Family health

Should your kid avoid risky play during coronavirus?

Kids need to move, but risky activities—or even an ill-landed jump off the couch—could land your kid in the germy ER during a pandemic. Here's how to strike a balance.

House runner. Sofa jumper. Risky Business-style sock-slider. My six-year-old is active and his reckless idea of a good time has seen us visit our local emergency room more than once in the past few years, with everything from a shiner to potential concussion.

Most of that natural kid-energy usually gets burned off at school and through playdates and extracurriculars, but of course, things are different now. Like millions of kids and parents around the globe, we’re trying to navigate a day-to-day existence where he has tons of energy to burn and I’m just plain burnt out as work, school and childcare have become my exclusive responsibility.  

“There is a risk of increased accidental injuries when children are active and if their parents are distracted,” says Prasanna Selliah, corporate chief of paediatrics at William Osler Health System in Toronto.

An unexpected trip to the ER is a headache on a regular day. But many parents, myself included, want to especially steer clear of the hospital during this current pandemic. It’s important to note, however, that you shouldn’t avoid the ER in a true emergency. However, here are some ideas for lessening the chance of injury while we’re all cooped up at home. 

Get ahead of it

Tracy Akitt, a child life specialist at McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton, Ont., says parents should be thinking of preventing injuries right now by putting in some house rules that may be more strict than what you allowed previously. For example, you might prohibit things like jumping and running indoors. 

In my house, my admittedly formerly lax house rules have changed, because I’m just not able to watch my son all the time. Sock-sliding and sofa jumping are prohibited and holding the railing when going up and down stairs is mandatory.  

Dividing the day into active time and more passive activities is helpful too. “Having a daily routine and structure can help” reduce the risk of having an accident, says Selliah. Set a time of day aside for active play, where you’re able to supervise and potentially even take part, if that’s something you are physically able to do. 

Choose activities wisely

Kids have a lot of energy and need exercise, and for many people, this feels like an ideal time to buy a backyard climber or trampoline. 

Generally, many paediatricians aren’t keen on trampolines, citing their well-earned reputation for injury. “Young children are at increased risk for injury, especially if they are bouncing with an older, bigger child,” says Daniel Rosenfield, an emergency medicine paediatrician at SickKids hospital in Toronto. (Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Paediatric Society recommend against trampolines.)

However, for Ivor Margolis, paediatrician at Etobicoke General Hospital in Toronto, the question for parents is not “can I buy a trampoline?” Rather, it’s important to think hard about whether you have the bandwidth to supervise your kids while they use it and be a stickler about safety rules. “Supervision is key,” he says, adding that only one kid should jump at a time, and the trampoline should have protective enclosed netting. 

If you’re not able to supervise, then give the trampoline purchase a pass. If you’ve already got a trampoline, then consider setting a schedule for use only when you’re watching. 

For his part, Rosenfield favours cycling and rollerblading with the proper safety equipment as a way to keep kids active over trampolines.

Tire them out gently

It doesn’t need to be a free-for-all of frenzied physical activity to tire active kids, says Akitt. Kids that have backyards, or live in less densely populated areas, have the advantage of being able to play outdoors more freely, biking (with a helmet), kicking a ball, etc, while still keeping clear of other people. Akitt suggests parents who don’t have access to a backyard or recreational equipment take a simple walk around their neighbourhood. Parents that want to respect social distance guidelines might want to do this during off-peak hours when there’s less foot traffic.

Whatever the circumstance, Margolis advises parents to get their kids outside—if they can—up to twice a day for between 30 to 45 minutes. 

“Hey, let’s go for a walk” is usually greeted with a major groan from my son, but I’ve been making him do it at least once a day for about 45 minutes. We do it early in the morning when fewer people are outside, and I’ve made it more interesting by turning it into a “how-many-different-types-of-birds” can we see excursion. 

The end result: he’s calmer, happier and less likely to act bonkers when we get home. He’s also more likely to want to play quietly with his toys, do some schoolwork or sit still while watching a TV show.  

When the days seem interminably long, I console myself with one bright side: I’m not sitting in the ER with an injured kid, potentially picking up coronavirus. “That’s a positive,” says Margolis.  

I’ll take it for now.