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How to Survive your Toddler's Broken Leg

So, your crazy kid has gone and broken their leg. Whether they've slid down a slide wrong, or bounced on a trampoline.

Buckle UP parents. For the next six to eight weeks, you are going to need a BUCKET of patience.

Whatever happened, we agree it's a bit shocking arriving at the emergency department for an x-ray, only to confirm yep, it's broken!

Brooks (3) broke his leg (non-displaced tibia fracture) one early Sunday morning at the park. How, you ask? He insisted that he should sit on his dad's lap while they went down a big tubular slide.

This is a big NO-NO. Children should never sit on an adult's lap because broken legs in this situation are extremely common.

The exact tubular slide where Brooks broke his leg.

Brooks' leg got caught on the side of the slide, and gravity kept pushing dad and Brooks downwards, so it was a quick, clean break.

In case you didn't know this already, an ankle/foot/knee is usually broken when the child refuses to bear any weight on it. As soon as they both exited the slide, I sensed something was wrong.

Brooks cried a little bit (but not hysterical as I would have imagined!) and completely refused to stand on his right leg. In hindsight, this is a warning sign, it's broken!

We left the park straight away and as we were putting him in his car seat, we noticed his entire right leg was shaking.

The local hospital was only six minutes away from this park, and as it was early Sunday morning, we decided it was best to go get an x-ray to make sure it wasn't broken. (Lol).

As his parents, this is completely our fault, and God knows we felt terrible about it. You live and you learn, so here is our blog guide on how to survive your toddler's broken leg...


Phase One: Attending Hospital with a Suspected Break

Is it broken? Likely yes, if they refuse to bear weight on it. Go to hospital to be sure! Your child has probably broken their ankle/foot/leg if they refuse to bear any weight on it. Brooks would not stand on his broken leg, he cried when we asked him to try, and we noticed it shook while it was stationary. These are all signs you need to take your child to hospital for an x-ray and a doctor's checkup.

Due to COVID-19, staffing shortages and underfunding, it is now fairly common knowledge hospital wait times can be rather long. Hopefully, you've packed enough nappies, wipes and snacks to get you through these long wait times. We were fortunate to be in and out within two hours on arrival on a Sunday morning. On arrival, Brooks was given children's ibuprofen and paracetamol via syringes which I was asked to administer to him. Poor thing was in so much pain he took both without any fuss.

I recall asking Samuel (dad) "is it broken, though? Maybe it's just strained"! I was in denial, but I knew an x-ray is the only way to know for sure. Brooks was ushered to the x-ray room where the radiographer advised me "yep, mum, that's a break right there below the knee." As the parent, they do ask you to leave your child alone (while you stand behind the radiation screen in the same room) on the x-ray bed as they prop them with wedges and cushions to achieve the best possible capture of the broken bone.


Phase Two: OK, it's broken. What the hell do we do now?

Brooks was taken into the treatment room and the doctor explained it's time to put on a soft-style full leg cast (from toes to upper thigh) to help immobilise his broken leg. However, as he was only two at the time and he was already upset and in pain, they advised us that 'happy gas' is standard practise to help make this process easier for him and staff.

Happy gas is administered through a face mask (covering their nose and mouth) and is a combination of nitrous oxide and oxygen. The child then breathes this in for approx. three minutes before they enter a twilight zone state of awake but not aware. A nurse held the mask securely on Brooks' face while the drug took effect. A frightening position for parents, but necessary to keep him calm and still during casting!


Phase Three: Leaving Hospital with a Full Broken Leg Cast

Honestly, it's a nightmare. The hospital staff print off a sheet of paper with basic care instructions and send you on your way. I have broken several bones before in my life (wrist, elbow and hand) so I knew a little bit about keeping a cast clean and dry.

But, Brooks was two years old! How on earth were we going to do this? With lots of patience, love and perseverance we got through seven weeks of full leg cast wearing.

When Brooks broke his leg, we were concerned because he was due to turn three the following week. Any birthday party/excursion plans were cancelled and we decided it was best to give him a special birthday at home resting.

When your toddler has a full leg cast on, a large sized thick sock is helpful to cover the entire cast! This keeps it relatively clean and stops your floors from being scuffed. We went through approx. 25 pairs of thick large mens socks over Brooks’ cast because there would always be holes in the bottom after 1-2 uses.

In addition to this, we also cut all the legs off his pants (on the broken leg side) to make it easier to get dressed. We went to Target and bought several pairs of large sized tracksuit pants to cut up. Brooks broke his leg in winter, but if it’s summer for your family, wear shorts!


Phase Four: Using the Potty/Toilet with a Full Leg Cast

Brooks is currently still using nappies, we were about to commence potty training right before the broken leg. But if your child is toilet trained and they have a full leg cast on, you will need to assist them to get on, get off and possibly assist them with cleaning themselves. As their parent, you know what level your child is at, and we recommend a lot of patience while you do this.


Phase Five: Showering/bathing with a Full Leg Cast

No doubt, its a challenge. We found the easiest way for our almost three year old was to have him sit on his little plastic steps (that he uses to brush teeth) in the bathtub (our shower is within the bathtub), and have the shower head faced on his back.

The cast must be fully dry, it cannot get any water in there whatsoever. We asked the Children's Hospital if they recommend those waterproof cast sleeves you can buy at chemists, but they didn't endorse them! They recommended a good, old fashioned plastic bag, tea towel and tape is the best way to keep water out.

With Brooks, we wrapped an old tea towel around his leg and stuck some tape on to secure it. Secondly, use a large black garbage bag and seal it around the entire cast with no holes or gapes. Use the sticky tape to make sure it's totally secure. When we placed Brooks in the shower sitting on his little steps, we put another tea towel over the garbage bag as further insurance to keep it dry.

Please monitor your kid in the shower/bath at all times, especially when they have a broken leg because it's so easy for them to get their cast wet. Which means, going back to hospital and getting a whole new cast on! = nightmare.


Phase Six: Walking and Living with a Full Leg Cast

Doctors ask you to try and keep your toddler from walking on your leg, but we all know that's fairly impossible. Brooks walked with a limp to try and keep the full leg cast from chafing on his other leg. We just added some talc-free baby powder to the upper area to help avoid this. No running, swimming, scootering, bike riding, trampolining and general other monkey business is allowed. Good luck lol.

We found Brooks was a bit depressed at the start of his broken leg journey, he would sit on the couch or bed all day with his iPad (the screen time was well above acceptable, but we had to make an exception).

We tried giving him new toys, new games, making him laugh but nothing really worked. He certainly felt better once he got his strong longterm cast on and he could walk! It gave him a new lease on life, that's for sure.


Phase Seven: Cast is off! Rejoice!

It’s an amazing and relieving feeling when the cast is due to come off, for child and parent! In hospital, to remove a leg cast they will use a small circular hand saw which is a bit noisy, so warn your child beforehand. In addition to this, hospital staff will also use a big pair of scissors to cut the cast open as well.

During and after the cast was being removed, I handed Brooks his favourite stuffed toy and I gave him a little bit of candy I was hiding in my handbag. I found this was a good distraction and cheered him up a bit, as the noise (in addition to being in hospital) was a bit overwhelming.

The doctor reviewed his x-ray (which he had after the cast was removed) and advised he is good to go, but no running, sports, scooters or bikes for four weeks. We were recommended to start swim classes up again as this is a good natural physio. The doctor also advised us physiotherapy is not required for his break nor his age, as he is so young the bone will heal naturally.

Brooks does have a bit of a limp, and our doctor said this is normal and can last for a few weeks once the cast comes off. If he is still limping or the leg doesn’t look right within two to three months afterwards, we were told to come back for a checkup. I've been doing gentle stretches with his leg (when he lets me!) and putting a daily body moisturiser on it, because the leg skin is so dry and peeling a bit.

So, parents, if you find yourself in the unfortunate position of your child breaking their leg, we hope this brief blog post provides some help. Remember, it’s only six to eight weeks, and you CAN get through this! With lots of love and patience, you and your child will soon forget all about this broken bone, and get back to enjoying life!


We hope you enjoyed our blog post on how to survive your toddler's broken leg! ♡ Any questions or comments? We'd love to hear from you! Tag us at @thejohannessenfamily or contact us!

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Noor Ul Ain
Noor Ul Ain
Nov 13, 2023

My daughter broke her tibia and fibula just 1 week before her 3rd birthday, just like your son. Two spiral factures in tibia and one greenstick in fibula. She is currently at her 5th week. Doctor advised 4 more weeks. We as her parents are living the worst days of our lives. Seeing our only child depressed and lying on sofa all day. Your blog gave me courage and now i know i can get through this just like u did.

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