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.