Sports and Sports Safety
Encouraging regular exercise during childhood should help to establish good health habits for your child and may even keep him fit for life. Exercise gives kids a chance to burn off some of their boundless energy and often helps them eat and sleep better, too. Sports are one of the best ways for children to exercise. Children can play casually by themselves, with friends at home or in the park, or they can join formal programs at school or in the community. Dont forget that most children enjoy exercising with their family, doing physical activities together, such as hiking, swimming or bicycling.
Whether playing alone or in a group, children should always put safety first. Although your child is getting bigger, stronger and faster every day, injury is always a possibility. In addition, he is gaining confidence and may play more aggressively, increasing his risk of injury. Teach your child to follow rules, which will help to keep him safe. Make sure that he wears protective equipment that is right for his sport and is well fitted, such as a helmet, mouthpiece, face guard, padding, eye gear or protective cup. Teach him also to "listen" to his body. He should stop exercising or playing sports when he has pain or discomfort, and he should then tell you about the problem.
Here are a few tips about various kinds of activities your child might enjoy.
Bicycling is great exercise and can be fun for the whole family. Make sure that any time your child (or another member of your family) rides on a bicycle he wears a properly fitting helmet. Be sure he knows and follows the "rules of the road" for bicyclists. For additional information, see Bicycle Safety .
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Swimming is also great exercise and especially fun on a hot summer day. Unfortunately, each year many children are killed or injured in drowning and near-drowning accidents. Children 5 years and older should learn how to swim (check out your local YMCA for lessons) and how to stay safe around the water. Teach your child never to swim alone or without adult supervision, not to run or play rough near the edges of a pool, and always to wear a Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device when riding on a boat or fishing. Your child should not jump or dive into any water unless the area is clearly marked safe for diving (water at least 9 feet deep is recommended for diving) and should always dive with hands raised over the head.
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Skateboards and non-powered scooters are popular, but also are the source of many injuries, especially involving the ankles, wrists and face. To prevent injuries, experts recommend the following:
Skateboards: Children younger than 5 years should not use skateboards. Children between the ages of 5 and 10 should only use skateboards when closely supervised by an adult or responsible teen. All skateboarders should wear a helmet and other protective gear, including wrist guards, elbow pads and knee pads. Skateboards must never be ridden in or near traffic. Children should never hold on to the side or rear of a moving vehicle while riding a skateboard. When available, children should use skateboarding parks, because they are more likely to be checked regularly for safety than ramps and jumps constructed at home.
Scooters: Children younger than 8 years should not ride scooters without adult supervision. Everyone using a scooter needs to wear helmets, knee pads and elbow pads. Although wrist injuries are common, wrist pads are not recommended because they affect the rider's ability to steer the scooter. Children should never ride scooters in streets, in or near traffic, at night, or on any surfaces that have water, sand, gravel or dirt.
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If your child is interested in team sports or might enjoy just being part of a team, look around for organized community or school-sponsored programs. Children can get many benefits from organized sports, including coaching, supervision, safety rules and proper equipment. However, they also can experience feelings of failure, frustration and unhappiness if the demands of the program exceed their developmental or emotional readiness.
Make sure the level of the program matches your child's abilities and the focus is on having fun rather than competition. Stay away from any program that puts too much pressure on your child to win or to compete against the other kids. Participating in a sport should be about having fun and trying your best, not about winning. Make sure you praise your child regularly for effort and improvement.
Although your child may initially be interested in a particular sport or one position on a team, encourage him to try a variety of sports and positions. This helps your child develop a wide range of skills, prevents boredom, and increases the chance that your child will find enjoyable activities that keep him participating in sports activities for life.
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Chances are that your child has been enjoying the playgrounds in your neighborhood for several years. However, as children get older, they often take more risks and frequently play unsupervised. Teach your child to pay attention to safety concerns. For example, show him how to do a quick safety check make sure that the surface under the playground equipment is soft, with either a shock-absorbing rubber mat or 9 to 12 inches of sand, sawdust or wood chips. Look for age-appropriate structures, and avoid playgrounds with old, rusted equipment. For more information, see Playground Safety .
Last updated May 29, 2011