If your toddler falls from your window, will it necessarily die?

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No! A surprising number of toddlers who manage to get their way through a window opening to fall to the pavement below live. Something just over three thousand toddlers do this every year in the US.

Here in Minneapolis, we had our first reported case for the Spring Season of a toddler falling out of a window. The window had a screen in it but that did not stop the child, in Nordeast, from flying out the window after a bad bounce jumping on the bed. He fell three stories. He’ll live. He probably bounced off a few things on the way to the ground. This event reminded me to repost this item for those who live in the Northern Hemisphere and are starting to open their windows to let in the fresh Spring air and have not yet sealed off the windows to keep the Excessive Heat of Industrial Summer out.

Kids fall all the time. About 2,300,000 US children (under 14 years old) are treated at a hospital for a fall annually. Of these, a mere eighty die of the fall, though a much larger number are permanently injured or left in persistent vegetative state. Most, more than half, of these child-falls are accounted for by toddlers (age 5 and under).

Falling is patterned. Infants tend to fall from furniture, walkers, and stairs while toddlers tend to fall from windows. Well, the toddlers probably fall from furniture etc. more often, but we’re talking about morbid falls … falls in which there is an injury or a death. Kids older than toddlers tend to get injured from playground falls. It’s mostly toddlers and kids under 10 that do the falling, and of those who are injured or die in a fall two thirds are boys. But lets get back to the window falls, because ’tis the season.

Toddlers fall through windows for several reasons. First, parents or guardians are oblivious to windows as a safety issue, then the toddlers get curious about the windows, the latches, the sashes, and the outside. Adults underestimate the ability of toddlers to get a window open and they over-estimate the size of the hole a toddler has to squeeze through to get out. A toddler only needs five inches or so of gap to get through. Also, parents assume that a screen will stop a child from falling through the window, but this is rarely true. Screens are pretty good at stopping flies and mosquito’s, but not toddlers.

Close to two dozen kids fall through a window to their deaths each year in the US, roughly one third of them toddlers. This is a small number. It is worth nothing, however, that there is a temporal pattern to this; As weather warms, careless caregivers allow their toddlers access to unguarded windows and the toddlers (and some older children) start dropping onto the pavement. It starts in warmer areas of the country first, then spreads to cooler areas. Then, the CDC, CPSC, and other agencies issue press releases and local press start to take notice. Eventually, after several instances, one or two more spectacular cases hit the news. Perhaps a child falls five floors and toddles away from it unharmed in one place while a different toddler falls from the second floor and is left in a permanent coma in a different place. In any event, the word gets out that toddlers like to go through windows, that screens do not stop them, that they can work cranks and sashes and other devices if they persist, and the carnage then slows as people learn from the tragic experiences of others.

Windows are on the “top five” list of hidden domestic dangers to children, for two reasons. One is for the 3,700 injuries and 8 or 9 deaths from a fall through the window annually, the other is for the dozen or so annual deaths from strangulation from the noose you know of as the window-treatment cord.

Huxley has taken an interest in the windows. We have tall casement windows that he could easily squeeze through. The screen would not hold him. The windows are cranked shut with a removable crank and locked with large lever latches. He mastered the lever latches a long time ago but is probably not strong enough to work the crank. Yet. So, the windows are now closed and the crank has been moved to a safe location. I’m not telling where.

(Update: He still hasn’t found the crank yet but he can work all latches, dials, buttons, and locks without difficulty.)

Sources of information:

Here’s an example of the new discovering this danger:

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15 thoughts on “If your toddler falls from your window, will it necessarily die?

  1. People think of falls by imagining themselves as small as the faller, then scaling the height of the fall to their adult bodies. For instance, a six-foot-tall adult looking at a 3-foot-tall toddler falling nine feet thinks of the fall as comparable to an 18-foot fall for the adult.

    Which is not how it works. In the extreme, a six-inch tall cat can handle that nine-foot fall routinely (partly due to having a body adapted to absorbing falls, but still …)

    To a first approximation, it’s a matter of energy absorption per unit weight, so harm from falls is purely proportional to height of fall. There are other factors as well, such as that cat’s ability to spread out the energy of the fall, but that’s the general idea.

    At the other end of the spectrum from the cat, by the way: elephants can suffer crippling or fatal injuries from drops of only a few feet, much less than their heights.

  2. Ah, the old J.S. Haldane quite:

    “You can drop a mouse down a thousand-yard mine shaft; and, on arriving at the bottom, it gets a slight shock and walks away, provided that the ground is fairly soft. A rat is killed, a man is broken, a horse splashes.”

  3. Maybe the screen helps to cushion the blow? My 2 year old brother pushed out on the window screen of a second story window and landed unharmed on grass below. He walked around to the front door and rang the doorbell. My mother was far more upset than he was.

  4. “A baby fell out of the window
    You’d think that her head would be split
    But good luck was with her that morning
    She fell in a barrel of …

    Shaaaaaaaaving cream. Be nice and clean. Shave every day and you’ll always look keen”

    – Benny Bell

  5. Son of a colleague, at a very young age fell out of a second story window onto concrete and split his skull. He wore a football helmet for a while and recovered OK. His mind was, perhaps, affected, because once working, he paid back all the money his mother had invested in his higher education.

  6. “It?” Are you kidding? Toddlers are not objects.

    The title should read, “If your toddler falls from your window, will he/she necessarily die?”

  7. “”It?” Are you kidding? Toddlers are not objects.”

    Come on Nancy! A toddler doesn’t even pass the self awareness mirror test… Just kidding >;^)

  8. Give me a well understood gender neutral term and I’ll change it right away.

    Hey, my toddler just snuck up behind my teenager who was laying reclining on the couch reading and kissed her on the head then did a little dance.

  9. That’s *lying* on the couch, Greg, not “laying.” (Of course, my husband makes the same mistake all the time, and I adore him, so don’t feel terribly offended.)

  10. Something just over three thousand toddlers do this every year in the US.

    You’d think they’d learn not to do that after the first time.

  11. Give me a well understood gender neutral term and I’ll change it right away.

    The ancient and accepted (except by a couple generations of English teachers using bad rules) singular “they”.

    Although I never personally grasp what is wrong with “it”, I understand the baggage the term can carry for many people. Then again, there are some people who get upset if the correct personal pronoun is used because they find it disrespectful, and expect a name or title to be the only acceptable form of reference, so you can never please everyone.

  12. I was taught in calculus that the mortality of falling has to do with the ratio of surface area to mass of a body.

  13. “I was taught in calculus that the mortality of falling has to do with the ratio of surface area to mass of a body.”

    I would assume this is a generalization. Mortality also depends on whether the child lands on his head or somewhere less vital.

  14. Heh; that probably is “assuming the toddler is a sphere of uniform density”, so popular in physics calculations. 😀

    It would also depend on the toddler’s attitude during the fall. (Physical attitude, not mental. I imagine the mental attitude during the fall ranges from “HOLY SH######” to “whee, I’m flying!”) There isn’t enough time to establish terminal velocity in most falls, but a body spread out will slow down more than a body falling in a more streamlined posture. I understand stiffness is also a factor; if you go rigid, you will probably suffer more damage than if you go limp, and if you manage to roll on landing, that will also help dissipate energy somewhat safely.

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