Young kids are more likely to get hurt when they are not fully supervised by adults, and especially when they are out of arm’s reach, a new study suggests.
Researchers surveyed parents of injured children and found kids were generally under less supervision at the time of the accident than earlier that same day. That was especially true for kids with more severe injuries.
“There’s always the dilemma of, kids can get injured even if you’re right on top of them,” said Amy Damashek, a psychologist at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.
“Kids are going to still get some minor bumps and bruises and things like that, but what we really want to prevent are those more serious injuries,” she told Reuters Health. “If you’re not right there with young kids, they’re so mobile and curious that they’re going to find a way to get into things.”
Damashek studies caregiver supervision and childhood injuries but was not involved in the new research.
The study, led by Patricia G. Schnitzer of the University of Missouri in Columbia, focused on kids under five years old. All of the children had been treated in the emergency room or admitted to the hospital for unintentional injuries not caused by motor vehicle accidents.
In total, 222 parents answered questions about how closely supervised their child was at the time of the injury and one hour before.
Supervision was scored on a scale from zero to 10, with 10 reflecting full supervision and anything below 7 considered low supervision. The score included measures of how nearby the parent was to the child, how closely the parent was paying attention and how continuous the parent’s supervision had been.
Among kids treated in the ER, lacerations and bruises were the most common injuries, often caused by falls or being struck by or caught in something. For hospitalized children, swallowing something unsafe and getting burned were both relatively common, and more injuries involved a fracture or dislocation.
Children in the ER-treated group were three times more likely to have been beyond a caregiver’s reach at the time of the injury than earlier in the day, and hospitalized children were over 11 times more likely.
A parent not paying attention was tied to a higher risk of injury among inpatients, but not among kids who were able to be treated in the ER and released. Continuity of supervision did not factor into injuries in either group.
Across the board, more children had little supervision at the time of their accident than one hour before, according to the findings published in the journal Injury Prevention.
“This study is important research that adds to our understanding of the relationship of parental supervision of young children with the risk of unintentional injury,” Dr. Gary Smith told Reuters Health in an email.
He directs the Centre for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and was not involved in the new research.
Damashek said the best way to prevent injuries among young children is through a combination of safety measures in the home and close supervision.
“Safety-proofing the home as best one can is one really important method, but that’s not enough,” she said. “You have to be supervising them pretty much all the time, which is challenging.”
She said the study also highlights the need to support parents on a societal scale, especially parents in low-income families and others who may be facing extra childcare challenges.