Don't Swing Your Kid By The Arms, And This Is Why

by Clint Edwards
Originally Published: 

Okay, it’s time to come clean. I’ve swung all three of my children by the arms. I’ve swung them in circles around the living room like lawn sprinklers. I had them reach up for me, and I’ve gripped them by the hands and pulled them up into my arms so I could carry them around the store. I must have picked them up a million times by the arms, most of it playfully. And I’ve seen a million other parents do the exact same thing.

So when my youngest daughter — who was two at the time — came to me, her arm hanging limply at her side, tears streaming down her face, after her older sister attempted to tug her onto the sofa by her right arm, I assumed she was broken, permanently, and it was just a matter of time before CPS knocked on my door.

Turns out, she wasn’t permanently injured, but she did have nursemaid’s elbow, which is actually pretty common and often happens when — you guessed it — we swing our kids by the arm.

According to The Boston Children’s Hospital, “Nursemaid’s elbow occurs when the radius (one of the bones in the forearm) slips out of place from where it normally attaches to the elbow joint. It is a common condition in children younger than 4 years of age.”

More or less, for some children, like my youngest, their elbow joint is a lot like a foot in an untied shoe, slipping around quite a bit, and can ultimately fall out of the joint.

The day Aspen dislocated her elbow (the first of many trips to the doctor for this), I sat next to the doctor as he attempted to pop her arm back in three times. She cried each time, and each time he had to take a break, and then try again. I like to consider myself a pretty strong dude, but watching my youngest daughter scream out in pain as a doctor popped one of her joints back into place made me cry, and I’m not afraid to admit it.

This is the danger of swinging your children around by their arms. It’s also what is the most concerning about it all, because I must have swung Aspen around a bazillion times before she first dislocated her elbow. But now that it’s happened once, it seems to be a pretty easy thing to do again. In fact, last month she tripped over the dog and did it to herself.

Now please keep in mind, I’m a personal advocate of rough and tumble play. In fact, there are studies that show rough play is beneficial to children’s future mental state, decreasing their chances of having an anxiety disorder in adulthood. But at the same time, it’s best to do it sensibly.

Adam Pandit, Consultant Shoulder and Elbow Surgeon at Spire Thames Valley in Slough, put it this way, “You can’t wrap your children in cotton wool but you can take greater care when playing with them in a sort of ‘rough and tumble’ sort of way — be aware that all their joints are still forming so anything that puts extra pressure on them can have a detrimental effect.”

Naturally, this all goes beyond just the elbow. Swinging a child by the arms can cause issues with other joints as well. And I know, I get it, when your young child reaches up and asks for you to swing them, it’s pretty difficult to say “no.” It’s such a simple and common part of parenting young children. But I must say, after taking my own child to the emergency room and watching her cry out in pain as the doctor put her joints back together, I can say with confidence that it really isn’t worth the risk. When it comes to her arms, I handle her a little more gingerly.

There are safer ways to swing your child, such as picking them up under the armpits, cradling them under the back and knees. Though, that might be harder on your lower back. But I suppose everything with parenting is a give and take, and it’s not always in your favor. I also use a leash and harness when we are out with the little one because I simply can’t hold onto her arm without a risk of her tugging against my grip to reach out for some silly thing, and likely pulling her arm out of the socket.

Naturally, here in the states, I get a lot of nasty looks for putting her on a leash, but to hell with them. The reality is, I’m keeping my child safe from both running off — and from pulling her arm out.

So, if you are one of those parents who enjoys swigging your child around by the arms, I get it. I’m one of you. And I understand that it is pretty difficult not to twirl your kids around, particularly when your soft-faced little one reaches up with a dimpled grin and asks for a swing. I know, I’m there.

But after seeing the downside of nursemaid’s elbow, it’s pretty easy for me to say, “No way, kiddo.”

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