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Stanford Medicine

Parenting, Pediatrics

Rattled by one child’s injury, a whole family becomes accident-prone

In an era when so many children spend gorgeous days sequestered inside suburban homes in front of glowing displays, I’m always thrilled to see kids playing in the street. Unless those kids are riding bicycles without wearing helmets. Then I’m horrified – many of the most emotionally traumatic experiences I had in the ER or in the ambulance were with sick or seriously injured children. I can’t even begin to imagine what sort of stress the children’s parents were going through.

Pediatrician-journalist Perri Klass, MD, thinks that one child’s serious injury might be so unsettling it could make the entire family more accident prone for months afterward. She builds her conclusions on a study conducted by University of Washington pediatrics professor Brian D. Johnston, MD. As Klass writes in her article for the New York Times:

Dr. Johnston and his colleagues studied large populations of children and found that if a child was injured seriously enough to be hospitalized, all the children in that family were at higher risk of injury for the next three months. After three months, the families’ risk returned to normal. In a follow-up prospective study published earlier this year, almost 20 percent of the families had a child injured or re-injured badly enough to need medical attention.

Moreover, children who experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress after a serious injury were more likely to be re-injured – as were their siblings, too, Klass wrote. And whole families often experience post-traumatic stress after car accidents.

Klass writes that parents have more control over their stress levels before an accident occurs. We can do a lot to prevent accidents by making the most of simple, effective safety measures like seat belts, bike helmets and fences around pools. And those measures don’t have to get in the way of childhood exploration and learning:

You want to keep children safe so that they can enjoy being children, and enjoy the summer as completely as possible. It’s our job to make sure that active and daring do not mean accident-prone.

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