Our homes are safe places, providing our families shelter from the elements and refuge from the outside world. Parents with young children must take special precautions to make sure the home is safe for their little ones. A typical home can present any number of dangers for young children, so it is important that homes be “kid-proofed” to keep them safe.
Children are naturally curious. If it is something they have not been exposed to before, chances are, they will want to explore and learn about it – that could mean picking something up, trying to move something, touching something or putting something in their mouths. Depending on what the “something” is in each of these scenarios, a bad outcome could result: Picking up a knife. Moving a glass vase. Touching a hot stove. Putting a poisonous substance in their mouth.
“As a parent, one of the worst feelings in the world is to watch and hear your child in pain because they have been hurt – about the only worse feeling is rushing them to the emergency room in the event of a serious injury,” says Dr. Adrian Clarke, a pediatrician at Forest Lane Pediatrics in Dallas.
Trauma surgeons don’t use the word “accident” when describing an injury. That’s because an injury usually is not the result of mere happenstance – rather, it is a direct result of a careless decision or mistake that led to a preventable injury. In the case of children, it is up to parents to make their home as safe as possible and minimize these types of injuries.
“Parents can protect their children – and give themselves some additional peace of mind – by taking several steps to make their home safe,” explains Dr. Clarke. “It’s important to both protect children from dangerous situations they are not yet aware of and also to begin teaching them at an early age about common dangers and how to avoid them.”
Children between the ages of 6 months and 3 years old are at the greatest risk of choking on both food and non-food items. As your child progresses from mushy baby food to solid foods, it is important to ensure food is cut up in small pieces to reduce choking danger. In addition, there are several foods that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends be avoided until after your child is past the toddler stage, as these are all susceptible to becoming lodged in the child’s windpipe:
- Hot dogs, unless quartered lengthwise and then sliced
- Chunks of peanut butter (it may be spread on bread or crackers)
- Fresh cherries containing pits
- Any round hard candies, including jelly beans
- Chewing gum
- Green beans, celery and carrots
- Seeds, such as sunflower or pumpkin seeds
- Cherry tomatoes
- Large pieces of any other type of food, including meat, fruit and vegetables
Toxic & Dangerous Substances
“Curious babies and toddlers like to put things in their mouths,” says Dr. Clarke. “That’s why parents must make certain that anything dangerous that could be swallowed is out of reach, especially when their babies start crawling. That means storing things up high where children cannot reach them or in cabinets and drawers that have child safety locks on them.”
Every parent should have the number for the national poison control center programmed into their phone: 1-800-222-1222. If you are worried your child may have ingested something dangerous, even if they are awake, alert and seemingly fine, call this number for direction and advice. Lines are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If your child is visibly sick, unconscious, or unable to stand, call 911 immediately.
Some of the more common substances and objects that young children may be predisposed to putting in their mouths include:
- Household cleaners: These all need to be kept out of reach of young children.
- Laundry & dish detergent: When “pod” laundry detergent first appeared several years ago, there were reports of young children swallowing detergent pods. Kids were drawn to the colorful pods and manufacturers were forced to make the containers more difficult for children to access.
- Medicines: All medicines, both prescription and over the counter, must be kept out of reach of children at all times. When giving your child medicine, carefully follow the dosing instructions on the packaging.
- Batteries: The small button batteries that power watches and garage door openers are particularly attractive to young kids due to their shiny nature. If swallowed, a battery can cause severe health issues.
- Alcohol: If you keep alcohol in the house, be sure to keep it out of reach of your children. A young child could easily suffer alcohol poisoning if he consumed even a small amount. It is also a good idea to keep alcohol inaccessible even as your children get older.
A child can drown in just a few inches of water. Never, ever leave a baby or toddler unattended in a bathtub – even if just for a few seconds. If something requires you to leave the bathroom, such as another child needing you or someone at the front door you can’t ignore, wrap your baby in a towel and carry her with you.
When drawing a bath for your child, make sure the water is not too hot. Keep your home’s hot water heater set at no more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit and check the water temperature with your wrist or elbow to see that the water is not warm but not hot.
Keep any electronics, such as hair dryers, put away, unplugged and out of reach of the bathtub.
If your home has a swimming pool, never ever leave a child unattended in or near the pool. Keep your eyes on your child at all times when he is in or around water. In the few seconds it takes to answer a text message or take a phone call, a child can go under water and drown. For homes with backyard pools, a secure fence and gate that your child cannot open must be installed to prevent access to the pool.
One of the biggest dangers in any home is the risk of a heavy object or piece of furniture falling on a child, causing serious injury or even death. This is especially true of dressers, which can be susceptible to falling when the drawers are open, especially if a child pulls or hangs on an open drawer. Bookcases are another hazard.
To eliminate the possibility that furniture pieces could tip over, anchor them to the wall. Most new furniture will include a bracket or strap that can be affixed to the wall – it should be drilled directly into a wood stud or anchored in place through the drywall. If you are unsure how to do this correctly, hire a contractor to do it for you.
Falling televisions are a significant source of child injuries at home. According to a 2013 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, injuries caused by falling TVs increased 126% between 1990 and 2011. Interestingly, nearly 70 % of the TVs involved were on the smaller side – 26 inches or less. The study author hypothesized that this was due to parents moving their smaller TVs to bedrooms after buying a larger one for the living room or family room. In the bedroom, the TVs were usually sitting on top of a dresser, an inviting target for a young child to try to climb to turn on the TV. Flatscreen TVs that sit on top of furniture can be anchored to the wall using a safety strap or better yet, mounted directly to the wall. Again, you can hire someone to complete this task.
When buying toys, always check for a few things to make sure they are as safe as possible:
- Age appropriate: always go by the recommended minimum age for the toy
- Make sure the toy is labeled “nontoxic”
- Look for toys made of sturdy plastic. Thin plastic can break more easily and pose a cutting danger.
- Avoid any toys that shoot objects through the air, which can endanger your child’s eyes.
- Opt for large toys with large parts. Small parts pose choking hazards.
- If the toy runs on batteries, make sure it is labeled “UL approved” for safety.
- Avoid toys that make loud noises so your child’s hearing (and you own sanity!) is not harmed.
Falls and Head Injuries
Falls are the leading cause of non-fatal injury for children under the age of 18. To reduce the risk of a dangerous fall:
- If your home has stairs, block them off with a gate so your child can’t play on them.
- Outfit your windows with child locks so they cannot be opened from the inside.
- Supervise your children closely when they are around any type of fall hazard.
Toddlers like to run around and they will inevitably fall down at times. Teach your children not to run in the house, where they can fall and hurt themselves or break something. Protect against head and eye injuries by placing rubber corner guards on tables and counters.
Highchairs are a good solution to help your child sit still when eating. Keep these highchair safety tips in mind:
- Don’t ever place a highchair too close to a table or counter, or else the child may be able to push off the counter and tip the chair over.
- Use the straps in the highchair to secure the child, preventing her from slipping down and out of the chair.
- Be sure the highchair is locked in position.
- Avoid use of chairs that attach to a table; freestanding chairs are safer.
Avoid baby walkers
The American Academy of Pediatrics supports a ban on baby walkers for two reasons: they are dangerous and also provide no benefit to the child.
Some parents are led to mistakenly believe that a baby walker will help their child learn to walk sooner. Actually, the opposite is true: a baby walker can delay the child’s ability to learn to walk on her own.
Even worse, baby walkers are dangerous. They can enable a child to reach higher and potentially burn themselves on a stove or pull a tablecloth off a table. If a child were to fall down a staircase in a baby walker, he could be seriously injured or even killed. “Don’t use a baby walker and if you have one in your house, thrown it away,” advises Dr. Clarke.
Other Home Hazards:
Electric shock is one of the biggest threats inside any home. Every electric outlet not in use should have a child safety cover inserted, to prevent a child from putting his fingers or other object into the outlet. Teach your child from a young age to never touch an electric outlet or to pull on a cord that is plugged into an outlet.
Keep sharp objects away from children. Kitchen knives are a common danger in the household, as are tools. Keep these out of reach or in a drawer or cabinet secured by a safety lock.
Hot surfaces & water
Keep your children away from hot stoves and ovens and teach them to never touch these appliances. When they are old enough to turn on faucets by themselves, train them to always turn on the cold water first and add hot water gradually, so they don’t burn themselves.
Think Safety First
As a parent, when you reduce risk in and around your home, you will create a safer environment for your children to live, play and learn. You’ll also give yourself the confidence and peace of mind that comes with knowing your child’s surroundings are as secure and safe as possible.
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