hidden park hazards
jungle gyms No playground worth your tot's time is without a slide, a few baby swings, and something to climb on. Yet aging equipment, hot metal, or older (rowdier) kids can put a quick damper on your day.
play it safe When you arrive, give the area a once-over. If the slides are metal, make sure they're not too hot from baking in the sun, and look out for any open "S" hooks or bolt ends that can scrape or catch clothing. As for those pushy big kids, expect small collisions now and then -- it's all part of the adventure. More worrisome is when your explorer falls from a height higher than her own. If she hits her head, look for bleeding, vomiting, or a sudden onset of sleepiness; if you've got a feeling she's just not acting right, call the doctor. Bone fractures aren't always easy to identify right away, so watch for an inability to move her arm or leg, swelling, or crying that won't stop, says Denise Dowd, M.D., professor of pediatrics at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri. Any concerns -- get her checked out.
poison ivy Even if you've never had it, you know you don't want it. Poison ivy causes insanely itchy blisters usually arranged in a linear pattern, and it can grow pretty much anywhere -- playgrounds, your backyard, even urban areas.
play it safe Your best line of defense -- know thy enemy. "The old adage is leaves of three, leave them be," explains Bruce Brod, M.D., clinical associate professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia. It's exactly right. "The plant has clusters of three oval leaves that can have smooth or jagged edges," says Dr. Brod. Should you spot your peanut going for a roll in the stuff, you might have luck avoiding a reaction if you act fast (within ten minutes). Remove his clothes and wash him down with soap and water. More likely, you won't even know he had a run-in, and you'll just see the rash, which typically develops within a week. In that case, you can apply an anti-itch cream for a mild case; a more severe reaction may require a trip to the M.D.
spiders Spiders love hanging around jungle gyms (well, most of the outdoors), and some do bite, says Joshua Fox, M.D., a dermatologist in Commack, New York.
play it safe There's not much you can do to avoid them (hey, it's their park, too!), and most spiders aren't harmful. If one chomps on your kid (you'll know because it will hurt a bit) you'll likely see a local reaction: redness, itching, and swelling. Head to the bathroom and wash the area with soap and water. When you get home, apply a warm compress for a few minutes, then dab on hydrocortisone cream, and cover with a bandage to prevent itching and infection. Oh, and it's never a bad idea to shake out clothing or blankets before you leave in case any creepy crawlies try to hitch a ride. (One note: If you notice a red bump but didn't see a spider bite happen, watch it carefully and check for fever. It could actually be an early skin infection.)