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Playing safely

play; hearing; balloon; head; injury; injuries; safe; suffocation; shake; bleeding; ear; baby; noise ;

Injury is the commonest cause of death and disability in the 1 to 3 year age group, and even small injuries can cause children a lot of pain. Most injuries happen at home. Some are caused by adults playing roughly with babies and not being aware of the consequences. 


Head injuries

  • Young children fall over easily and can easily hit their heads - their balance is not very good yet, and they don't have the strength in their neck muscles to protect their heads very well.
  • They often run into things such as doors and walls because they cannot judge distance very well yet.
  • Children learn how to run before they learn how to stop running and they will often trip over. Help them choose safe places to learn and practice running and stopping.

If a baby has a cut on the face or scalp:

  • There may be a lot of bleeding from a cut on the head. Cover the cut with a clean cloth and take the baby to a doctor. A deep cut may need to be treated to close it up and stop the bleeding – these days, doctors may use a special glue to close a wound, rather than using stitches.
  • There is more information in the topic 'Head injuries'.

Choosing safe toys

For children to get the most out of toys they must be safe and the right toy for the child’s age and ability. Some toys such as bicycles and skateboards are not easy to manage and children need some help before they can use them safely. Other toys may not be safe because they are for older children, or because they are not well made.

Have a look at the topic Toy safety for ideas about choosing safe toys.

Shaking a baby

  • Some head injuries can be caused when babies are shaken in play.
  • Some babies seem to enjoy being thrown around or shaken during play and laugh at the attention. However, overly vigorous play of this sort can cause brain damage which is sometimes severe.
  • The brain of a baby moves a lot inside the skull when shaken. Small blood vessels in the brain can break and there can be bleeding into the brain, around the brain and into the eyes.

You should never shake a baby for fun or for punishment, as it can cause severe brain injuries, even death.

Tossing a baby into the air

  • When babies are tossed up in the air, there is a risk that they will not be caught.
  • Because babies' heads are large and heavy compared to the rest of their body, their head or neck is more likely to be hurt than other parts of their body.
  • Given how common it is for babies to be tossed into the air during play, it is fortunate that severe head or neck injuries are not more frequent. However, these injuries can occur to some babies, and it is best not to take the risk.
  • Many babies do not like being tossed in the air and as they get older it can be very scary for them.

Lifting a baby

  • A young baby does not have strong neck muscles and she will need you to lift her head as well as her body. Pulling her up quickly by the arms can hurt her neck.

Ear injuries

  • The ear is a delicate organ and hearing can be easily damaged by loud noises.
  • Children love to imitate adults and wear headphones to listen to music and they don't always protest when it's too loud.
  • Be aware that, when travelling in cars, if the speakers are in the back of the car, children will be exposed to a louder noise than the adults sitting in the front.
  • Avoid taking children to places (eg. worksites) where there is loud machinery.
  • Cinemas may have very loud soundtracks.
  • Rock concerts are generally too loud for most people's hearing, particularly for people who are near the speakers. They are definitely not places to take small children.


  • Any noise you have to shout over is too loud for adults and children.
  • Long exposure to loud noises increases ear damage.
  • Put ear muffs designed to cut out loud noises on children, or have them use ear plugs if you are going to places where there is very loud noise.

Damaged hearing can cause lots of problems with behaviour and learning, and it is not always picked up until a child is older.
There is more information in the topic 'Noise and hearing'.


Children like to play with balloons. There are very few birthday parties that don't include balloons as part of the decorations or in party bags. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (in 2000)  reported that since 1973, more than 110 children had died in the USA as a result of breathing in balloons or broken pieces of balloons.

  • Most were under 6 years of age.
  • It usually happened when a child sucked or chewed on balloons or pieces.
  • Balloons mould to the shape of the throat and lungs, blocking airways more completely than hard objects.

Adult supervision is required when young children play with balloons. After a balloon has popped, dispose of the broken pieces quickly.

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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