When Carter Rosengarten was 2, he gripped a Matchbox car and, mimicking the Kung Fu Panda, whacked his mother across the face. Sarah Rosengarten, 27, wound up at the local emergency room, where doctors diagnosed a hairline fracture of the jaw.
“Children,” she said wearily, “can be dangerous.”
Although much attention is paid to the safety of infants and toddlers, their sudden jabs, bites, head-butts and kicks can inflict injuries on caregivers, usually parents. After her 2-year-old daughter “clocked” her under the eye, leaving a significant shiner, Alaina Webster, 31, coined a term on her blog to describe this common problem: “unintentional parent abuse.”
In a “public service announcement” on the blog, Absolute Uncertainties, Webster called for battered parents to rise up: “Will you fight back against the 2-foot 6-inch tyrants taking over our subdivisions, or will you continue to let unsuspecting parents be beaten into submission simply for loving their child too closely?”
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According to emergency room physicians, pediatricians and other experts, UPA is no laughing matter. With unpredictable infants and toddlers, meals, bath time or even cuddles can go terribly wrong. Though statistics for injuries caused by young children are difficult to find, parents routinely suffer concussions, chipped teeth, corneal abrasions, nasal fractures, cut lips and torn earlobes, among other injuries.
“You’re dealing with wonderful human beings who can’t be reasoned with, who are impulsive, who are stronger and faster than you think they are, and don’t understand consequences of their actions,” said Dr. Benjamin Hoffman, medical director of the Tom Sargent Children’s Safety Center at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland, Ore.
Bobble-headed babies pose a particular risk, but even after infants gain head control at about 6 months, parents must remain vigilant. “Even toddlers, who have great control but are not physically aware of their bodies — it’s very easy for them to accidentally bonk their head into you,” said Dr. Allison Brindle, a pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital.
Young children frequently poke parents in the eyes, causing corneal abrasions or subconjunctival hemorrhages, also known as red eye. One reason: “Kids can be very curious about glasses,” said Dr. Ramona Sunderwirth, pediatric emergency medicine attendee at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York.
Kara Kastan, 32, who works at a nonprofit organization, suffered corneal abrasions when her son was 3 months old and again when he was 2. “My reflexes were just not fast enough to move away when he tried grabbing me,” Kastan said. “It was so incredibly painful.”
Worried about permanent vision loss, she rushed to the emergency room the first time, received antibiotic drops and briefly wore an eye patch. She subsequently tried to keep her glasses on around her son. By the second injury, “I had obviously eased up on my glasses wearing,” she said.
Parents can “play defense,” said Dr. Jennifer Shu, an author of “Heading Home With Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality.” She advises caregivers to closely monitor a child’s development. “You can say, ‘Don’t poke Mommy in the eye,’ but if they don’t get it, you just know you are going to have to be a step ahead of them.”
Injuries like torn earlobes often occur when infants and toddlers grab earrings. “Anything loose can be dangerous, such as necklaces, long hair, hoop earrings,” Shu said. “Put your hair up, and rethink the jewelry selection.”
Shu also reminds parents to frequently trim their children’s fingernails and to keep potential weapons out of reach. “What you might not have thought dangerous can be dangerous in the hands of a toddler — something as innocuous as one of those stirrers in a coffee cup,” she said.
Another recommendation: a good night’s sleep. Research shows that sleep deprivation, common among parents of young children, can diminish motor skills.
Still, “Being a good parent,” Hoffman said, “is taking one for the team.”