Children 5 and under don't yet have the ability to properly judge distance, says Dr. Shook. They may reach for a bar on the jungle gym thinking it's closer than it actually is and end up falling off. And until around age 9, children don't have the peripheral vision or ability to accurately gauge speed. "When they're running by the swings," adds Ken Allen, of the Emergency Medical Services for Children National Resource Center, in Washington, DC, "they may not see another child moving toward them until the swing hits them in the jaw."
To help prevent your child from becoming one of the 200,000 treated in emergency rooms for indoor and outdoor playground accidents each year -- most related to swings, slides, and climbing equipment -- make sure an adult supervises playground play closely. To determine what equipment is appropriate, check out a playground the same way you'd inspect your home -- from a child's-eye view, on hands and knees. Check the area for potential hazards, like hot surfaces, broken glass (sandboxes are notorious for hiding such things), wobbly railings, sharp edges, and peeling paint. Most important, check the ground surface. Playground equipment should always be on a soft surface, such as sand, wood chips, or mulch. As for your child, make sure all drawstrings (a strangulation hazard) on coats or sweatshirts are removed. Don't let mittens dangle from elastic hooked to jacket sleeves, and remove scarves, long necklaces, and loose belts, advises Allen.
Should your child strike her head or be knocked unconscious, resist the urge to scoop her up in your arms, says C. Rainy Broomfield, an emergency medical technician in Westport, CT. "It's best not to move a child with a head injury unless there's danger of further injury," she says. "Doing so could cause serious spinal-cord damage and permanent disability."
While another parent calls 911, check for bleeding and any signs of watery fluid from the ears or nose. If you see bleeding, apply pressure to the wound. If the child begins to vomit, gently stabilize her neck by holding it as you roll her on her side to prevent choking. Above all, try to keep her still until helps arrives.