Tips for dealing with my 5 year old's broken arm
May 25, 2016 5:32 PM   Subscribe

My 5 year old broke his arm yesterday. We are getting excellent health care. I'm looking for advice on how to cope with the next 4-6 weeks he's in a cast.

Our son is pretty active and a bright kid. He knows he'll have to take it easy, but he can be impulsive too. At home, we've loosened restrictions on screen time, and are playing more board and card games. We've gotten some new ones to spark interest. I gave him a sort of sponge bath today, which was ok, but I'm not sure how we'll wash his hair. We've gone through his clothes to find shorts he can get on and off easily, and separated t-shirts with sleeves big enough to go over the cast. (It goes just past his elbow.) He has a doctor's appointment tomorrow and then he'll be heading to kindergarten. His teacher is experienced, so I imagine she's seen this before.
posted by thenormshow to Health & Fitness (21 answers total)
when i had surgery and couldn't get my incisions wet, oddly, glad press and seal worked fantastically. it's not cheap, but you used to be able to get pretty good-sized rolls at costco for not bad of a price. wrap it around his cast, and have him keep it out of the spray as best he can.
posted by koroshiya at 5:36 PM on May 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

Washing hair - have him lie down at the kitchen counter and use the sink to wash his hair.

You will be surprised how quickly he adapts with everything else.
posted by Sassyfras at 5:42 PM on May 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Does he have a permanent cast or is he in a temp cast and the new one will be shorter?

My daughter broke an arm at about the same age and we just rolled with it. Once the pain goes away (quickly) there just isn't much they cannot do! Casts are beautifully self-limiting.

We used a garbage bag and tape for bathing the first go-round, but always waited until they have the permanent cast. My same daughter later broke her other arm, however, I fought to have a waterproof inner liner for that cast instead of the cotton batting and nylon sleeve. It was almost like bubble wrap where the bubbles had a foam piece in each bubble and really was the best thing we could have done at that time.

Bathing was a breeze and she was able to participate in swim team as well.

Tank tops should not be overlooked if it is warm enough where you are!
posted by Mysterious Trousers at 5:46 PM on May 25, 2016

We got a waterproof cast cover when our 5yo broke her arm. Worked great for swimming and showers.
posted by gnutron at 5:47 PM on May 25, 2016 [5 favorites]

You can also consider cutting his hair real short so it is easier to wash.

When my youngest was casted for a different issue at age three or four, he destroyed the cast after about three weeks. They replaced the cast with something less fragile, that stood up better to the antics of an active boy. It was just a different kind of casting material.

When my right arm was broken in a cast at age 11, I did typing exercises with left hand only to keep me occupied. To this day, my left hand remains my dominant typing hand. I also learned to brush teeth left handed and a bunch of other stuff.

It was kind of cool. So, maybe find neat new one handed tricks to teach him.
posted by Michele in California at 5:48 PM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding that it will probably go better than you expect. My 3-year-old complained way less about her cast than I probably would have! I did set up a swing for her; she'd been wanting one for a while and it was a good new thing to keep her occupied.
posted by metasarah at 5:55 PM on May 25, 2016

When I had a broken arm at a slightly older age, we'd sort of comb talcum powder through my hair every other day (or dry shampoo) and I'd go out to the barber once a week and get a thorough wash. Kitchen sink also works well. You can also pretty much get a cast cover or even uct tape and a trash bad would still give him enough mobility to wash the rest of himself.
posted by jessamyn at 6:00 PM on May 25, 2016

Much more screen time, hand held shower for showering, and we did a fair bit of travel because buses/trains generally have their own fun in windows and things like that.
posted by geek anachronism at 6:06 PM on May 25, 2016

I broke my arm at the same age. My mother put a plastic bag over it secured with a rubber band and I had a bath (not a shower) as normal. She washed my hair in the bath by pouring water from a jug.

The cast will get very itchy underneath, a long knitting needle to poke down it and scratch with will help relieve this.

It'll also get scuzzy and dirty underneath, be prepared for some grossness when it comes off (mine was full of crumbs, dead skin, dust and 2 pieces of lego).

You don't mention whether your boy has any siblings, but be aware that bopping someone with a cast is a formidable weapon in a fight.
posted by girlgenius at 6:24 PM on May 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

Oh yes, this was us. My little one was 6 when he broke his arm. Nthing get the really, really good waterproof cast cover. With that on you should be able to manage getting his hair washed while he's sitting or standing in the tub. My guy did adapt fairly quickly to slowing down. At school he was allowed to bring a book out on the playground at lunch and recess. That made it feasible for him to sit down rather than running around like a maniac. When it was all done (about 10 weeks for us; it was a bad break up near his elbow) he and Mr. BlahLaLa went to the local Korean baths and I gave my husband instructions to give him the body scrub of a lifetime. That restored him to his usual shine. Good luck!
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:26 PM on May 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've had a 1.5 year old with a broken arm, a 5 year old with a broken arm and a 6 year old with a broken ankle. And I only have two kids.

The 5 yo broke his arm at the beginning of summer. Surprisingly it wasn't that big of a deal. He still played soccer, but no bike riding and I held his arm up in a triple wrapped plastic bag every time we went to the beach. The cast really immobilizes things so there's no need to bubble wrap the child. If the doc is fine with it (and ours was) them do more or less what they would normally. Baths I just put a bag around his arm and kept it to the side. Do not sleep next to a kid with a cast on their arm if they are a restless sleeper. My wife earned herself a black eye one night.

When my daughter broke her ankle at 7 I paid for a waterproof cast. Highly, highly recommended if you have to replace his halfway through. That thing was awesome, she could jump in the pool with no problem. It made showers and baths a non issue, I didn't need to be involved at all.
posted by Cuke at 7:19 PM on May 25, 2016

This waterproof medical tape (available at lots of places, that was just the first link I found) is fantastic - makes a tight seal between a plastic bag and your skin. Used it for keeping my cast dry in the shower when I broke my arm as an adult.
posted by une_heure_pleine at 8:14 PM on May 25, 2016

I was exactly this kid, about a year later. Casts are pretty damn durable, and your doctors know that Kids Will Be Kids.

Washing hair is easy--sink.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:15 PM on May 25, 2016

I had a 14 month old with a broken arm. And she broke her leg in third grade and her ankle at 15. Just last fall.... Went to see Taylor Swift before we realized it was broken. Press and Seal is your best friend. Buy a lot and use it generously. We did the waterproof cast thing.... Had a reaction that turned her leg skin into hamburger meat. But she does have very sensitive skin. Ymmv. Just press and seal everything and carry on.
posted by pearlybob at 9:40 PM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

My son broke his arm at age 5. It was the sort of break that required his elbow be bent and plastered in place at a weird angle away from his side, so it was quite an awkward cast to deal with. He did great, and we even went through with a summer vacation out West involving lots of pools. We got a rubber plastic cast cover thing that looked like a thickish long balloon that covered the cast and was snug at the neck (we called it his condom)- his cast was plaster and would have been a disgusting mess if the stockinette lining got wet. It worked well, and we bathed him as usual in a tub with his arm hanging over the side. Young kids heal really, really fast, like in 6 weeks. He'll be good as new in no time.

The only real issue was weirdly that it involved his right arm, he is right-handed, and it prevented him from writing (printing really) as well as he was able on a pre-test for kindergarten! He was identified as a non-writer by the incredibly literal and picky tester. I was incredulous! All's well that ends well, though. He's a gainfully employed engineer these days, the fortunate recipient of a merit scholarship to his desired college. Take that, preschool testers!
posted by citygirl at 10:05 PM on May 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Chiming in with yet another anecdote suggesting that this is unlikely to be too much of a big deal. One of our sons broke an arm when he was six falling of some monkey bars (I was nearby and heard the sickening snapping sound) — it needed pinning which required surgery, so not a minor fracture. He took the whole thing in his stride.

The rate of healing was amazing. The cast slowed him down a little, but not much and did not bother him (modern casts are really light). He was running around and being a kid after a little while, and though there were some things that were off limits with the cast it didn’t interfere with much. When the cast came off and he was cleared as fully healed (I can’t remember if that was right at six weeks or if it was another couple of weeks after that), he was right back on the monkey bars; it made me slightly queasy the first time, but I reckoned that it was better not to project my own fears.

The practical part, not getting the cast wet etc., took a little adjustment, but wasn’t too hard — plastic bags etc. But none of it was very hard on him or us once we had worked out a few practical details.

Good luck!
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 12:16 AM on May 26, 2016

(Credentials: two year old with broken collarbone)

It sounds like you've got the biggies down. I found that pain was a surprisingly effective deterrent to impulsivity--something would hurt long before he put himself in danger, and my active impulsive kid just eased up on everything until well past the point where everything was healed. Keep a bit of an eye on him after the cast comes off to make sure he stays active; my kid kept his arm carefully at his side until well after the bone was healed.
posted by tchemgrrl at 3:33 AM on May 26, 2016

Thanks for all the advice! Saw the doctor for follow up today and all is well. Cast to be replaced next week and we will opt for the fibreglass one.

He told the Dr. that he can feel the bones jiggle together when he sneezes. The Doctor says that's normal at this stage.

Quinbus: This was the monkey bars, too! This was at school, so I didn't get to hear the snap, though I did watch them set the bone once he was sedated. Everyone at the hospital was like, "Monkey bars? Those things are putting my kids through college!" It seems that this is super common. He's back at school today.
posted by thenormshow at 9:11 AM on May 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

"Monkey bars? Those things are putting my kids through college!"

Our orthopedic surgeon made a comment along those lines too. The kid in question is now in college, so the specific details of the conversation have faded, but the surgeon's explanation for why 5/6/7 year olds were so prone to these kinds of injuries related to the fact that the bones were still quite thin and fragile compared to how they would be in a couple of years and the supporting musculature was also relatively light, whereas they were already far more physically adventurous than a younger kid — the whole hanging by one arm from the money bars thing that got them into trouble in the first place that a four-year-old usually wouldn’t try.

Older children can damage themselves quite successfully though: a different son fell, or was pushed (accounts vary :-) out of a tree house when he was about 10 resulting in a torus greenstick fracture instead of the bone completely snapping near the elbow as it did for the younger kid — a much less extreme result as there was no surgery, and I think there was some discussion as to whether a cast was even strictly necessary (I know he did end up having one).

Of course, as they get older sports injuries also become one of the dominant modes of damage, so you have that excitement to look forward to.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 10:31 AM on May 26, 2016

Waterproof cast cover. I had a birthday pool party while my arm was in a cast as a kid, and spent the entire day cannonballing into the pool, swimming along the bottom of the pool, splashing my friends, and had zero leaks or problems. The cover will make anything water-related a non-issue.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 11:26 AM on May 26, 2016

No tips but I thought your son might be able to relate to the photo of this young fellow, in a cast since Monday.
posted by mulcahy at 7:39 PM on May 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

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