Swinging Your Kids By The Arms Is A Horrible Idea

by Ashley Austrew

Swinging kids by the arms is a common practice, but it could be more dangerous than many parents realize.

There are a few go-to moves we parents have when we’re trying to have fun with our kids. Tickling is an old standby, as is making funny faces, and — if we have the necessary space — sometimes we’ll even pick them up and swing them around by their arms. They laugh, we laugh, and everybody wins, but there are apparently some hidden dangers to swinging kids by their arms that most parents might not know about.

In a recent post on Babble, writer Jenny Halteman talks about the injury her daughter incurred after a family friend picked her up and swung her by the arms. The family was standing in line to see Santa when the friend swung the bored three-year-old around. Writes Halteman, “I turned around and watched as he set her back down. At first, all seemed fine until she tried to move her arm. She began wailing uncontrollably. ‘I CAN’T MOVE MY ARM!’ Her frightful screaming caught the attention of everyone else in line.”

Eventually, Halteman had to take her daughter to the emergency room, where a doctor explained that swinging by the arms had dislocated the girl’s elbow. She had “nursemaid’s elbow,” or a radial head subluxation, if you’re into medical terminology. The doctor set her elbow back in place, and explained that the injury is very common in kids because “their bones are still forming and their ligaments are loose.”

A quick search for the condition yields dozens of YouTube videos instructing parents on how to set their kids’ elbows back in place. No offense to our DIY culture, but I think that’s probably something best left to a doctor. Even better would be if we could raise awareness about this hidden risk and keep kids from dislocating their elbows in the first place.

According to, nursemaid’s elbow occurs most commonly in kids ages one to four, and it happens when the annular ligament slips over the rounded tip of the upper arm bone. Swinging kids by their arms is a primary cause, but it can also happen as a result of jerking a small child’s arm or pulling them up by their arms. In extreme cases, the ligament can even tear, resulting in a more serious injury.

The best way to prevent it is simply to avoid pulling on kids’ arms altogether. Sure, it eliminates some of the fun when they beg you for a swing and you have to say no, but it could also spare you a trip to the emergency room or a risky YouTube-led ligament adjustment. Those are things we all hope to avoid, right?

It might seem like every day there’s some new risk, worry, or precaution we have to consider, and you’re right: there is. But, that’s a part of parenting, and it’s always better to know which hazards you’re up against. Swinging a kid by the arms might be a fun way to occupy their attention for thirty seconds, but in the interest of staying away from the doctor’s office, it might be better to just leave the swinging to the actual swings.