Many adults fondly remembering digging in the dirt or sand -- perhaps even trying to tunnel to China. Because these memories are happy reminders of childhood, many parents want their children to have similar experiences. While digging in the dirt can be a safe and enjoyable activity for children, digging tunnels and then crawling through them can be life-threatening. You should encourage your child to dig holes and play in the dirt, but prohibit him from digging and crawling through tunnels.
Why It's Dangerous
Because children aren't structural engineers, their tunnels aren't sound enough to be crawling through them. If your child builds a tunnel and then tries to crawl through it, the tunnel could collapse on him. This can be particularly dangerous if your child is playing in the dirt, sand or snow by himself and the tunnel collapses without you or anyone else being aware that it's happened. Tunnels might also fill with water, especially if your child is building a sand tunnel near the ocean.
What Can Happen
If your child is crawling through a tunnel and it collapses, he might be unable to free himself, which means that he probably won't have enough air to breathe. In an interview with ABC News, San Diego Fire Chief Chris Brewster warns that building tunnels often leads to a cave-in. Even if someone witnesses the collapse, it can take several minutes to call for emergency help and free a child from the dirt or sand. Often, it's too late and the child suffocates. Another danger is that a sand tunnel on the beach could fill with water as the waves wash up or when the tide comes in. If a child is inside the tunnel when that happens, the water can cause it to cave in or it can lead to drowning.
Digging Snow Tunnels
Dirt and sand aren't the only tunnels that can cause collapse. Don't let your child dig or crawl through snow tunnels either. No matter how tightly the snow is packed, collapse is likely. As your child crawls through a snow tunnel, she can knock loose the snow holding up the tunnel. Similar to sand and dirt tunnels, your child won't be able to easily free herself from the snow, and if she's playing alone it can be particularly dangerous. If she's trapped for too long, even if she is able to breathe, she's also at the mercy of the cold temperatures.
The best way to prevent your child from being trapped in a caved in tunnel is to prohibit him from digging and crawling through tunnels made with dirt, sand or snow. Tell him about the dangers and make a rule that he isn't allowed to dig or crawl through tunnels. Because many children tend to ignore their parents when they really want to do something, supervise your child. If he's digging at the beach, keep a close eye on him to ensure he doesn't try to crawl through any tunnel he's created. The same goes if your child is digging in the backyard or playing in the snow. Provide constant supervision to ensure your child is safe.
- CBS News: Beach Sand Digging Dangers
- ABC News: Collapsed Sand Tunnel Causes Two Deaths
- Excavation Safety News: Danger in the Sand: Life-Saving Lessons at the Beach for Your Job-Site Trenches
- Safer Beaches: Planning, Design, and Operation; Tom Griffiths
- Traditional Mountaineering: Why Are Snow Caves Dangerous?
- Seiya Kawamoto/Lifesize/Getty Images