by Bonny Osterhage
We all hear the horror stories about children who scald themselves by turning over a pot of boiling water on the stove, become entangled in the cords from the window blinds, or nearly suffocate by playing with a seemingly harmless balloon.
“But that can’t happen to my child,” you think. “I’m a good parent.”
News flash: It happens to good parents all the time, and it CAN happen to your child. That is why it is important to recognize the dangers in and around your home that, while on the surface appear harmless, can pose real hazards to a curious, active toddler or young child. How do you know where those dangers are lurking? Think like your child. Crawl around and see what is within reach that might appeal to your youngster.
In The Kitchen
One of the most hazardous rooms in the house is the kitchen. It is usually a hub of activity, with hot pots and pans, oven doors and stove tops.
“The kitchen should really be a kid-free zone when mom is cooking,” says Sergio Vega, training specialist in the Child Health and Safety Department at University Hospital. “It just takes a second for a child to burn his hands on an open oven door.”
A hot oven door is just one of the many hazards. Stoves pose an even greater threat, especially when handles are jutting out over the edge just waiting for tiny hands to reach them.
“You should always use the back burners on your stove and make sure the handles of the pots and pans are always facing the back,” cautions Vega, who adds that there has been an increase of pediatric hospital patients being treated for microwave burns within the past year.
“Young kids are using the microwave to heat water for instant soup and then spilling it on themselves,” he says. “Children should never be using the microwave.”
Keeping sharp cutlery put away and appliances unplugged may seem pretty obvious, but there is one kitchen hazard most people overlook – the tablecloth. While it may seem like a perfectly harmless decorative accent, the tablecloth is enticing to young children, beckoning them to reach up and pull. If the table is laden with glassware, hot dishes or candles, you can have a real disaster on your hands.
“Children can pull a tablecloth off so easily, and everything on the table comes down with it,” warns Vega.
In the Family Room
Family rooms are places of relaxation. Soft couches and oversized chairs beckon families to sit and watch movies or curl up with a good book. But family rooms can also be filled with dangerous corners – literally! Coffee tables with sharp edges and fireplace hearths pose threats to the eyes and heads of little ones who are just getting their footing. Cover edges with corner protectors that can be found at almost any baby store. The protectors will help ensure that if your toddler takes a spill he is more likely to hit a soft spot rather than suffer a nasty cut or bruise.
If your family room is home to large pieces of furniture such as a television armoire or bookcase, make sure that these are anchored to the wall. Children love to climb and use furniture to pull themselves up. One hard tug, however, can send the entire unit toppling over.
While surveying the family room, notice your window treatments. Do you use blinds with cords? These are major strangulation hazards, particularly the older type of cords that feature a loop on the end. If you discover these in your home, cut the loop and then tie the cords high enough that your toddler or small child cannot reach them.
The Two-Story Home
Two-story homes have unique childproofing issues. First and most obvious, are the stairs.
“Stairs should always have baby gates when there are small children in the home,” says Vega.
You should also be cautious about putting your child in a walker with wheels, as he can roll right off even the smallest flight of stairs and sustain a serious injury.
When the weather turns warmer, and you want to open the windows to air out the house, think twice – even if you have screens. Vega says warmer weather brings a substantial increase in the number of injuries the hospital sees from falls out of second-story windows, especially in apartment complexes where the bottom of the window tends to be built closer to the floor.
“Screens provide a false sense of security,” he cautions. “They simply do not hold people in.”
To prevent accidents, consider using window stops that prevent the window from opening more than three or four inches, or open the windows from the top if possible.
In the Bathroom
Even a first time, inexperienced parent knows not to leave a child in the bathtub unattended, as it takes seconds for the unthinkable to occur. But with so much focus on drowning, it is easy to overlook the other potential dangers that children can fall prey to even under their parents’ watchful eyes.
Every year there are reports of children scalding themselves in hot bath water. How can you make sure the water is safe for baby? Use a water temperature tester, also available at most baby stores, and make sure your water heater is never set higher than 120 degrees F.
“Anything more than that is just too hot, not to mention a waste of energy,” says Vega.
Also look out for that pesky faucet, which is at just the right height for a sitting child to hit his head. Cover the faucet with a soft cover specially designed for that purpose. Finally, make sure the tub is clear of toys and other slip hazards, and utilize a rubber mat or colorful rubber decals to create a secure tub surface.
All Around the House
While these are some of the biggest in-home hazards, there are plenty of other “boo-boo” traps for kids. To keep your home as safe as possible, make sure that all electrical outlets are covered, preferably with covers that require two separate actions to disengage.
“Those simple plastic ones can easily be pulled out,” says Vega.
Baptist Health System offers these additional safety steps:
Keep rooms free of small toys, plastic bags, balloons and other items that could pose a choking hazard.
- Keep all matches and lighters out of a child’s reach.
- Do not keep firearms in the home or, if you must, keep all gun-related materials locked up and store guns and bullets separately.
- Install smoke alarms on every level of the home.
- Use carbon monoxide detectors near sleeping areas.
- Always drain sinks and tubs, and use toilet seat locks.
- Remove loose rugs or secure them to the floor.
- Keep houseplants out of reach.
- Keep cabinets with cleaners, medicines and other potentially dangerous materials locked.
Children’s safety needs change as they grow, according to safety guide Krames. “As a rule, infants need protection from safety hazards, while toddlers and preschoolers need supervision, and school-age children need help in learning how to stay safe.”
Bonny Osterhage is a local freelance writer and mother of two boys.