting on a regular basis. I find myself thinking of that terrible moment when my daughter fell, my responsibility as a grandparent and the actions I can take to ensure a safe environment for them.

Injuries can be devastating; we were lucky.  My daughter recovered from her fall and it taught me a valuable lesson – I can take steps to prevent the ones I care for from being injured.

Visit our Falls Prevention page for more information.

Enter the Falls Across the Ages contest to win prizes!

Kathy Basaraba

About Kathy Basaraba

Kathy is a Licensing Officer with Public Health Protection out of the Prince George office. In her role as a licensing officer, she monitors and inspects licensed childcare facilities to ensure the health, safety and well-being of children in care. Although she has lived in northern communities for most of her adult life, she is still adjusting to the cold and snow. When not at work she can be found at home, spending quality time with her family and friends.

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Youth falls: staying active and safe in the north

Families in Motion

Families in Motion teaches parents and children to play injury free.

When I was nine years old, my family went to Vancouver for a wedding. My three-year-old brother and I were playing in a house which was definitely not kid-friendly. We were upstairs and for some reason, my brother decided to go downstairs, but he tripped and went tumbling down. Everything happened so quickly; my childhood memories can recall every somersault motion as he rolled down the stairs. Being his big sister, I had this horrible feeling in my stomach because there wasn’t anything I could do to stop it at that point. Fortunately, he somehow came out of the incident unscathed and ended up at the bottom of the stairs without a scratch or a tear. We giggled about the incident after, but reflecting on it now, I realize how fortunate we are that he wasn’t seriously hurt. To this day, the thought of how my little brother could have been hurt still makes me shudder.

Families in Motion (FIM) is a program that tries to prevent incidents like the one my brother experienced and strives to provide a safe, injury-free environment. I recently had the opportunity to discuss the program with Cheryl Breitkreutz, North Peace Early Childhood Development Coordinator at FIM, and she told me how they help families like yours.

What does FIM offer?

Families in Motion is a partnership with not-for-profits to deliver a valuable opportunity for families to learn about the importance of gross motor activities and how to implement family fitness into their daily lives. We meet once a month at different locations around the community, free of charge, and offer a space where families can be active through interactive stations, obstacle courses, active games and soft play centres.

Why is it important for parents to check out FIM?

Providing a falls safe environment for children is an important preventive measure that minimizes risk of injury. As children explore their environment and try new skills, they don’t recognize hazards in their environment or other factors that may compromise their safety and well-being.  When setting up the physical layout we consider: age-appropriate design, adequate impact-absorbing surfaces around and beneath play structures, division of space into activity zones for different types of play, open sight lines and inspection/maintenance of equipment and play areas. Our volunteers teach and model equipment safety rules, and provide active supervision. In taking these precautions, families can focus on the experience of playing with their child and immerse themselves in the activity.

And how is it unique to northern BC?

Where for six months of the year the ground is covered by snow and the mercury drops far below zero, living in the north impacts the opportunity for children to engage in gross motor play. Families in Motion is a local initiative to get families moving, where parents lead by example and engage their children in being active as a family. Together they can experience physical activity in a safe environment out of the elements.

To learn more about this program, visit the Families in Motion website.

To enter Northern Health’s Falls Across the Ages contest, visit our contest page.

Sabrina Dosanjh-Gantner

About Sabrina Dosanjh-Gantner

Sabrina is the lead for healthy community development with local governments with Northern Health’s population health team. Sabrina was born and raised in Terrace and loves calling northern BC home. She has been with Northern Health since 2007 and is passionate about empowering, supporting and partnering with northern communities as we collaboratively work towards building healthier communities. In her spare time, Sabrina enjoys spending time with her family and friends, reading, playing and (sometimes obsessively) watching sports, hiking, camping, traveling and exploring the amazing north.

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The riddle of youth falls

Girl plays soccer.

A young girl who is sure to get her fair share of bumps and bruises plays her first soccer game.

As safe as possible? Or as safe as necessary?

Sound like gibberish or a riddle? It’s neither. Let me explain…

If we were trying to make this world as safe as possible, so that our kids never fell building codes would include a ban on stairs, swings would be illegal, any play structure higher than ground level would be torn down and minor sports would cease to exist because all of these contribute our kids falling and getting hurt. Eventually, I’m pretty sure we’d refuse to let our kids leave the house unless they were bubble wrapped, wearing a permanently affixed helmet and armed with two tracking devices (in case the battery on the first dies).

But, that’s not all feasible, is it? So, when we discuss keeping our kids as safe as necessary, we’re talking about putting a helmet on them when they go bike riding or snowboarding so that they can grow up able to feed themselves, talk with their friends, choose a career and go biking or snowboarding again.

Being as safe as necessary means knowing how to prevent concussions and knowing the signs, symptoms and proper treatment, so that you aren’t putting your hockey star kid back in the game without realizing that his or her growing brain has been injured. It means knowing that while a child is healing from a head injury, the chances of another concussion are even greater and the risk of life-long damage is higher.

As safe as necessary means realizing that teaching our 10-year-olds how to head the ball in soccer might conflict with our wish to watch them grow into emotionally, socially, and intellectually healthy young adults. And that they don’t have to head the ball to have fun with their friends, play a great game, score some awesome goals and be strong and active.

There are many cases where ignorance is not bliss, and this is one of them. No parent that I know would ever knowingly sign their child up for a limp, a disfigurement, a wheelchair, loss of independence, social isolation, depression, failed relationships, unemployment, etc. But by not being aware of the risk of a real, serious injury and taking steps to prevent it, isn’t that exactly the risk they are taking?

To learn how to ‘get in the game,’ visit ParachuteCanada.org.

Lynette Hewitt

About Lynette Hewitt

Lynette Hewitt works in Fort St. John as an Injury Prevention Coordinator for Northern Health. After receiving a BScN from UNBC, Lynette traveled a bit, then returned to her hometown of Fort St. John where she worked in med/surg, public health nursing, and home nursing care before settling into her current role. When not at work, she is trying to keep up with life as a busy wife and mom, which may or may not include time for snowshoeing, hiking, biking, camping, fishing, geocaching and, for a few short months, gardening!

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