Four tips to keep your kids safe (and active, too!)

June 3, 2015

In the mid 1990s, when Alison Macpherson managed admitting and registration at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, she saw it all — from fractured fingers to spinal cord injuries.

Now a health professor at York University, Dr. Macpherson is one of Canada’s leading authorities on keeping kids safe. But she’s also a mother of three who believes firmly that children should lead active lives. Not all injuries are bad, she says. Her approach is to worry about the big things.

“All my kids bike, snowboard, ski and all those other great activities that promote healthy child development,” she says. “But they wear helmets and get training to prevent the really bad injuries. A scraped knee is part of childhood, but a broken spinal cord is not.”

Dr. Macpherson was among the first researchers to call for a ban on bodychecking in recreational hockey. In 2011, the Ontario Hockey Federation heard the message and rewrote its rule book, convinced it would attract young people to the game.

It’s not always easy to convince policy makers to put recommendations into practice, especially since provinces and municipalities may have different standards. Dr. Macpherson is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to examine these issues, and promote a consistent approach to preventing child injuries across the country.

But keeping kids safe from injury must also go beyond changing laws and regulations.

“We need to look at the big picture,” she says. “In addition to bicycle helmet laws, for example, communities need bike paths and traffic calming. We need safer environments so kids can be kids.”

Here are her top four safety tips for parents:

  1. Secure kids properly in vehicles. Children should sit in rear-facing safety seats for as long as possible. Depending on their height, kids should stay in booster seats until they are at least eight years old. Afterwards, seat belts should be worn all the time and every time.
  2. Supervise kids near water. “Child drowning is a silent death,” she says. “You won’t necessarily hear your child fall into the water or out of a boat.”
  3. Encourage helmets for fast-moving sports — from biking, skating and skiing to skateboarding, snowboarding, roller blading and tobogganing.
  4. Keep kids active, but in a safe environment. “Kids need to learn to play,” she says. “That’s their job.”
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