Editor’s note: This article first published on January 12, 2015.
After performing a gymnast-like vault out of his crib at 18 months and moving at a warp-speed no adult could maintain from the moment he could walk, my son Luke was what some may have called high-energy. He was the child I assumed would have a frequent-flyer card at our local hospital. Yet somehow, he has managed to make it to age 15 injury-free (touch wood).
His sisters, on the other hand, while also active (just not at the Flash-like pace of their brother) have had several visits to the fracture clinic with sports-related injuries.
Breaking a bone is a common occurrence in childhood. As safe as we try to keep our children, accidents can happen in numerous ways and locations. At home, children trip over toys or fall off of couches. At the park or in the school yard, kids fall off monkey bars or a scooter or bike. Broken bones can definitely be scary for kids as well as their parents. But in most cases, broken bones heal at a much faster rate in kids than in adults.
How to deal with a kid in a cast
For the first few days after a child has their cast applied, the focus will be on rest and pain relief. During these days your child will probably want to engage in little more than quiet activities such as reading, screen time, and crafts. But very quickly, these activities will not be enough to keep any child from being bored, especially if they see their friends or siblings running and playing.
Pediatrician Dr. Kelly Fitzpatrick notes that while some kids are eager to jump back into full action, there are restrictions that parents must keep in mind while their children have a cast on their arms or legs. No matter how tempting it might be for the most active child, this isn’t the time to practice their wrestle-mania moves with their friends. In fact, any activity that might involve force or contact should be avoided. It’s amazing how quickly the healing process can be set back when a mending arm is knocked against a person or object. That being said, though, Dr. Fitzpatrick insists that “there is no need for a child with a cast to become a couch potato.”
Lindsay Kobus agrees. The physiotherapist says that keeping kids active while they are in a cast will not only relieve their boredom but it is also one of the best ways to encourage healing by keeping the blood flowing.
So here are some safe and active games to keep your child in a cast from suffering complete boredom (and to save you from listening to the same television theme song for the 27th time). From toddler on up, they’ll keep your child engaged, and maybe distracted, too:
Arm cast activities
- One-armed bean bag toss: There’s nothing like a soft beanbag and several targets to keep the uninjured arm moving. Inside, use different containers to throw into or use tape to make targets of different shapes and sizes on the floor. Outside, let your child create targets with sidewalk chalk.
- Kicking games: Using a soft ball such as a beach ball or even a balloon, children love games of pass or kicking on a net or other target.
- Simon Says: An oldie but a goodie! Actions can include stomping feet, waving the unbroken arm, or simply shrugging shoulders.
- Bowling broken-arm-style (i.e., not with a heavy ball and pins): Line up crayons, plastic bottles or action figures and use a lightweight ball to knock them down.
- Dance party: Put on your child’s favourite music (it won’t always be your first choice) and dance the day away. Just be sure your child keeps a safe distance from walls and other objects.
- Stationary bike: Especially for the older set of kids, this is a great activity to keep the blood flowing. If they need something to distract them while on the bike, music or TV are always good to focus their minds elsewhere.
- Scavenger hunt: Get outside and go for a hike disguised as a scavenger hunt. My kids would run in horror at the mention of a “hike” (for some reason this word translates to work and boredom). But with a list of articles to find and a potential prize at the end, a scavenger hunt in the neighbourhood or woods becomes a game.
Leg cast activities
- Catch: A simple game of catch or roll is a great way to engage your child in an active and safe game.
- Music making: I have never met a toddler who doesn’t want to shake a maraca or pound on a drum. Sing along (unless your child strongly disapproves of you being involved in their creative process).
- Sock basketball: From a seated position, use all those unmatched socks you’ve accumulated, and using different targets, channel your child’s inner Jordan.
- Hammering bench: Kids love to hammer, and a bench with pegs that can be pounded from one side and turned over to be pounded on the other is a great way to get those arms moving (and maybe work out some frustration).
- Punching bag: The older child’s version of the Hammering Bench. From a seated position, let your child punch away at a home-made or purchased bag.
- Juggling: Don’t restrict your kids to the traditional version with balls. As long as the items are quite soft, there are many variations of juggling objects such as rubber chickens, stuffed animals, or bean bags. (This probably isn’t the time to introduce flaming torch juggling.) A child can work up to two or three items at a time.
- Parachute play: Sit with your child and others (the more the merrier) and move a parachute up and down. Bounce balls or stuffed animals on the parachute as a challenge to see how high the objects can get.
A great activity that could be engaged in by kids in either arm or leg casts is swimming. Ask your doctor for a waterproof cast cover and let your child float and kick away.
If you’re a parent, you will likely have, or know a parent of, a child who will one day be in a cast. Rest assured! Having a cast does not mean endless days on the couch. There are so many ways to keep active. And before you know it, that cast will have been removed and your child will be back to full-pace again.