Sometimes when you’re carried away doing something fun with your child, you – or worse yet, your child – is struck by the Law of Unintended Consequences. And I mean that literally. This was vividly and viscerally brought home while watching some poor father with his toddler daughter at the amusement park recently.
We took the kids and some of their friends to a local amusement park for the day. This particular park has a large "Boardwalk" section composed of multiple water rides that range from high and long water slides to a "Lazy River" ride in which the rider is gently propelled via inner tube along a long, circular concrete river. There’s also a large wave tank for older folks and in this particular situation, a smaller wave tank for children.
There were any number of component water toys and fountains as part of this kiddie wave pool and with the brilliant colors, it resembled something brought to life out of Dr. Seuss’ imagination. As kids and parents entered the wave area, they passed by and under daisy-yellow pipes that rose out of the ground to a height of seven feet before re-entering the ground several feet away. Suspended from the pipes were large cone-shaped buckets which swung back and forth and into which water streamed from the pipes overhead. When the buckets filled with water, they tipped over and would spill water onto the people who walked underneath on the way to the wave pool. This particular father, who I watched from about thirty yards away, held his little girl in his arms and wanted to get her a little wet before entering the pool. He stood under a bucket as it slowly filled with water and chatted with his little girl awaiting the tip-over. He unfortunately misjudged the amount of water the bucket could hold and when it finally tipped, his baby girl took a large volume directly on her head. Yes, she cried and I pitied the guy as I watched emotions flash across his face that ranged frrom sheepishness to horror and finally, to disgust. He immediately took the girl away and sat down to console her and apologize profusely.
I felt for the guy because I’ve been there. Fathers throw their kids, wrestle and swing them and create all manner of mayhem that the kids love. But the downside is that there will be accidents and mishaps and while you want to die, it doesn’t make you a bad father. It does however, make you take a longer and harder look at what can go wrong so that you better appreciate the risksof playing with the kids.
One of my hardest lessons was dislocating my preschool daughter’s elbow while swinging her like an airplane in the backyard. The game was to simply hold her hands while swinging her in a circle so that her feet were off of the ground and in this, I was wonderfully successful until she cried out that her elbow hurt. After icing the elbow and still finding her in pain, my wife contacted the pediatrician who saw her within the hour. This doctor labeled it as "nursemaid’s elbow" and was intimately familiar with it since he’d had to reset his own children’s elbows after similar play in his backyard. Unlike this physician however, I never played the game again. Period.
The guilt of inadvertantly hurting your child is severe. Bur the point is to learn to assess the risks and then adapt so that you either minimize them or avoid them entirely. But don’t let the fear keep you from playing with them because they both love and need it.
Not all kids develop their skills at the same rate and that runs the gamut of activities. Some are poor at hand-eye coordination while those who excel at that are lousy at gross motor skills. That’s the case with all three of the kids here and notably the case with Youngest’s bicycle skills. That’s normally something that doesn’t worry me but when other kids are riding on the neighborhood streets and he’s still uncertain with his balance and skills, then I have to pay particular attention.
Youngest is far and away a big boy, head-and-shoulder above his classmates and is wearing hand-me-down clothing that his older brother wore when he was three years older than Youngest is now. Judging from the commentary of a physical therapist friend – who specializes in balance issues – that growth has impacted the balance skills which simply haven’t caught up and compensated for the larger body. I haven’t pressed the issue and have let him set the pace for the past two years; we’d go to the local playground and ride around while he slowly learned his skills and it’s been in the last three weeks that he’s finally mastered the skills.
The issue that arose last week was his wish to ride back to his friend’s house and then ride with the friend and family to a neighborhood playground. I’ve done no practical road skills with him apart from talking about road rules and that doesn’t qualify as prepared. He desperately wanted to go, especially since this child will sometimes taunt if someone’s skills don’t measure his, but I refused and dropped him off at the friend’s house with his Razor Scooter. That’s not so far-fetched I figured, since there are any number of neighborhood teens who ride their Razors and do stunts with them. It worked on that occasion but the occasion will arise again and he needs to be prepared. The other aspect is that road safety and skills are my responsibility and not that of some other parent; taking a child on the road involves issues of legal liability and that’s my problem.
So tonight began the road rules practicum. We started with the rules discussion before we even left the driveway:
- Ride on the right side with the traffic;
- Stop at every stop sign and look both ways AND behind;
- Wear a helmet at all times;
- Know the hand signs for right, left and stop;
- Know the surrounding traffic and don’t think that they know you;
- Ride single file but stay in front of me where I can see you.
After discussing the rules, we talked about the route and what we’d do, then we left.
On one level, this shouldn’t be about "keeping up with the developmentally advanced Joneses". Over the next week, we’ll take progressively longer road trips and will continue until I’m comfortable that he’s mastered the road skills. But on the other hand, when he’s got the balance and riding issues down pat, then it’s my responsibility to help take him over the final hump and that might mean that I have to take extra time to assure that it’s done properly. When I’m comfortable that he’s there, then I’ll turn him loose with the friend and family. And if he’s still not there, I can at least honestly say that he needs some additional work but has the basics down pat.
I won’t push the skills faster than they seem to be capable of going, but once they’re there, I have to be ready to make the time to finish the job.
I’ve learned in the past several days that I need to go back and take another first aid course. Because I’ve forgotten some of what I used to know.
The range of injuries for most children is consistent with a bell curve. Scrapes, cuts and bruises comprise the large majority of "boo-boos" but there are the occasional things that remind me what I don’t know. And what must I refresh?
- The difference in clearing an obstacle from a small child’s throat versus performing a Heimlich Manuever on an adult.
- Discerning how much pressure to apply for CPR on a small chest.
- How to handle immediate treatment for burns.
- How to handle first aid for broken bones.
It’s pretty easy to discern when it’s for the ED instead of the pediatrician’s office. But there’s still the initial work on the situation before contacting the doctors and that’s where I got caught the other day; because what I had Middle do for his injury wasn’t going to help him, even if it didn’t hurt him (fortunately).
So in the several days, I’ll make the time to contact the American Red Cross to see what’s available in First Aid courses.
And Middle’s going to be fine, thank God.
When you take the kids out for summer vacations, they’ll look for the fun stuff but you have to pay attention to them. The combination of heat, humidity and activity can be a major problem for children.
We recently took the first trip to Orlando with the three kids and this became apparent as we waited in a slow line for a Universal Theme park ride. Further ahead, a teenage girl leaned against a wall and then proceeded to slowly go limp. Her father began talking to her as he supported her by the shoulder but her head suddenly lapsed into her chest and the support became an urgent effort to control the fall as she went into a heap. Someone produced a cold bottle of Gatorade and the parents finally managed to induce her to sip the liquid; after several minutes – during which no park personnel were present – she was able to stand and leave the line, hopefully for an air-conditioned spot. My mate is a physician who assisted and I could only feel for the father as I watched my own three.
And I already pay considerable attention to how they’re doing.
Children – especially smaller ones – are more susceptible to heat-related problems than adults. This is partially due to differences between the child’s and the adult’s body. Another part, however, is that kids are simply too caught up in the activity to pay attention to their body’s needs. They don’t think in terms of rehydration; they think in terms of a sudden awareness of thirst or nausea arising from dehydration. And by then, it’s already on the verge of too late.
So what should you consider as you prepare to take the kids for those summer days of family outings?
- Push water. Not soda, juice or milk – water. While the others contain water, the body does best with clear and colorless liquid that contain no additives to process. If you have a baby less than nine months, you can even consider whether to give it water in addition to formula. But seriously ask yourself if it’s in the best interests of the infant to be out in mid-day heat.
- If you aren’t certain when to give the child water, use yourself as a guide. Remember that thirst is a sign that you’re already becoming dehydrated, so make it a point of pacing yourself with regular water intake. And when you do drink, be sure that your child also drinks; kids are notoriously proud and drinking with you will go over better than Know-it-all Dad forcing the kid to do something utterly uncool as drinking because they need it. The typical kid under twelve years of age should have an average of six cups of water daily so be sure to use that as a baseline and increase it with the heat and activity.
- When you change a diaper – or take a smaller child to the bathroom – pay attention to the color of the urine. A lighter color urine is preferred since darker urine indicates that the urine is more concentrated and thus demonstrating dehydration.
Clothing and Accessories
- Like everybody else, kids should wear lighter-weight and -colored clothing to reflect the heat. It should also be looser fitting, so those pretty tights on your little girl are a bad idea.
- Take an additional set of clothing to replace the sweaty clothing later in the day. Children are more susceptible than adults to heat changes and a child wearing a sweaty/damp outfit will feel the chill more as the day’s temperature decreases later on.
- Kids should also wear hats to provide some protection from UV rays on the nose and forehead.
- Any stroller should have a shade to protect the child. If you think that your kid needs something additional, I’ve known some parents to carry a collapsible umbrella in the tote bag should the kid need additional protection.
- Hot, humid weather wouldn’t be the best time to use a snuggli or other close body device. The nearness of the small body is uncomfortable for both of you and could even drive up the child’s body temperature further.
- Keep a good supply of diapers and wipes for more frequent changes, to forestall an increased risk of diaper rash and discomfort.
- Be liberal in using a diaper rash ointment – A&D for example – to protect the child’s bottom from chafing or rash.
- A child’s skin is more sensitive than an adult’s toughened skin. This means that before you depart for the day, apply a base coat of sunscreen and then reapply as the day progresses. The back of any bottle will provide guidance on how often to reapply.
- The peak of the sun’s effects on skin are from 10 AM to 2 PM. If possible, plan to spend some of that time inside. For example, we planned to spend the bulk of that time in Orlando inside, in covered shows or eating lunch.
- Understand that your child is more likely to crap out earlier than he would otherwise and will later require more and/or longer naps. This is typically accompanied by a cranky tantrum as the kid melts through the last of the energy reserves. It isn’t because he chooses to be nasty, but is instead finally overwhelmed and is no longer capable of providing self-control.
If this seems like a lot to remember, then understand that one of your primary jobs as a father is to protect them so that they can enjoy these things. And as they age, you can teach them so that they can pass it along to their own children.