‘Tis the season for mistletoe, gingerbread and carefully strung lights. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but also a potentially dangerous one for children. And although festivities, candles and garland may make the holiday season more cheerful, with them come some serious safety concerns.
Tony Woodward, MD, MBA, medical director of emergency medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital, says the most important thing to remember this holiday season is supervision.
“The holidays are a fun and exciting time, but there are a few more things inserted into the environment, like holiday plants, electrical cables, new toys and festive beverages, which are potentially dangerous,” says Woodward.
Holiday safety tips
To keep kids out of the emergency room this year, Woodward recommends some basic safety tips to ensure an injury-free, but still festive holiday season.
Lights, trees and décor. Sparkly ornaments, shiny holiday decorations and small holiday figurines are potential choking hazards for small children. If an object can fit through a toilet paper tube, it can obstruct the airway of a small child and prevent breathing.
“Think like a child,” says Woodward. “Get down on your hands and knees and look around the house. If something looks shiny and enticing, a child may want to put it in their mouth. Keep decorations high and out of reach.”
Make sure trees and decorations are properly secured, either by a sturdy stand or to the wall. Also, talk to children about holiday decorations and explain that they are not toys. Set limits and supervise children.
Poisoning potential. Holiday plants like mistletoe, holly and poinsettias are commonly used as decorations, but they can be hazardous to children. These plants are considered potentially poisonous and should be kept away from children and out of reach. If a child ingests any part of these plants call a pediatrician or the Poison Help Line immediately at (800) 222-1222. Symptoms from poisoning may include vomiting, diarrhea, nausea or rash.
Medicines and vitamins can also be hazardous for children. Keep an eye out for medicine, vitamins and other personal products found in purses or suitcases that guests visiting for the holidays may bring into the home. Also, be aware when visiting other houses this holiday with your family, especially households without young children because the house may not be child proofed.
Be cautious of raw or undercooked foods during the holidays. Wash hands frequently when handling raw meat or eggs, and don’t leave foods out in reach of children.
Holiday parties. Hosting a holiday gathering this year? Plan for a party’s youngest guests first. Take small children into consideration when planning a party’s food and beverage menu, and before adorning the home with festive décor.
“Decorating the home with garland and strung beads may look great for the holidays, but children can mistake the brightly colored beads and floral arrangements for candy or food, which may cause choking or poisoning,” says Woodward.
Alcohol is another common risk for children around the holidays and during holiday gatherings.
“Kids see adults drinking alcohol and become curious. If glasses are left sitting out in reach of children they may ingest the alcohol, which even in small amounts can be dangerous to kids. Use common sense and always keep an eye on children,” says Dr. Woodward.
Also, stay home from parties or gatherings if children aren’t feeling well. Don’t risk spreading germs to others. Talk to children about proper hand washing and coughing techniques. Germs are easily spread, but these techniques can help prevent the transmission of germs from one person to another.
Fire safety. Keep decorations and trees away from heat sources within the home, which includes fireplaces, radiators, space heaters or electrical outlets. Also, avoid using candles if there are small children in the home.
When buying an artificial tree, make sure it is “fire retardant,” and also make sure a child’s sleepwear is labeled “fire retardant” as well. Be sure to also remove dry trees after the holiday season to reduce fire risk.
Use socket covers to baby-proof electrical outlets and make sure extension cords are well hidden and out of reach. Ensure cords are all the way in the outlets so kids don’t get shocked. Also, do not have water around outlets and wires.
Cooking is the leading cause of home fires in the U.S. Try to keep small children out of the kitchen while cooking or preparing food. Turn pot handles in so they can’t be accidently knocked over and stay in the kitchen while frying, grilling and broiling.
Toy safety. Many toys and holiday decorations require button batteries, which can pose fatal risks for young kids. Be sure batteries cannot be removed easily from toys and gadgets. If a battery is swallowed, it can cause life-threatening injuries. Also, avoid magnets. Toys that contain small magnets are especially dangerous for young kids. If swallowed, magnets can attract to one another in a child’s intestine and cause serious complications and even death.
“Make sure toys are appropriate for the age of a child, but also think about other children,” says Woodward. “Think about the worst case scenario. If a 1-year-old or 2-year-old will be in the home visiting for the holidays, ask if there are toys that could potentially be harmful to them.”
Just like checking a food’s ingredient list, parents should read toy and product labels. Avoid toys and products that contain PVC plastic, xylene, toluene or dibutyl phthalate.
Cold weather. With temperatures dropping, make sure children are properly dressed for the weather with hands, feet and heads covered. Dress children in layers and make sure they come in out of the cold periodically. The nose, ears, feet and hands are at the biggest risk of frostbite if temperatures are below freezing.
Supervise children while they play. Activities like sledding can be dangerous without proper supervision and safety gear. Also, be extremely cautious around water. Never allow children to walk across frozen lakes or ponds.
Lastly, wear sunscreen. It may be cold, but children are still at risk for sunburn.
The holidays are a time for celebration and fun. By following these simple safety tips, families can enjoy the holiday season without injury. Happy Holidays!
If you’d like to arrange an interview with Dr. Woodward, please contact Children’s PR team at 206-987-4500 or firstname.lastname@example.org.