I hate the bouncy houses. I mean, I really hate them; I get a sick, nervous stomach when the boys are inside them. And it’s created a parenting perplexity for me. See the photo? I bet my HR is about 160 and my BP 150/90 (translation: high). I’m not kidding, I have a visceral and then flight-type response when the boys jump…it’s one of those instinctive parenting responses I am dutifully trying to govern and rule. See, I don’t want to hate bouncy houses. I want to be one of those moms who calms down, chats at the sideline, and chills out while my children enjoy the thrill of bounding around a primary-colored-over-sized balloon. Even this pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Stanford says she encourages families to have fun bouncing. And a pediatric ER doc I spoke to recently said she gleefully took her son to “the inflatables,” too. There was a calm in her voice when she told me. And then envy coming out of mine; I want to simply let my kids enjoy these houses without feeling tortured. But when F and O are bounding around in one of those houses, big kids flying, and limbs and heads rising about the horizon, I worry. And I can’t seem to rid myself of the response. When the birthday party invitation at the bouncy house comes with a waiver of fiscal responsibility for injury or death, you know something is up…
The problem behind the parenting perplexity, ultimately, is that the boys unquestionably love those things. But I’ve taken care of children injured on trampolines and bouncy houses. And I remember a mentor of mine in residency swearing off trampolines; he stated they were an absolute “NO.” The husband sees trampoline injuries and fractures all the time. On top of it, when my 2 and 4 year old boys jump in, they don’t don the judgment to steer clear of the big kids or pace/gauge their jumping. Or maybe they do and I’m selling them short. It’s not that I want them living in a bubble. “Let kids be kids; lay off, Mom.” Right? I unfortunately stand my emotional ground: I don’t like them. Call me a helicopter parent…but know I have let them in; this past weekend was our 3rd bouncy house.
And although the data on bouncy house injuries may not back up my worry, the data on trampolines does.
Trampoline (and Bouncy House?) Injuries in Children:
- First off, remember, I can’t find isolated data and vetted information on bouncy houses. If you can, please paste it in the comments. When I didn’t find it in medical spaces, I googled about bouncy houses. That just made me more nervous–not entirely helpful. Therefore, I can’t ultimately substantiate my fears (with large data sets) with information specific to the inflatables. However, I am concerned about bouncy houses in the same corner of my brain that I am concerned about trampolines.
- There are over 80,000 injuries in children yearly from trampoline and bouncy houses. The AAP recommends against using trampolines at home or in parks or schools. Because the majority of injuries happen on home trampolines and up to 50% happen with an adult present, the AAP recommends only using trampolines in gymnastic and diving programs with an expert trained in trampoline safety. This may not be an entirely workable solution for many children. I can count 3 trampolines in a 2 block radius of my house!
- Most injuries sustained are fractures, concussions, and head/neck injuries from children flying off trampolines and landing awkwardly off of the trampoline. However, other injuries occur from collisions with other children or adults and/or when children attempt stunts.
- Most injuries on trampolines occur in children age 5 to 14, with an median age of 10. Not a surprise, of course, as tramps/bouncy houses are most alluring to these school-aged children.
Ideas To Maximize Safety (& Lower Your BP) With Kids In A Bouncy House:
- Make rules ahead of time. Be clear with your children that when they break the rules, they lose rights to bouncing.
- Age? I recommend children under age 6 never use trampolines. I don’t know what age to tell you about bouncy houses. In my ideal world, I’d say I think preschoolers shouldn’t be in them but the realities are many preschool parties include these houses. And they tend to be a hit! However, young children may not have the coordination/skill or judgment to protect themselves. They need supervision and feedback about their choices while in the houses. Be there and let them know how you experience their choices. Take breaks if kids are getting wild.
- Try to have children either bounce alone or with children of similar age and size.This may seem challenging in a public or large party bouncy house! But do your best to avoid having adults or large children bouncing with smaller ones. The weight differential can throw off the bounces and falls/collisions can be more worrisome.
- Don’t bounce with your children (see point above). If you get into the bouncy house, observe from the sidelines. And remember, your standing at the side may not prevent injury (50% occur with parental supervision) but may be a great help to keep children following the rules and understanding the “why” behind them.
- Use caution by doors and openings in bouncy houses where children could fall or be injured with the flow of traffic coming and going.
What’s your take? Do you freak out at the bouncy house or are you one of those parents can enjoy it? Have you rented a bouncy house for a party at your home? Were you worried about safety? Or liability? What have you done to maximize safety at the bouncy house? Teach me…
We haven’t come across a bouncy house yet (Elizabeth is only two) so it hasn’t been an issue yet. But as a child, I got the only black eye of my life on a bouncy house. (To be fair, I was climbing up the wall and jumping off and that was against the rules.)
I have boys, too, and never really had concerns about possible injuries from the bouncy house. My older son (now 22) tended to be more reserved and seemed to instinctively steer clear of the most aggressive bouncers. My younger son, in constrast, was the aggressive bouncer that other moms were probably telling their kids to steer clear of. He is now 12 and has “graduated” to trampolines. It is beyond me why parents would put one of these in their yards and allow other kids to play on it. I always share trampoline horror stories with my son in the hope that he’ll err on the side of caution. But he’s at that age where the most daring stunt wins. Thankfully he is not a fan of pain and discomfort; so I keep that in mind hoping that when push comes to shove (so to speak), he decides that winning isn’t really winning if you’re hurt or getting stitches.
Nicole H. says
I don’t like either of those things bouncy houses and trampolines…I let my children ride horses more comfortably. I’m definetly a helicopter parent and I’m ok with that. If we aren’t going to protect our children and teach them about safety. Who is? We are their best advocates.
LOL!!! Leaving for the Pump It Up In Lynnwood in ten minutes. We go about once every two weeks. I love it! It gives me a chance to be “a kid” again. I mean, yes, there have been times when it’s busier than others or that I have seen Will get pushed and knocked over. And he even got a bloody lip once when he fell and smacked his face on a step climbing the slide. But after a quick wipe, he was back at play.
And, please don’t hate me, but I DO go on the inftatables with him! We jump, we bounce, we throw balls, we roll, we giggle, we shoot down the slides with incredible glee. Yeah, I know. I am a nerd, but I am having a great time and my favorite time is when we are moving our way through one of the mazes and we get to a quiet corner and he says, “Mommy, you sit here with me?” And amidst all of the chaos, we have a quiet moment together. And I am very careful NOT to bounce close to other kids. The place we go is usually not crowded and often, we are the only two in the inflatable. If more kids enter, I will sit to the side and watch so I can look out for potential dangers.
As you know, I am a devout Seattle Mama Doc fan and I truly do respect your opinion. Will is STILL rear-facing (at 2.5) and we guzzle organic milk here in our household, just to name a couple of my favorite tips from you. And I won’t say your post didn’t give me pause today as I was getting the kids ready. But. . . there are some risks that I guess I am willing to take, so long as we do it responsibly. I hope we can still be “friends!” 🙂
Bouncy houses make me really nervous too. I’ve never liked them but I let my daughter go into them with the right circumstances. For example, If there are kids much bigger than her in there being super rowdy I don’t want her to go in. I make the call depending on the situation. But I do that with most things.
A lot of places have horrible hold-blameless contracts, not because it is that dangerous you should never do it, but because they want to cover everything in the worst case scenario in case they get sued. They have the same scary forms where my daughter rides horses. Sure, if she didn’t wear a helmet and someone lifted her onto the back of my retired professional race horse it would be extremely dangerous, but if she wears her helmet and has an experienced instructor present and is riding a small, quiet, very safe pony she is actually more safe than say riding in the car with me. But we still have to sign that awful release form.
Bouncy houses can be a lot of fun just like so many things and in my opinion the big issue is parents being negligent of watching their children, teaching them safety rules and then enforcing the safety rules. There is of course the chance of an accident like with anything, but much less of a chance when people us good common sense.
I hate them too! Other parents always look at me like I’m crazy when I’m pulling my kids out, or not letting them in, when they’re crowded. I remember a few years ago in Tacoma maybe when some adult landed on a toddler and killed him. I know statistically it’s rare, but I’ll take my chances on the side of safety with this one. I value their little heads too much.
I like the velcro house- the kid gets put in a velcro suit and they get to jump on the velco wall. The cool thing is the kid “sticks” to the wall, lessening the risk of injury (or play for that matter).
I’m with Katie. So fun to go to Pump it Up on a rainy day. Of course your concern is valid but the only way to overcome the loathing is to desensitize yourself by going to spend more time bouncing. The gym we frequent with friends has a separate area for kids under 2-3 years old. If you can’t jump well on land, you won’t be able to jump well on a balloon. They also limit number of children in a structure at a time so there is enough room. The gym by us open has play times structured by age. Preschool play times are during school hours. Haven’t gone after school but I wouldnt put my kid in the mix with grade school kids. The trouble with parties is that the mix of kids is out of your control and it’s more uncomfortable to discipline the kids because it’s not your party and those kids are someone’s guests. If the ages/sizes and behavior of the kids are compatible, I do try to stay on the sidelines with my 4yo. Being in a ratpack is her social stage and my hovering totally crimps her style.
Bounce house does absolve me of all guilt about not letting my kids near a trampoline! My country moms put a hose underneath and dish soap on top. That made me shudder just to type!
My absolute worst mom nightmare is WildWaves. Too many people, a petrie dish of water, too many entrances and exits. No go!!!!
We’re past the bounce house phase, thank goodness. And my kids know that if they go on a trampoline, they will never EVER go to that friend’s house again. I’ve drilled that into them and followed it up with hard consequences at least once.
As for the fact that people have them at all, I have heard that you can’t get homeowner’s insurance if you tell them you have one. Not sure of the validity of that statement.
E. Ai B. says
There are a few places around here that have a building full of bouncy houses, and you pay a flat fee for “open jump”. Honestly…those are enclosed, and we haven’t had any collisions with other kids (mine are ages two and four) and the older children do watch out for them. My kids love to jump/climb, and something soft and totally enclosed is just about as safe as we can get for that kind of activity. We just have to watch the entering/exiting thing.
But NO for trampolines. Our pedi. even handed out a sheet of info as to why these are inappropriate toys. I wonder if the ones with the caged nettings are any safer?
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
E. Ai B.
Thanks. No data that I know of that the nets provide all that much protection. More a false sense of security and more risky maneuvers…
Dave Ekrem says
We talked relatives out of getting our kids an indoor trampoline for Christmas last year–the AAP recommendation was a big help with that. I’m bummed to hear you have similar feelings about bouncy houses, though–I’d always thought the enclosed “rubber room” effect would be fairly safe as long as we didn’t let the big kids in with the little kids. The trouble, of course, is bouncy houses pop up in the most innocuous places–church fairs, etc. and it’s tough to steer kids away. Face painting, anyone?
Sara T says
We see bouncy houses during the toddler gyms at the community centers. They are quite small and only have a small number of kids at a time so I don’t worry. I guess I save my anxiety for other things like stairs and strange dogs.
Your post reminded me of a entry on Failblog a few years back https://failblog.org/2009/12/30/safety-fail-11/ That site always manages to make me feel like a better parent (or that I could be doing worse).
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
Oh, wow! Sara T, that link is nuts. Yes, placement of a trampoline (away from dangerous objects) is exceptionally important. The image does a far better job than any words I can type….Thanks for the link and the sentiment of boosting confidence 🙂
We had a first-hand experience with an injury (due to a major safety fail by the company) at one of the indoor bouncy house places (multiple bouncy houses from wall-to-wall).
Our 2.5 year old son was the ONLY child in one of the bouncy houses, and we thought he was safe jumping around (no kids to bump into, no adults, etc).
Suddenly we heard wailing and came out with a giant cut on his forehead/hairline – he was gushing blood, the gash was both deep and wide open and needed seven stitches to close the wound.
Apparently, as he was jumping, he bounced into one of the mesh “safety walls” of the bouncy houses, but the company had placed the bouncy house too close to a protruding wall.
As son bounced into the “safe” mesh, the mesh extended out, and his forehead hit the corner of the protruding wall – resulting in the spilt in his head, and then the necessary seven stitches (plus, the wound then became infected, so he was on oral antibiotics).
Even though he was in pain and dripping blood, as we were driving to the emergency room, he kept saying “Once we see the doctor and get fixed, we can go back and jump more, right?”
SO, like most kids, he loves to jump (as does his sister), and they do gymnastics and use the trampolines at the gymnastics facility. We have gone to a bouncy-house facility twice, and each time I feel slightly ill, remembering what happened there, and now I at least check the placement of the bouncy houses alongside the walls.
We do have a mini-trampoline in our basement (the ones that are about 2″ off the ground, and about 24″ across?). Although we supervise the kids jumping on it (one at a time), though realize that even being present will not prevent accidents / injuries from happening…though I appreciate that your post has made me think twice about whether or not we really should have our mini-trampoline or not…
I’m with you, I freak out a little when bouncy houses are concerned. My son who is now six, has a blast in them (of course) and I can relax more. However, my 3 yo daughter was literally trampled on by some big kids at a bouncy house b-day party.
Our next one? I left her at home and took my 6 yo.
I agree with your safety rec’s!! No trampolines at home and always exercise caution in bouncy houses…grouping by ages and supervising. In this case, I think it’s quite alright to “helicopter” so to speak.
Dr. Wendy. if the rules work for you, then I would send the children with the nanny and take a deep breathe or just call it quits. I almost had a concussion after showing off ice skating with the girls, and realized they were always fine. Just say yes or no.but not both.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
Thanks, Mary. Point well said: “Just say yes or no. But not both.” I get it. Really, I do. 🙂
Ray Brown says
Broken bones are one thing but what about being launched 2 blocks over in a gust of wind?
My kid LOVES the “jump castles.” He’s 2. I never thought about it being that unsafe, since it is basically a giant pillow of air. I have watched closely and thought it best he only jump with children of similar ages and abilities, and usually it does, so that has seemed to go well. I think, after reading this, I will be more vigilant about that, and I think indoor jump houses are safest (see the outdoor vid clips on TODAYMoms this morning), but all in all, at his current level, I think this is a relatively safe activity for him in the somehwat small pool of the ones he really enjoys 🙂
I have not had to worry about my children in a bounce house or on a trampoline yet, but it does worry me. I am terrified of bounce houses. When I was little I would get bounced around and have no control over where i went or how high i bounced bc the other kids were bigger or there were too many ppl in there with me. It was scary and I got stepped on more than a few times. Trampolines don’t worry me so much. I have had my share of injuries on trampolines, I have fallen off one onto my back, hit my back on the bar and had the air knocked out of me, and my cousin broke her foot getting it stuck in the springs, but I feel like these are a little more avoidable, especially if a parent had been around. If there had been less kids on the trampoline any of the times we were injured, it probably would never have happened. Also, never add water to a trampoline, its a bad idea, and your kids will slip and it is far more frightening not being able to breath than being a little smaller than the other kids in the bounce house.
Waaaay back when, bouncy houses were reserved for a very narrow range of small children and moms could toss their little guys in without much trepidation (except for the boogers and scabs.) I would not do it now.
As for trampolines: you get what you pay for. The trampolines from any of the big chain stores are relatively inexpensive for a reason – the mats are thin and the spings are small, which translates to very little control while bouncing. Add to that, more than one person on the tramp at a time and you’re just begging for an ER visit. As a former (very expensive) trampoline owner, I believe trampolines require the same time and supervision commitments as a pool, and they are well worth it.
jumping castle sydney says
Some say bouncy castles are made to play for adults.. adults can play responsibly.. but of course they were made for kids.. Keep an eye on your kids when playing and small children of course must not play with bigger ones to avoid accidents..
I let my 2.5 yr old bounce in a bouncy house and while she was in there the power generator went off for a few seconds. The whole thing sank down in 2 seconds, I watched it and was paralyzed, it happened so fast. Luckily the attendant dove in and got my daughter out. She was more scared about the teenage attendant grabbing her than to even realize that the house was falling down on her.
I realized that the tarp like material would be so heavy that it could entangle and suffocate a child within seconds. As a parent you probably would not be able to get in. I thought about carrying a Swiss army knife to cut through the mesh, not that I ever want her to go on One again. Horrible scary experience. And those things are everywhere and she wants to go on so badly.
I know when I was renting bounce houses for my kids (2 boys…ROWDY!) I was very nervous for their safety. They were airborn, out of control, there were a lot of kids I didn’t know that well, some wilder than mine (if that is possible) and they were hopped up on sugar?
Looking back I can honestly say that my kids got hurt more on the school/park playgrounds and in my own yard (one took a header off his dad’s car…he climbed up on it when we turned our backs…6 stitches later and a harry potter type scar…) than in a bounce house. I’m a mom and an office manager at a bounce house company. Yes, this is how I make a living, but it is one of the safer ways to play if you follow common sense.
I tell parents these things on the phone all the time but here goes:
-The key is letting kids know what you will and won’t put up with and actually supervising them in the bounce house. Don’t be afraid to do time-outs/skip a turn for kids who are not listening.
-Adhere to the guidelines for your bouncer, if it says maximum 6 kids at a time, only do 6 kids at a time. If you have 7 kids, don’t cram the extra one in; break them up into 2 groups of 3 and let the birthday person bounce with whichever group he/she wants.
-Break the kids up into groups based on their size, not age.
-Do Not Bounce With Your Kids! I know it’s tempting but you’re bigger and you can launch them much higher than they want to go. And, believe it or not, we’re not all in very good shape…we can lose control in a bouncer just as easily as a toddler and bounce right into the kids. Someone will get hurt in that scenario and it probably won’t be you.
-Do not leave the bouncer unsupervised, even for a second. Kids will always find a way to do something dangerous when you are not looking.
-When you have more than one group, use a timer (kitchen kind, your phone, watch, whatever is handy). It looks fair to the kids and will help you keep track of time.
Basically, follow the rules provided with the bouncer. They are usually printed right on it, and if not ask your operator for a copy of the rules.
Always hire an operator who is fully insured and inspected by the state. Cheaper is not always better, it may mean that your operator is skimping in areas of safety. If they are not willing to show you a valid insurance certificate they don’t have insurance. If they don’t have insurance, they are most likely not inspected by the state.
All bouncers should be anchored to the ground. On grass they should be using stakes, and on hard surfaces (patios/driveways/gym floors) they should anchor with sandbags (operators may also tie off to a permanent part of the structure). An operator that does not anchor a bounce house (even inside) is not a safe operator.
If you have questions, ask your operator. They should be able to answer anything you throw at them. You do this once or twice a year, but they do it every day.
Bounce house says
Well Wendy Sue Swanson i really love bounce houses, because its part of my life, also i am owner of bounce house company, so also i can understand your thoughts but in real we must need to care for other.
Thanks for sharing
Lisa Schmidt says
Bouncy houses and inflatables are extremely dangerous. The Consumer Protection Agency tracks ER visits, the year my son suffered a brain injury falling from one, we learned that there is very little regulation. To the woman who jumps with her son, that is one of the top causes of injury. Unequal sizes don’t mix, it’s a physics thing (and against manufacturers requirements for safe use). No protection on floors is another worry, and should be to any parent when a kid can jump, fall or be pushed from an inflatable. Finally, I cannot speak for other states, but here in MN we now have an inflatable law. It states a reminder that parents cannot waive a child’s right to sue under the law if these inflatable places are run negligently (against industry ASTM standards and manufacturers instructions). Be careful!
There is NOTHING worse than the modern, neurotic American mom. Afraid to let their children do ANYTHING and chasing them around all damn day with a bottle of antibacterial hand lotion. You’re depriving your kids the ability to learn. To figure things out. It’s because of you we have a nation of sensitive pansy children that can’t do anything for themselves and wear make up and skinny jeans as teens. Get a grip woman.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE says
Of course I disagree with you but I’m uninterested in insulting you. Your choices are likely different than my own. I laid down the evidence (rising injuries) while also sharing my discomfort with bouncy houses — and the complex emotion of not enjoying the bouncy house despite the fun –and how I hand-off the job. The boys still jump in them, I just rarely accompany them when they do.
Minimizing risks and maximizing independence aren’t opposing forces in my opinion, as you suggest.
Wow, name calling! Really?
I rarely let my 2 boys in a bouncy house as children get crazy and the probability of injury is high. If all the kids are the same size and obey basic rules thats one thing, but most of the time i see big 12 yr olds jumping with toddlers at a bday party or church activity. I am not comfortable with just letting whatever is going to happen, happen if danger is starring me in the face. Common sense , right?
I have fears about trampolines but only because I have been in and seen a few accidents occur…. In fairness my accident happened because my friends and I threw laundry powder and dish soap all over the trampoline then turned a hose on it got it all soapy and we jumped up and down like crazy morons doing all kinds of tricks (we were 14yr old girls) … It’s only obvious something stupid should happen…. However I know how much fun trampolines were when I was growing up I plan on having one in my yard for my kids… I just plan on putting those giant nets around them (something that my friends didn’t have on their own when I was growing up)
sam d says
I’m sorry you feel this way about bouncy houses. But you need to stop worrying so much about them. I’ve had expirience with these things for years and the worst injury I have seen is a bruise. Just trying to reassure you.
Stephanie Raffaele says
Thank you for your tips but adults are at more risk on trampolines than children because children’s bones are still developing so say that a child breaks his or her arm it will mold in the exact proper place it was meant to be.
Just Don't Bounce says
Not to mention someone should always be on site monitoring the bounce house if it was rented out for a party or fundraiser etc. The company that has the bounce house should have specific rules in place to avoid any possible injuries whether it be children 3 years old or adults that think it’s okay to get in there too. My cousin broke her collar bone on a bounce house because no one was watch, the bounce house was not properly secured, and kids were going wild with no supervision whatsoever. This could have ended even worse, but it’s better to stay safe than to assume your kids will be fine.