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Children's Health & Wellness

Forget the bubble wrap when it comes to kids’ playtime

Photo by David Hou

Pamela Fuselli

President and CEO, Parachute

Injury is the No. 1 cause of death for children in Canada. That’s a frightening fact that might lead you to think that I, as the leader of Canada’s national injury prevention charity, would want you to bubble wrap your children to keep them safe from such harms.

There are many things you can do to protect your children, most of which involve making their environments safer – from using the right car seat to installing proper stair gates to storing any poisons and medications out of reach, up high, and locked up.

But kids themselves still need to explore and take risks in play. It’s crucial for your child’s healthy development and wellbeing to get outside and explore. Studies have shown that outdoor play benefits children tremendously, including better physical health, as well as mental health and psychosocial benefits. The risk of serious physical harm is very low, in comparison.

Through play, children learn:

  • Societal roles, norms and values.
  • How to make decisions and problem solve.
  • How to exert self-control, follow rules and regulate emotions.

Play helps children develop:

  • Physical and cognitive competencies.
  • Creativity.
  • Peer relationships.
  • Self-worth and efficacy.
  • Intrinsic interests.

Risk-taking in play helps children to:

  • Test their physical limits.
  • Develop their perceptual-motor capacity.
  • Learn to avoid and adjust to dangerous environments and activities.

Active supervision, while still giving your child the chance to explore and develop, is key. Child safety experts recommend matching your level of supervision with the potential risk your child is facing, something they call “stages of vigilant care.”

  • Open observation: the “starting stage”: you play alongside and are non-intrusive in your child’s activities.
  • Focused attention: you spot warning signs and risk escalates. At this point, you check in with your child, talk and reflect on how to manage the risk. Once that happens, you can return to the “open observation” approach.
  • Active intervention: there’s an immediate change needed to reduce risk. You intervene using language to empower and prompt your child to return to safety.

You should spend most of your time in open observation, very little in focused attention and hardly any time in active intervention.

To encourage parents to “pop the bubble wrap”, we’ve launched a podcast, for parents called Popping the Bubble Wrap I host a roundtable of parents who talk about an injury topic they worry about: Both they and the listeners learn more! After the parents’ conversation, an expert joins me to discuss what they heard, dispelling myths and giving advice or answering questions the parents may have. We have 18 episodes, so far, covering everything from encouraging outdoor and risky play to every parent’s favourite question: Why are car seats so complicated?

You can find our podcast on Apple, Spotify and other services, or directly on Spreaker.

And you can find out much more about keeping your child safe from physical injury while still encouraging risky play at parachute.ca.

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