As a public health nurse and parent, I sometimes feel like I am pulled in opposing directions when trying to balance safety and physical activity.
In public health, our priority is prevention. If we spend our limited time, energy and resources on preventing disease and injury, we stand to save a huge amount of time, energy and resources on treating the actual disease or injury.
Exhibit one: Did you know the number one reason kids visit the emergency room is from falls? My daughter became one of those statistics when she fell at home while learning to walk and hit her head on a sharp corner. She earned three stitches on her forehead and even though I did nothing to cause it, it felt like I had failed her because it could been prevented. I immediately installed safety bumpers on all the sharp corners in my house and tried to resist the incredible urge to wrap my child in bubble wrap. So if it had been prevented, it would have spared my daughter pain, spared me the guilt, and not to mention health care dollars and use of emergency room space since the fall happened outside the hours of operation of our local urgent care clinic. Key learning: prevent the fall, prevent the injury!
Exhibit two: obesity is on the rise across all ages in Canada and is a leading contributor to many diseases, including heart disease. An active lifestyle is a proven way to curb obesity and its ill-effects. Leading more active lives can save an incredible amount of health care dollars – not to mention work sick days, years living with a low quality of life, and years of life lost. Healthy habits are best formed early in life, and it’s easy to see the benefits of healthy, active lifestyles on our children. Simply put, our kids need to be active.
For kids to be active, they have to (a) have places to be active and (b) find being active fun! Sure, we can be active indoors where I’ve padded all the sharp corners, but there’s nothing like heading outside and just being a kid. Being outside means there’s going to be bumps and bruises, because I’m not going to be able to prevent all of my kid’s falls. I definitely intervene when there’s potential danger to life or limb, but beyond that, I’m embracing some “risky play.” So that means my daughter is allowed to run as hard as she wants across the (eerily empty) cement basketball court at our local park (I had to calm her Grandma when she fretted over a potential scraped knee). Our local park is designed for kids 5-12 years old, and under my constant supervision my 3-year-old is allowed to play with specific parts that she is able to navigate safely. I provide her with clear rules over which parts she’s allowed to use, and she’s only allowed on the structure when the park is quiet – which is sadly often the case.
Our friends at ParticipACTION have been very vocal about getting our kids outside and embracing risky play. I recommend this blog post: “Afraid to let your kids play outdoors? Consider the high price of keeping them indoors – their health.”
Sometimes we just have to let our kids scrape a knee, but let’s bring back play by getting the kids outside to re-populate the playgrounds, soccer fields and basketball courts.
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For parenting information or to speak with a Public Health Nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000.