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[This op-ed originally appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on September 7, 2022. Find it here.]

School is back in session, and with it comes playground play, after-school activities, and the risk of child accidents and injuries. Any time your child becomes injured, it can be scary. You may not know what to do. Does it warrant a visit to the doctor? Does your child need to be taken to the emergency room? National Childhood Injury Prevention Week has begun, and while injuries can be frightening, they are also often preventable. Parents and caregivers can follow simple steps to ensure their children stay safe.

Recognizing environments and scenarios with high risk for injury, learning to look for signs of injury, and encouraging safe habits at home and in the classroom better equip caregivers to prevent injury and respond appropriately when injuries occur. Nonetheless, if you have any questions about your child’s health or injury, you should call their doctor or visit an emergency facility.

Falls are the leading cause of injury among children, and while monkey bars, slides, and rock walls are playground favorites, they’re also significant culprits in inflicting injuries. Playgrounds with shock-absorbing surfaces like wood chips and rubber should be frequented over playgrounds with asphalt when possible.

Falls are also more common with after-school activities resuming, especially in sports that are high impact. Signs and symptoms of a concussion can be subtle and may not appear immediately. Symptoms can last for days, weeks, or even longer. Common symptoms after a concussive traumatic brain injury include headache, memory loss, and confusion. Other signs of a concussion may include forgetting the event that caused the concussion, headache, ringing in the ears, nausea, vomiting, fatigue or drowsiness, dizziness, and blurry vision.

Another common sports-related injury in children is an impact that causes difficulty breathing or respiratory distress. Signs that may indicate your child is not getting enough oxygen include increased breathing rate, increased heart rate, skin color changes, grunting, nose flaring, wheezing, and changes in alertness. With any signs of respiratory distress, call 911 or go to an emergency center right away. When possible, send your child to practice and games with proper-fitting and high-quality sports apparel and padding to reduce the risk of falls leading to concussion and respiratory distress.

This time of year also brings some of our highest temperatures, and infants and small children can become dehydrated quickly. Dehydrated muscles can lead to injuries like muscle sprains and tears. Contact your doctor or visit an emergency facility if your child shows signs of dry mouth, crying without tears, no urine output for over four to six hours or urination much less than usual, vomiting for more than 24 hours, fever higher than 103 F, less activity than usual, or severe abdominal pain. Make sure your child is getting enough water by sending them to school with a reusable water bottle to fill throughout the day, and serve water with each meal you prepare at home.

Implementing smart habits at home, like making sleep a priority, can alleviate the risks of injuries. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, sleep is equally as important as diet and exercise, and a healthy child gets between 8-10 hours of sleep per night. Establishing a bedtime routine, such as putting away devices at least an hour before bed, encouraging a book before bedtime, and avoiding rough play shortly before, can help healthy sleep habits and ensure adequate rest before tomorrow’s play.

National Childhood Injury Prevention Week reminds us that while injuries can be stressful, they can often be prevented with the right strategy. Further tips and resources are available to any parent wanting to learn more about reducing the risk of childhood injuries at