Infant girl climbing staircase Some falls, scrapes and bruises are a normal part of childhood. Children need to stretch their abilities, and sometimes they overreach or simply stumble as they practice new skills. But falls can also result in serious injury.

Falls are actually the leading cause of unintentional injuries in children less than 14 years of age, and are responsible for half of childhood traumatic brain injuries.

“The steps you can take to protect your children from falls will depend on their age,” says Gina Duchossois, an injury prevention expert with the Injury Prevention Program at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and Chair of Safe Kids Southeastern Pennsylvania. “Infants are more likely to fall from furniture. Toddlers are more likely to fall from windows. Both groups are at risk of falling down stairs. Older children are injured most often in falls from playground equipment.” Children can also be injured by objects falling on them, such as shelves or other furniture.

Duchossois offers some practical tips for reducing the risk of falls for children of different ages.

Protecting infants from falls

  • Choose baby products that meet required safety standards, and use all safety straps and features.
  • Never leave babies alone on any furniture, even if they have never rolled over before.
  • Select a changing table that has a 2-inch (5 cm) guardrail around all four sides, is lower in the middle and has a buckle. Keep all necessary supplies within reach.
  • Look for highchairs and baby swings with a wide base so they can’t be tipped over easily.
  • Do not use a crib that has drop sides, and make sure there are no missing, broken or loose parts.
  • Never use baby walkers with wheels. Instead, use playpens or stationary play centers.
  • Avoid furniture that is top heavy and can be easily tipped.
  • Make sure all stairways have gates at the top and bottom, and that the top gate is mounted to the wall.
  • Do not put an infant carrier on top of the shopping cart when you take your baby shopping. Consider using a front backpack or stroller for your child instead of the shopping cart.

Protecting toddlers and preschoolers from falls

  • Pay special attention to preventing falls from windows.
    • Move furniture away from windows.
    • Do not rely on insect screens to keep children from falling out of windows.
    • Install window guards on all windows above the first floor.
    • Use window stops to prevent a window from opening.
  • Use furniture straps to secure all dressers, TV stands, bookshelves and any other top-heavy furniture or furniture that may become top heavy when a drawer is opened.
  • Remove items that are appealing to children from the top of furniture.
  • Do not allow your child to play or jump on furniture.
  • Continue to use stair gates until preschoolers are skilled at navigating stairs without help.
  • When you take your child shopping, never let them stand in or on any part of the shopping cart.
  • When you take your child to a playground, make sure the equipment is safe and age appropriate. Stay within arm’s reach when your child is climbing.
  • Teach your children these playground safety rules:
    • Do not cross directly in front of or behind swings.
    • Always sit in the middle of the seat on the swing and hold on with two hands.
    • Swings are not for sharing. Only one child per swing.
    • Always use the ladder to climb to the top of the slide. Never climb up the sliding surface.
    • Leave the bottom of the slide as soon as you reach it and allow the next child to slide down safely.

Contributed by: Gina P. Duchossois, MS