Start the School Year Right with Safety Tips from UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital and Safe Kids Greater Cleveland
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
The back-to-school season brings the fun of shopping for school supplies and the excitement of new classrooms, teachers, and friends. As you pick out backpacks and make plans for getting your children to school and filling after school hours, it’s also a great time to go over some important safety rules with your kids. University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, the lead agency for Safe Kids Greater Cleveland, has some tips for families to make this school year a fun and safe one.
Gearing up safely
Backpacks that are too heavy or used improperly can cause injury to children and teenagers or lead to posture problems. Keeping some basic safety tips in mind as you choose your children’s backpacks and teach kids how to load them can prevent injuries, as well as nagging back and neck pain.
- Choose backpacks with wide, padded shoulder straps, since narrow straps can dig into shoulders and cause pain or restrict circulation. The backpack should have a padded back, which protects against sharp edges on objects inside the pack and increases comfort.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that a backpack should never weigh more than 10 to 20 percent of a student’s bodyweight. For a 70 pound child, for example, anything over 14 pounds would be too heavy, while a 100 pound child shouldn’t carry a backpack weighing over 20 pounds.
- Children should always use both shoulder straps, since carrying a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles and may increase curvature of the spine.
Safe clothing choices for younger children
Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommend that parents remove the head and neck drawstrings from children’s shirts, jackets, and sweatshirts to prevent strangulation; waist drawstrings should be cut to no more than 3 inches. Drawstrings can get caught in small spaces on playground equipment—most injuries and deaths occur when the toggle or knot on a drawstring gets caught in a small gap on a slide, strangling children who hang by their drawstrings, partially suspended down the slide.
Walking and biking
Be realistic about your children’s pedestrian or bicycling skills. Young children are impulsive and less cautious around traffic; they also have difficulty estimating the speed and distance of oncoming traffic. Carefully consider whether your children are ready to walk or bike to school without adult supervision. If you think they’re ready, follow these safety tips:
- Walk or bike the route together with your children before school starts. Choose the most direct route with the fewest street crossings. Help your kids identify risky areas, like parks, vacant lots, fields, or other places where there aren’t many people around, and be sure your child always walks with a sibling, friend or neighbor.
- Teach kids to obey all traffic signals, signs, and traffic officers when walking or biking to school or making their way to bus stops.
- Teach kids to cross at corners—preferably intersections with adult crossing guards—and never at mid-block, where they are less likely to be seen by motorists.
- Bike riders should always wear properly fitting bicycle helmets that meet federal safety standards (CPSC, Snell, ANSI, or ASTM), ride on the right (in the same direction as auto traffic), and wear bright colors to increase visibility.
Teaching kids about strangers
Teach your child to never talk to or accept rides from strangers, but don’t assume your child knows what ‘stranger’ means to you. Kids are apt to think that bad strangers look scary or dangerous, but children need to know that no one can tell if someone is good or bad just by looking at them, so they need to be careful around all strangers. What’s more, kids need to understand that having a familiar face does not automatically make someone safe. “Make sure your kids know the rules for your family,” says Kathryn Wesolowski, Manager of the UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital Injury Prevention Center. “Is it okay to get a ride home with Mrs. Smith from down the block, or do you want your child to know that it’s never okay to get in a car with someone without your permission, even if it’s someone they know? Talking about different scenarios can help your child understand the rules, feel more confident when confronted with different choices, and help keep your child safe.”
Taking the bus
School buses are one of the safest ways to travel to and from school, but approximately 17,000 U.S. children require trips to the emergency room each year for school bus-related injuries. About one-quarter of injuries occur when children are getting on or off the bus. School bus drivers have a “blind spot” that extends about 10 feet around the bus, yet children often believe that if they can see the bus, the driver can see them. Teach children to:
- Wait for the bus to stop before approaching it from the curb.
- Check for traffic before crossing the street.
- Move immediately onto the sidewalk and out of traffic when getting off the bus (if there is no sidewalk, stay as far to the side of the road as possible).
- Always remain in clear view of the bus driver—walk at least ten steps away from the front of the school bus and wait for a signal from the bus driver before crossing the street.
- Never cross the street or play behind the school bus.
- Stay seated and forward facing on the bus—avoid moving around or sitting backwards or sideways to talk with friends.
After school safety
Planning for after school care can be difficult when both parents are working and it can be tempting to allow middle schoolers to stay home alone until an adult gets home. Follow these tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
- During middle childhood, youngsters need supervision. A responsible adult should be available to get them ready and off to school in the morning and watch over them after school until you return home from work.
- Children approaching adolescence (11- and 12-year-olds) should not come home to an empty house in the afternoon unless they show unusual maturity for their age.
- If alternate adult supervision is not available, parents should make special efforts to supervise their children from a distance. Children should have a set time when they are expected to arrive at home and should check in with a neighbor or with a parent by telephone.
- If you choose a commercial after-school program, inquire about the training of the staff. There should be a high staff-to-child ratio, and the rooms and the playground should be safe.
For more information about back to school safety, call the UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital Injury Prevention Center at 216-983-1110 or visit the injury prevention pages at www.rainbowbabies.org.