Accidents are the leading cause of injury and death among children ages one to fourteen years. It makes sense to do everything you can to childproof your home against accidents. You may have thought of many of the suggestions contained in this chapter already, but some of them may surprise you.
Your child’s age and developmental level will determine the kinds of hazards he is likely to encounter. Infants are attracted to bright and shiny objects. They are curious about everything, and everything they touch goes into their mouths, creating a risk of choking or poisoning. As a baby learns to roll over, sit, crawl, and reach, he can tumble off a bed or changing table, pull a piece of filmy plastic over his face, or slip under water in the bathtub.
Toddlers also are extremely curious. They are attracted to bright packaging, and are learning to open things. Often, they succeed. They are learning to walk and will venture out of sight from time to time.
Because the “terrible twos” are a time when little ones typically start to assert their independence by saying “no,” it can be difficult to enforce limits. Toddlers are especially at risk for poisoning, choking, and burns.
Older children are mastering new skills, such as biking and swimming. They are likely to be off exploring in secret places with friends, heedless of dangers. Bicycle accidents, near-drownings, poisoning from berries and outdoor plants, and getting lost are among the potential hazards for this age group. Many authorities recommend gentle but persistent warnings against accepting gifts or other enticements from strangers, as young children tend to be trusting of anyone who acts nice to them.
Teenagers typically feel invincible and immortal. In their desire for independence, they often push parents to the limit. Teenagers are under intense peer pressure to experiment with dangerous substances, to flirt with danger, to dare anything. This age group is at Ask for car accidents, bicycle and motorcycle accidents, sports injures, and toxic ingestion of drugs and alcohol.
Children of any age who are hyperactive, visually or hearing impaired, or physically or mentally handicapped tend to suffer more accidents than other children do. In addition, some children are simply more curious and more adventuresome than others. Some constantly rebel against authority of any kind and continually test their parents’ resolve. Such children can be exhausting, but it is your responsibility as a parent to persevere. Remember that children need appropriate limits; without them, a child will feel lost and insecure, even unloved.
The goal is to create a safe environment, and to continually be aware of your child’s activities, while maintaining an atmosphere that promotes fun, exploration, learning, and creativity. Most accidents happen when parents are too busy, too tired, or too short of time to be aware of what the kids are getting into. Whether you are simultaneously bustling around getting dressed, worrying about getting breakfast on the table, and readying your child for the day’s activities, or in the midst of dinner preparation after a long, exhausting day, try to keep aware of where your child is and what he is doing.
Talk to your child. Using language and explanations your child understands, teach safety considerations both inside and outside of the home. It’s much more effective to explain to your child how he could get hurt in a given circumstance than it is to say crossly, “Don’t do it because I say so.”
Be especially patient with a very young child. Young children have short attention spans and may not have the ability to rationalize and retain information. A young child may be unable to follow directions or understand the consequences of certain actions. Repetition is effective. Even if you have to go over a problem again and again, keep at it until your child understands.
Keep in mind also that children are natural mimics; they imitate the adults around them. It’s up to you to set a safe example. As you teach your child to fasten his seat belt, you must also fasten yours. Obey street crossing signals. Don’t walk your child across a street against the light. Don’t drink and drive.
Try to scan your home carefully with the curious eyes of a child. Get down on your hands and knees and crawl around. Notice that the electrical sockets are at a crawling child’s eye level, easily within reach and tempting to poke at. Look for bright, shiny objects, items a child might pop into his mouth. Spot the things your child might grab or pull on with disastrous results. For example, tugging on the trailing edge of a table cover or the loop of an electrical cord could bring a tableful of dishes or a heavy lamp crashing to the floor. At child’s eye level, you’ll be able to spot potential hazards more easily.
Be prepared. Not all accidents can be prevented, so knowing how to handle emergencies is an important safety precaution. Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid. The Red Cross offers courses in first aid, as do many hospitals. The important thing is to learn these procedures before you need to use them. Make sure any course you take includes a thorough grounding in infant and child CPR, and take a refresher course every year.
Assemble and keep, in a convenient but secure location, a home health kit stocked with the basics for dealing with illness and injury (See end of article). Check expiration dates periodically and replace any outdated products promptly.
The safety checklist that follows will help you limit injuries and childproof your home.
Throughout Your Home
Make sure that every room in your home has a working smoke detector. lf detectors are wired in, it’s a good idea to have a battery-operated backup in case of loss of electricity. Check and replace batteries as required.
Close off electrical outlets with safety devices. These are available in most hardware stores.
Keep floors clean of pins, buttons, food, and any other small objects a child could pick up and put in his mouth.
Put colorful stickers on picture windows and glass doors at your child’s eye level, so that he can see them and will not accidentally run into them.
Remove heavy or sharp objects, such as picture frames, vases, and lamps, from tables, or move them away from the edges so that your child cannot pull them over.
Remove tablecloths that might be grabbed and pulled off.
Keep securely closed safety gates at the tops and bottoms of stairs.
Secure windows so that your child cannot reach an open window and fall out. Open windows from the top; keep screens secure. Do not put furniture in front of a window; that offers a path up to the sill.
Tie dangling curtain, drapery, and blind cords out of reach, especially any located near a crib or bed. Children can become entangled in such cords and suffocate.
Keep plastic bags, which can cause suffocation, out of reach of your child at all times.
If any work is being done in your home, talk to the workers about safety considerations for your child. Keep them aware of your child and your safety concerns. Ask them about special child hazards that might be involved in their work. Keep dirty drop cloths away from your child’s sleeping and playing areas; be sure tools are properly stored, out of reach, at the end of the work day; keep lids on cans of paints, varnishes, solvents, and other products at all times; and create a safe place for your child, away from dust, nails, tools, splinters, paints, and fumes.
Use only nontoxic and lead-free paints in your home.
Keep all cleaning products, paints, gardening and hobby supplies, and any other dangerous substances out of reach of your child in a locked cabinet.
When using any potentially harmful item, such as a cleaning product, do not let * out of your sight. If you need to leave a room to answer the door or the phone, take the product with you.
Call your local Poison Control Center for information on preventing poisoning. Most centers will send you free literature with detailed instructions on how to poison-proof your home, as well as on what to do (and what not to do) in case of poisoning.
Keep all fireplaces securely screened and free of ashes and soot, which can be inhaled by a curious child.
All children are fascinated by fire, and most will eventually want to experiment with matches. Keep matches well hidden and securely out of reach.
Set the temperature for the hot water heater in your home no higher than 120°F. It takes only five seconds for 140°F water to cause a severe third-degree bum, but it takes a full three minutes to get a third-degree bum from 120°F water. Those extra minutes may provide enough time for you to snatch your child out of harm’s way and prevent a nasty scald.
Do not let an infant or young child eat alone. Always keep a watchful eye out to prevent choking.
Eat slowly and chew food thoroughly, and teach your child to do the same. Sit down to eat. Make mealtime a relaxed, happy time.
Cut food into small, bite-sized pieces for your child. Teach him to take small bites from crackers or cookies.
Do not give a young child hot dogs, nuts, raisins, popcorn, or other similar foods. Young children may not chew finger foods sufficiently to prevent choking.
Don’t permit your toddler to eat while he is engaged in play activity. It’s too easy for a bite to go down wrong if he takes a tumble.
In the Kitchen
Keep all knives and other sharp objects out of reach.
Never store any potentially harmful object in food jars or food storage containers.
When cooking, use the back burners whenever possible, and be sure to keep pot handles turned toward the stove so that your child cannot reach or bump a hot pot.
Keep appliances, such as the toaster, food processor, and blender, unplugged and well away from counter edges.
Cover the garbage disposal.
Place secure plastic fasteners (available in most hardware stores) on cabinet doors to keep your child out of cupboards holding glass, china, cleaning products, and other potentially harmful substances.
Keep a fire extinguisher in a handy location near the stove, but make sure it is out of your child’s reach.
In the Bathroom
Apply nonslip surfaces to the bottom of the bathtub.
Never leave an infant or young child in the bathtub alone. If you must leave the room to answer the phone or door, wrap your little one in a towel and take him with you.
Keep all medicines and supplements out of reach. Other Areas Throw away old medicines and prescriptions.
Do not leave medicines or cleaning products on a counter within reach of your child.
If you store potentially harmful products in a cupboard under your bathroom sink, secure the cabinet with a plastic fastener.
Do not leave a razor within reach.
Keep the toilet lid down.
In Your Child’s Play Area
Do not give your infant toys that are small enough to fit into his mouth.
Do not give your child any toy that has small parts that could break off.
A teething infant should never be permitted to play with a toy filled with liquid or gel.
Check your child’s playthings regularly for breakage and keep them in good repair. If repainting is necessary, use only nontoxic and lead-free paints.
Choose age-appropriate toys carefully. Follow the age guidelines on the packaging. Be aware that these guidelines refer primarily to the ages a child must be to use a toy safely. Thus, if a toy is recommended for children ages two through six, it may not be safe for a child under two, even if the child seems old enough for it in other ways. Also keep an eye out for sharp edges, small parts that could loosen (glass eyes, for example), parts that could break, or any electrical wiring that might not be perfect.
Choose toys made from nontoxic materials.
In the Bedroom
If your baby sleeps in a crib, make sure to use one that meets current federal safety standards. It is possible for an infant to strangle if his head becomes wedged between the bars of a crib.
Protect a sleeping child by making sure he wears flame-retardant clothing.
Never leave your infant alone on a changing table always keep one hand on your baby. Kicking and wriggling can propel him off the edge.
Keep bureau and table tops clean and clear of sharp objects that could cut your child.
Small objects, such as jewelry and safety pins, can cause choking. Keep them securely out of reach of your child.
Prevent cuts and choking by making sure your sewing area is clean and clear of buttons, pins, needles, and scissors. Such objects are enticing to children.
Keep your sewing machine unplugged when not in use, and the cord securely out of reach.
Garages, tool sheds, and workshops should be securely locked and off-limits to young children.
Outside Your Home
When your child is a passenger in an automobile, keep him securely buckled up in an appropriate safety restraint at all times. Consumer magazines, the United States Department of Transportation, and the National Child Passenger Safety Association (located in Ardmore, Pennsylvania) can provide information on approved child restraint systems.
Make sure your child wears appropriate protective gear when engaging in sports activities. A helmet should be worn for bicycling, horseback riding, skiing, skateboarding, and roller blading, as well as organized sports like baseball, football, hockey, and lacrosse. Eye protection is recommended for children who play baseball, hockey, racquet sports, football, basketball, and golf. Goggles are useful for protecting a child from chlorine and other chemicals while swimming. Other types of protective gear that may be appropriate include knee pads, elbow pads, shin guards, mouth guards, and padded gloves.
Teach your child to cross streets safely. Young children should be taught to cross a street only in the company of an adult, never alone.
Teach children to swim and teach them water safety.
Never leave a child alone near a swimming pool, lake, pond, or any other body of water. Every summer, there are many instances of drowning and near drowning that occur because young children are left unsupervised. Swimming pools should be securely fenced.
When your child is riding in a boat, make sure he is wearing a life jacket.
Before allowing your child to skate on a frozen pond, check with local authorities to make sure the ice is safe.
Keep your child’s playground equipment in good repair. Put a cushioning layer of sand under slides, swings, and jungle gyms to soften a possible fall.
Always supervise a young child when he is playing outside. Be sure to keep him well away from the street. Teach your child never to chase a ball, another child, or a pet into the street.
Children should never be permitted to play with fireworks. Most states prohibit the sale of fireworks to individuals, but people still manage to obtain them. Every year, some children suffer severe burns-or worse-from accidents connected with fireworks.
Insist that your teenager take a driver’s education course before getting his driver’s license. This shouldn’t be difficult; most high schools provide driving instruction. “Driver’s Ed” classes are an eagerly anticipated milestone for most teenagers.
Never drink and drive. Teach your teenager about the consequences and very real dangers of drinking and driving, or accepting a ride from anyone who has been drinking.
Do not grow poisonous plants either inside or outside your home. The ivy and the split-leaf philodendron that look so pretty on your end tables, as well as the flowering azaleas and daffodils that brighten your yard, can be lethal if ingested. Some common plants that should tee avoided are apricot, azalea, Boston ivy, caladium, castor bean, chokeberry, daffodil (jonquil, narcissus), dumb cane (dieffenbachia), emerald duke, English ivy, foxglove, hen and chicks (lantana), hydrangea, jimsonweed, lily of the valley, mistletoe, morning glory, nightshade, oleander, parlor ivy (philodendron), poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, rhododendron, rhubarb, split-leaf philodendron, sweet pea, tulip, and wisteria.
Not all accidents are preventable, of course, but many are. Thinking ahead is the key. Stay one step ahead of your child. By childproofing your home, you can protect against many home accidents, and also keep to a minimum the hazards your child will encounter outside.
No matter how careful and loving parents are, they cannot prevent all of the accidents and emergencies that can arise while their children are growing up. But you can and should take measures so that you will be prepared to act quickly and effectively should an emergency arise.
Emergency Telephone Numbers
Post emergency telephone numbers near every telephone in your home. This can save precious time in any emergency, for you or for anyone else who is caring for your child. We urge you to take this precaution now, while you are thinking about it. If there is no 911 emergency service in your area, these numbers should include that of your local hospital for ambulance/paramedicservice. Also post numbers for your local fire department, Poison Control Center, police, and your child’s doctor and dentist.
If your telephone is the type that allows you to program numbers for automatic dialing, enter these emergency numbers into the phone as well, and label the appropriate keys clearly. Some telephone models come with keys already labeled for police, fire, and other emergency numbers, which makes this even easier. However, you should not consider this a substitute for keeping emergency numbers on hand in written form. It is possible for programmed numbers to be erased accidentally, so you should still keep a list of emergency telephone numbers in a convenient location.
Choose and empower surrogates who can act in your stead if an emergency arises when you cannot be reached, and include their telephone numbers in the emergency list. Designate adults you trust, perhaps your child’s grandparents, perhaps good friends, to make decisions in any emergency involving your child. If you have established a close and caring relationship with your child’s health care provider, you might wish to empower him or her to make any necessary medical decisions involving your child. Give your surrogates written permission to act for you, such as a limited power of attorney.
Your surrogates should keep this important document where it can be found easily if they must respond to an emergency, and you should give copies to your child’s physician. Should an occasion ever arise when you cannot be reached immediately, your designated surrogates will be able to act. Written permission from a parent or designated guardian is sometimes required before certain life-saving measures can be taken.
If you have a child with a special medical problem, obtain a Medic Alert bracelet to ensure that he will receive the right care if something happens away from home. If your child is allergic to penicillin or other medication, sulfites, or bee stings, for example, it will enable him to receive prompt and appropriate treatment for an allergic reaction. Without a Medic Alert bracelet, a diabetic teenager suffering from the typical symptoms of low blood sugar could be misdiagnosed as being intoxicated and fail to receive necessary treatment.
Medic Alert information is especially important for a young child who may not be able to communicate well, or for any child who has a disorder that can cause the loss of consciousness. Without Medic Alert information, healthcare personnel could be working in the dark and wasting precious time. Medic Alert is the only emergency medical identification service endorsed by the American College of Emergency Physicians, the American Hospital Association, and every national pharmacy association. For more information, call Medic Alert at 800-432-5378.
First Aid Training
The primary child care provider in every household should take a good course in emergency first aid that includes infant and childhood cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) procedures. We hope that you will never be called upon to use these skills, but there is simply no substitute for the hands-on training and practice in these life-saving techniques that such a course provides.
The Well-Stocked Home Health Kit
Every home should have a well-stocked home health kit. A good home health kit includes not only the bare essentials for dealing with emergencies, such as bandages, tweezers, and hydrogen peroxide, but also the basic medicines-conventional, herbal, homeopathic, and others-that are used over and over again for common illnesses (see Assembling a Home Health Kit on page 74).
Your home health kit should be stored in a location that is convenient, but securely locked away from or out of the reach of children, and you should check it at least every three months or so to replace any products that have passed their expiration dates or that have been used up.
One of the most important things you can do for your child is to be prepared. It’s impossible to create an environment so safe that there is no possibility a child will be injured, of course, just as it is impossible to prevent your child from ever becoming ill. But by scanning your home and your surroundings for potential hazards-and then eliminating them-you can prevent many of the common kinds of accidents that children are prone to suffer.
The second element of preparedness is to assemble the things you may need to treat your child should illness or injury strike. It’s always stressful when your child needs your help in a hurry. But if you know that what you need is ready and on hand, you can save yourself from frantic searching and scrambling and place your focus where it belongs-on your child. This means faster treatment, as well as a less anxiety filled experience for both parent and child. An environment that is nurturing and reassuring is an invaluable part of health and healing.
From Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child by Janet Zand, N.D., L.Ac., Robert Rountree, MD, Rachel Walton, RN, ©1994. Published by Avery Publishing, New York. For personal use only; neither the digital nor printed copy may be copied or sold. Reproduced by permission.