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

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.

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 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 contrasts 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.

Recent news reports:

Sources of information:

A safety film by a window company:

More like this

Greg, thanks for bringing to light a big problem seen in PICUs all over the country every year. It seems to peak during the summer, when people tend to leave the windows open, and a child is much more mobile than they were the last summer. Toddlers explore and push chairs against a window to look out. They fall through even sturdy screens and by cranking open a loose window...

Saturday, a 16 month old child fell 27 feet from a third story window in Connecticut and died.

By NewEnglandBob (not verified) on 29 May 2011 #permalink

A watermelon has a lower terminal velocity than a baby, and still explodes. A plastic bag full of water has a baby-like terminal velocity, and is more flexible than a baby, and still explodes.

Also the heights of these falls appear to be highly variable.

Because they always land on angel wings?

And some people get struck by lightning and survive.

Just because it's possible doesn't mean I want myself or others to experience such things. I doubt the survivors of such events are the majority of people involved.


I'll chime in and add that parents and caregivers often underestimate the climbing ability of children. I looked after a not-yet-walking baby who managed to climb onto the inside window-sill via a large teddy-bear. Luckily, the teddy-bear broke his fall when he fell back into the room, and the window only opened at the top. I've also seen an infant start climbing floor-length curtains like a rope: crawling is apparently good for the upper body strength. As soon as your child (or the child you care for) is crawling strongly, fit (and use) the sort of security locks that can hold the window open an inch or two. Also make sure the frames are sturdy, especially old wooden ones.

By stripey_cat (not verified) on 29 May 2011 #permalink

When I was a kid, my parents kept a newspaper clipping - an article about me, at age 18 months, falling out our second-story window, onto a brick sidewalk. I vaguely remember being told that I fell belly-down, with arms and legs spread wide, skydiver fashion. There was no injury to speak of, and I never remembered any of it. 67 years later, I'm only now learning from you, Greg, just how common these things are. I used to be very superstitious, and that incident from my childhood seemed to be good enough evidence that Jaysus was taking care of me.

By John Swindle (not verified) on 29 May 2011 #permalink

A bit of child falling trivia:
In 1991 Eric Clapton's 4-year old son fell 49 stories to his death. "Tears in Heaven" was his tribute.

By natural cynic (not verified) on 29 May 2011 #permalink

P Smith (Poster #8), the article said there were 3700 injuries but only 8 or 9 deaths annually, due to falling out of windows. You wrote "I doubt the survivors of such events are the majority of people involved.", but they are. Of course these stats include windows of all heights, but still, out of 3700 cases, if even just 1% fell out of second-story windows or higher, that would be 37 cases, with survivors far outnumbering fatalities. Kids do better than watermelons by a wide margin. There is something interesting going on.

It depends but kids like cats are not as scared or 'tight' in wrong landing form like adults. Maybe they're bottom heavy to tend to hit with midsection and lower half to lessen the head impact percentage chances. Basically they bounce and absorb spread they're lower mass impact comparatively I bet. Cats have the tendency to spread it by landing better on spread feet absorbing leg tendons....and bouncing.
That's my physics theory.

A child's terminal velocity will be less than an adults, just based on mass and surface area. The impact "footprint" will be relatively larger too - I think - of the force of impact will be over a relatively larger area (not absolutely larger!). Maybe tomorrow I'll sit down and work out the physics of falling babies. ;-)

My windows are locked (they can be also locked in the position where they open at the top.
I live on the 13th floor so I'm not going to take chances. And my #1 got a severe case of angry mummy when I caught her sitting on the window sill. Never-ever!

Dilbert: "There is an engineering solution to every problem".

I would suggest DNA for a skin membrane -like a flying squirrel- that folds out when the autonomous neural system detects a fall. If you can keep terminal velocity below the lethal level, and make sure the kid is bottom-heavy during the fall fatalities will be much reduced.
If future cities are built like Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" this would actually make sense.
The alternative -building apartments with child-safe windows- will be condemned as "socialism" as it would require a few more rules. Everyone knows people should adapt to the hardware, not the other way around (snark).

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 30 May 2011 #permalink

Poster 14: Again, the terminal velocity of a baby is greater than a watermelon and probably not much different than a plastic bag filled with water. Both of the latter would explode. Maybe a sack of thick jelly would survive, maybe not.
Your point about impact footprint does make sense. The watermelon loses points there, but not the bag of water (or jelly).
Maybe our babies have some special adaptations left over from our arboreal ancestors???? They must often have fallen out of trees....

wwwloujostcom#78674: " P Smith (Poster #8), the article said there were 3700 injuries but only 8 or 9 deaths annually, due to falling out of windows. You wrote "I doubt the survivors of such events are the majority of people involved.", but they are. "

Okay, I misread the numbers. I just hope you're not advocating people drop babies to see how often it works. (I've heard of a bouncing baby boy, but this is ridiculous....) I think it's better we stick with the anectodal evidence on this one.

As for why they survive, I suspect it's the lack of mental development, not just physical as others have mentioned. The brain may not be permanently wired as it becomes in the mid-teens, thus it fixes itself. There have been cases of very young children falling into freezing water and/or suffocating and emerging with no long term brain damage.

In the case shown in the link, half a child's brain was removed at age six, and the remaining half rewired itself to do the job of both halves. The now ten year old girl walks and talks normally, with no learning difficulties.



@ #17: "... the terminal velocity of a baby is greater than a watermelon ..."

We need data! I wonder if we can slip this one past the IRB ... ;-)

By Tomato Addict (not verified) on 30 May 2011 #permalink

Tomato Addict, data would be welcome, but as P Smith suggests, getting it would be a problem. Meanwhile it is safe to think about it theoretically--a watermelon is much less dense than a baby, and has a similar cross-sectional area, so the bit about its terminal velocity is probably right.

I think the baby's advantage over bags of jelly or watermelons is that babies are both flexible and hard to rip. Ligaments and muscles are very strong but slightly stretchy, and hold the body together even under severe stress.

@Birger Johansson # 16

But, but wouldn't that mean they'd have to be naked all the time? *petrify in shock at the thought of naked toddlers*

I can tell you (from PICU nursing experience) that it depends on what they hit when they fall. If they fall onto their heads, they die, or have significant brain injury. The article is somewhat misleading in that it does not break down the fall height survival, nor does it break down into the children (I'd bet it is significant) who suffered either significant or devastating injuries. Nor does it tell you what heights the survivor fell from. Infants/toddlers falling from not too great a height, who land on something soft, or have had their falls broken by something on the way down, and do NOT land on their head, have a greater chance of a short ICU stay for bruising and observation. Their soft bones and chubby baby fat can absorb a lot, their heads cannot.

I have three children who despite their best efforts, survived to adulthood. They all had the propensity to climb very shortly after they learned to walk. It was a lot of nail biting for years, but as soon as possible, they were signed up for gymnastics. The idea being, if they were going to fall anyway, they should be taught to fall correctly.

It would be relatively easy and safe to get the terminal velocity of a baby. Simply use one of those free-fall simulators that project air upward at terminal velocity.

As to why Babies don't end up like the aftermath of a Gallagher concert, this seems to be a job for Mythbusters and some ballistics jell.

If you are using an acrylic base, you could try a gel mdiuem. Golden makes excellent gel mdiuems by the tub. They are white when wet and dry clear with a very plastic consistency. They come in light (puddle like) to heavy bodied (thick and hold brush strokes and peaks) gel. They also come in a matte or gloss sheen. I would try a mdiuem bodied gloss gel and smooth it (depending on how thick you'd like the glass) onto an actual glass surface. Be careful of air bubbles. Let it dry completely until clear. peel off gel (like a fruit roll) and cut it to size the window in your piece. Put flatest side up and adhere to painting with super glue. I say super glue because you don't need much and it would be the least noticable. You can paint over this gel with acrylic or oil if you'd likeIf this is an oil based painting, I would just bite the bullet and paint it to look like glass. Unfortunately you can't put acrylic over oil because the oil never dries completely. If you were to do the process above, I'm afraid that the gel will cloud ..however, that might be a great effect. Hope this helpsKimberly