Family
That Coffee Table Is Gonna Kill Your Kid! (Not Really)

olive_scar-225x300An article appeared recently in the New York Times with the headline “With Kids and Coffee Tables, It’s Trip, Fall, Ouch.” The article goes to great lengths to warn parents of the dangers of having a coffee table in the home.

OK, yes. When we were little, my younger brother went to the emergency room because of an altercation with a coffee table. And a survey of my fellow GeekMoms reveals two of them have coffee-table related scars. Another has one from a chair. Another recalls crashing into the media console. I myself had a run-in with a bit of shrubbery. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Last year, 143,070 children age 5 and younger visited emergency rooms after table accidents, according to estimates from the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. Coffee tables, in particular, turn up in more than a quarter of the accident reports, in the commission’s sample count.

Perhaps your thought when reading this is “That’s a lot of kids! I’m throwing away my coffee table right now!”

But then, as you’re hauling your living room menace to the curb, you start thinking more about those numbers. If you take the quarter of those accidents that were coffee-table-related and compare that with the approximately 20 million kids in this country under the age of five, that’s a 0.18% chance that your unfortunate trip to the emergency room is related to the coffee table.

A child’s facial scar can seem like a mark of Cain, a permanent reminder of mommy or daddy momentarily failing.

That picture up there? That’s my daughter, and here’s how that knot happened. She was sitting happily on a little concrete stoop at the playground with her friend. Her dad and I, along with her friend’s parents, were all standing one foot away from the kids. All of the sudden, for no apparent reason, she pitched forward and BAM! Her face met the pavement. If ever there was a case of proper supervision, this was it. And yet, the accident still happened.

Ultimately, the coffee table presents parents with a familiar dilemma: We cannot shield our children from every possible danger. But is that any reason not to try?

Why stop at the coffee table, you mean?

Sure, let’s kick out the chairs, entertainment centers, nightstands, step stools, cabinets, stairs, and sidewalks. Oh, and don’t forget shrubbery.

But we’re all still OK with putting our kids in the car, right?

Amy Kraft

Amy Kraft is a kids' media producer, writer, and game designer living in New York City. She also writes the kids' media blog Media Macaroni.

22 Comments
Judy
Judy

January 8, 2011 8:19 am Reply

I was always told ‘a person without scars has lived a very boring life indeed!’

This is the line we quote to the boys (three of them, all adventuresome types) every time we’re sitting in the ER waiting for stitches or casts.

The ironic thing is, my kids do dangerous things in the name of fun (skiing black diamond slopes, doing jumps on scooters, climbing trees, climbing trees then jumping out of them attached to a rope swing, etc) and yet the last three visits to the ER were because of ‘accidents much like your daughter’s.

Two broken bones (six months apart) were from gentle wrestling (I swear, it was gentle, I was in the room!) and the deepest set of stitches was from a child walking across the living room, tripping on his sock, and hitting the book case. Should I now throw out the bookcase and have him stop wearing socks?

I’m with you on this. Be safe in that you make your kid wear a helmet when he’s doing a ‘riding’ or skiing sport. But enjoy the coffee table. Where else are you going to put your glass of soda while you watch TV?

Great post!

Judy

    Parker

    January 8, 2011 12:24 pm Reply

    Jen,

    The winner of the best line of the day has to go to: “Tripped on his socks”

    As a terminally clumsy 6’5″ shaven chimp, I can TOTALLY see that happening and MAY be guilty of it a few times myself.

    And thanks for the belly laugh. I needed that as I felt the scar on underside of my chin. I EARNED it when I tried to fly as a toddler. It’s a point of great pride that I made it as far as the windowsill that bit me, the one a full two feet away from the end of the high bed I was dual-purposing as a runway. I’m told that I was flapping my arms the entire way to the floor, both before and after my forward momentum was rudely arrested by my face.

    I would have pulled it off too, if it weren’t for that meddling gravity. Tell your son for me “socks happen, its not your fault gravity sucks.”

    Parker

    January 8, 2011 12:28 pm Reply

    Judy,

    The winner of the best line of the day has to go to: “Tripped on his socks”

    As a terminally clumsy 6’5″ shaven chimp, I can TOTALLY see that happening and MAY be guilty of it a few times myself.

    And thanks for the belly laugh. I needed that as I felt the scar on underside of my chin. I EARNED it when I tried to fly as a toddler. It’s a point of great pride that I made it as far as the windowsill that bit me, the one a full two feet away from the end of the high bed I was dual-purposing as a runway. I’m told that I was flapping my arms the entire way to the floor, both before and after my forward momentum was rudely arrested by my face.

    I would have pulled it off too, if it weren’t for that meddling gravity. Tell your son for me “socks happen, its not your fault gravity sucks.”

Mim

January 8, 2011 9:10 am Reply

My sister’s gash came from hitting the corner of my mom’s hope chest. My daughter’s came from hitting into the AC.

What’s wrong with the NY Times? This is ridiculous. The writer should watch Gever Tulley’s 5 Dangerous Things TED talk!

Lou Doench

January 8, 2011 9:27 am Reply

Lenore Skenazy’s Blog is all over nonsense like this quote.
“Ultimately, the coffee table presents parents with a familiar dilemma: We cannot shield our children from every possible danger. But is that any reason not to try?”
http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/

My first stitches came when I was 5, I tried to help my dad open the car door. I love my scar! I show it off all the time!

    Amy Kraft
    Amy Kraft

    January 8, 2011 10:57 am Reply

    Reading Lenore’s book, Free Range Kids, was a revelation to me at the time, when my daughter was about 2. I direct all parents her way so we can all start being sane again. We’ve culturally gotten so bad with risk assessment.

Jen

January 8, 2011 9:29 am Reply

Our friend was videotaping his daughter walking early on (around 1yr or so) and actually caught her headbutting the table. You could actually hear the sickening crack as she hit it.

The daughter is now 19 and fine but he showed the video to my husband who almost got physically ill. So, when my daughter was born and began walking, he made me get rid of the coffee table. I thought then and still think now that he was being ridiculous. Then he started getting worried about the end tables and the TV stand. I asked him when we were going to stop. Would we have anything to put our drinks on while we watched TV or was he going to get rid of every flat surface in the house? He said it would be better than our little girl hitting her head. I won that battle though.

She’s 7 and we still have no coffee table … and I spend just about ever day cursing his friend for showing him the videotape.

Now, he’s turned his overprotective sights to her dangerous bed. He actually said she was going to break her arm one of these times when she fell out of her bed in the middle of the night. (Even though it has a frame, boxspring and mattress, it’s actually kind of low for a bed these days.) I asked him if he wanted me to build a cage to keep her in his bed and he thought _I_ was being ridiculous.

Jennifer

January 8, 2011 10:43 am Reply

The need to protect your kids is important but I think we have definitely taken it too far. We don’t have a coffee table but it is because we like not having one. We prefer the space. When my daughter was almost three we were at the top of three steps at a restaurant. I went to take her hand, she pulled away and down the stairs she went landing face first on the asphalt. Her booboo looked similar to your daughters. We didn’t go to the ER, but we did call the Ped.
If you really want to protect your kids, how about protecting them from obesity or drugs or smoking. There are things to protect them from and then there is life, which like someone said in the comments those without scars have led a very boring life. (I have some from bike wrecks, tree climbing, and a dog scratch.) :)

    Amy Kraft
    Amy Kraft

    January 8, 2011 11:03 am Reply

    I have cat scratch scars, as well as a big one from my Easy Bake oven… but that’s for another post. :)

      Corrina Lawson
      Corrina Lawson

      January 8, 2011 3:03 pm Reply

      Easy Bake Oven injuries have to be a separate post! Who didn’t burn themselves on that little lightbulb?

      But it was totally worth it. :)

Terry

January 8, 2011 12:39 pm Reply

I remember what it was like growing up in the 70s – riding bicycles without helmet, sitting in the rear of the car where seat belts did not exist and roller skating without any protective gear. And we survived!
Nowadays, our children aren’t allowed to RUN at school. (This is in Australia) All in fear that an accident might happen and the angry parents may sue the school. What is the world coming to??

Aunt Barb

January 8, 2011 3:22 pm Reply

I read the cited Times article the other day.

Coffee tables, because of their height and design, provide a convenient and perfect handhold for babies. And because of that height and design, they are also perfect for baby faceplants.

It doesn’t mean that you have to eliminate every danger, or pad everything, or make the kid wear a helmet constantly, and in fact the article doesn’t say you should. The safety commission cited recommends merely that you pad the coffee table’s edges and/or corners.

I found the recommendation no more outlandish than the very good advice of using a stepstool instead of a chair to stand on, or don’t use a knife to remove toast from the toaster. Why all the overreacting?

    Andrea

    January 9, 2011 2:44 am Reply

    My mom in law (mother of 12, grandma of 14) had one of those padded elasticized coffee table pads to protect the grand kids. Big, puffy rubbery thing. At some point in their toddler-hood, each grand kid pulled that bumper down during their efforts to pull up to a standing position and clocked their chin. Best laid plans…

Kimberly Chapman

January 9, 2011 1:45 am Reply

Ever notice how the two extremes of parenting are:

1) ZOMG! EVERYTHING WILL KILL YOUR BABY!

and

2) Meh, nothing killed me as a kid, so car seats are bunk and you’re a weenie parent for using one.

So if you do something sensibly protective, like using a car seat, someone’s gonna snark you, and if you decide to live a normal life, someone’s gonna snark you.

When I was pregnant, I was considering buying those rubber corner protector thingies for coffee tables when I saw one for a round table in a catalog. Yes, a big rubber ring for a round table. I said to hubbyunit, “Unless a kid has an actual cranial condition that warrants it, the lesson from hitting your head on a round table should be ‘Don’t do that again because it hurts!’, not ‘Bouncy!’”

So we purchased no rubber corner thingies. Not even for the sharp-ish furniture. Then kidunit split her lip open on the nicely rounded glide arm of the rocking chair anyway, for which there is no rubber thingy.

New walkers have a rainbow of forehead bruises. New mommies go to the park and fear having CPS called on them. Older mommies see that rainbow and say, “New walker, eh?” Because we get over it, and so do the kids.

BB

January 9, 2011 10:51 am Reply

My brother broke his leg rolling a ball back and forth with my mom. So take away balls too! And for goodness sake, NEVER play with your kids! What kind of neglectful parent are you?!

Neal

January 9, 2011 10:44 pm Reply

I don’t mean to say that this makes coffee table injury very likely by any means, but your “that’s a 0.0018% chance” figure is off by a factor of 100. The probability is 0.0018, the percentage chance is 0.18%. Over their first five years, then, about 1 in 100 kids will go to the ER from a hit with a coffee table. Of course, my kid will probably go to the ER once a year for falling on one thing or another, so what’s the big deal?

    Amy Kraft
    Amy Kraft

    January 10, 2011 10:40 am Reply

    Blimey, Neal – you’re totally right. Please accept my apologies on the error. It’s now corrected in the post.

Rob

January 10, 2011 9:05 am Reply

I think my uncle said it best when my wife and I had our first 3-1/2 years ago… “They bounce”. Seriously, I’ve seen my kid take god knows how many tumbles, trips, falls and wipeouts. Just about every single time he’s literally bounced back onto his feet calling out “I’m OK!”

We’ve gotten to a point where if we see him or hear him go thud, we wait for him to call that out before we jump up.

Hell, I had my first set of stitches at 1-1/2, and my first set of self-inflicted stitches at 4. I agree with Judy — “He who has no scars has lived a boring life.” I’ve got plenty…I must have an exciting life indeed :)

Christine Rains

January 10, 2011 3:02 pm Reply

My 8 month old is starting to walk and he fell against the coffee table ending up with a nice dark bruise on his forehead. I was right there beside him. It wasn’t for lack of supervision, but it happened. I’m not so paranoid that he’s going to get a bump or bruise, because that’s just a part of childhood, but I am a little paranoid of what other people are going to think. Who knows what horrors they’re thinking when they see a baby with a bruise on his head.

Elly

January 11, 2011 4:57 pm Reply

We purposely exchanged our wood and glass coffee table for an ultra plush (fake) leather ottoman. My 10 month old found the one hard side corner to land on from doing a daring leap from the couch. His first black eye before his first birthday.

Sarah

January 13, 2011 9:25 am Reply

Thanks so much for this timely post! My kid was playing with toys on the coffee table last night, and then for no apparent reason face-dove into the edge –not the corner, but the edge — of the table. He wasn’t running or even walking, just plunk! and we’ve got a howling kid with a shiner. I feel awful and contemplated wrapping the whole thing with a foam bumper or taking it out of the room or wrapping my son in bubble wrap. But despite the ugly (UGLY) mark, Thankfully (!) he’s fine.

Toolusingmonkey

February 1, 2011 2:39 pm Reply

Actually, the problem we have is with family portraits. It seems that just before the scheduled sitting, one of the 4 kids manages to impact their face with some object, surface, or sibling, leaving enough of a mark to show up in the picture (same with class pictures). Clearly we should ban family portraits.

The rule in our house: don’t fight the (furniture, ground, gravity), the (furniture, ground, gravity) wins.

Leave a Comment