Holiday visits to homes of family and friends can be fun for children, but they also may be potentially unsafe. Remember, others’ homes may not be “childproof.” Keep an eye out for breakable items, medications, uncovered electrical outlets and other potential dangers within your child’s reach. Also, your childproof home might become more dangerous for a few hours, if a visitor leaves an open bag and its contents in easy reach of children. There is a potential danger when a guest leaves medicine, an alcoholic beverage or cigarettes within reach. When having guests at your house, lock up your medications. This protects toddlers from getting into any medicines that can be dangerous to their health and protects others from taking your medications.
Avoid the temptation to wait until the next day to clean up after a holiday party. Just one or two ounces of alcohol left in the bottom of a glass can be fatal to a curious, early-rising toddler, and bits of food left on plates can be choking hazards, or even cause food poisoning or an allergic reaction.
Plants typically used for holiday decorating including holly, mistletoe, evergreens and poinsettias can be poisonous, depending on the quantities ingested. Eating holly berries, mistletoe berries or evergreens can make children sick with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or skin rash, and higher doses can be even more dangerous. Poinsettias are minimally toxic but can cause an upset stomach if ingested in large amounts. Keep dangerous holiday plants out of a child’s reach. Pick up fallen leaves and needles and wrap mistletoe in netting to protect children from fallen berries.
Proactively check your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors to ensure your family’s and your guests’ safety at your home. Carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless and tasteless, so the only way to know it is present is with a detector. Known as “the great pretender,” early signs of carbon monoxide poisoning mimic those of a cold or the flu.
You might easily forget about little dangers such as the tiny batteries used in cameras, calculators and other popular gifts, but these “button” batteries can cause serious health problems for children if swallowed. Store all batteries in a safe place. If a child swallows a small battery, the first step is to call your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222. If the child is having trouble breathing, the poison specialist will recommend an ambulance ride to the hospital. Magnets and “magnet toys” also carry a risk. A number of these (i.e. Buckyballs) have been removed from the market because of a Consumer Products Safety Commission ban – but others still exist, and there continue to be occasional cases of magnet ingestion in small children. They are attractive and creative toys, but potentially very dangerous when swallowed, and may even require abdominal surgery to remove.
Swallowing a magnet carries special risks if any other metal, including another magnet, has been swallowed. Keep these magnets out of reach of children and if one is swallowed, call your local poison control center or your doctor as an X-ray may be necessary.
Hoverboards are this year’s most popular new gift, but since it’s too new to determine injury statistics on it yet, it is important that parents take precautions when purchasing them as gifts. Be sure to purchase the same safety equipment you would if you were buying a skateboard: helmet, padding for the knees and elbows, and wrist guards.
Ornaments, tinsel and other decorations fascinate children but can be hazardous. Many are choking hazards, and broken ornaments can cause painful cuts.
Lights and candles are fire hazards. If you use electric lights, look for frayed or exposed wires, and make sure no wires are pinched by furniture and no cords run under rugs. Do not use the same extension cord for more than three strands of lights and turn off all lights before going to bed. When lighting candles, remove flammable materials from the area and never leave a burning candle unattended. The liquid in bubble lights and oil lamps can cause death if ingested by a child. Immediately throw away a bubble light if it is cracked or broken. If you suspect that a child might have swallowed this liquid, call your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.
Instructions for new toys should always be read to make sure toys are appropriate for your child’s age and abilities. Some toys may pose a choking hazard to children younger than 3 years of age. Toys that are too advanced or too simple can be misused and lead to injuries. Protect young eyes by avoiding toys that shoot objects into the air. Any child younger than 8 years of age needs close adult supervision if using riding toys that require balance, like foot-powered scooters. If you are giving a child a riding toy for the holidays, also give the child a helmet.
Do not underestimate the importance of a toy’s size. Parents can determine if a toy or toy part is a choking hazard for children younger than 3 years of age by placing it in a small parts test device available at many children’s toy stores and through mail order companies. Because small balls or ball-shaped toys pose an even more serious choking hazard, these should pass the more rigorous test of not being able to pass through a toilet paper tube that is 1 ¾ inches in diameter. A child’s doctor also can provide advice about what kinds of toys are appropriate if parents are unsure.
Adolescents also can be injured by toys. Avoid gifts such as hobby kits and chemistry sets for children younger than 12 years and always supervise children ages 12 to 15. Toys with arrows or darts should have blunt tips made from rubber or flexible plastic.
Your attention is the best holiday gift you can give to your child. Involve children in holiday preparation as much as possible.
Sitters should be selected carefully when children can’t tag along to holiday parties. Be sure your babysitter knows whom to call in an emergency – including the numbers where you, fire and police departments, the local poison control center, your child’s doctor and other trusted adults can be reached.
To check whether the gifts you are giving or receiving have been recalled, visit www.recalls.gov.
For more information regarding child safety and injury prevention, please call the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital at 614-722-2400, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.injurycenter.org.
Contact the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital at 1-800-222-1222. A specially-trained pharmacist or nurse in the Poison Center is available 24 hours a day to talk about a suspected poisoning. For general poison information and to learn how to “poison-proof” your home, call the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s or visit www.bepoisonsmart.org.