Many of us have fond memories of holidays spent with family or friends, so we naturally want our children to enjoy the same warm and fuzzy experience. But Thanksgiving or Christmas may be more dangerous to your young child than you think. Parents of young children should consider a checklist of common dangers when visiting family or friends.
1 Even though your home may be an excellent example of childproofing, family members who don’t have young children still living with them may have medicines or other poisons stored in easy reach of toddlers, or other dangers you would never tolerate in your own home. It’s a good idea to arrive a little early for the festivities, so you can look through the house for hidden dangers.
2 Be sure to clean up right after a big meal or opening gifts. Toddlers often wake up earlier than the rest of the family, and they could easily choke on leftovers or wrapping materials. Items such as scissors or knives may be kept in easy reach for older relatives, but this would be a clear danger to young fingers.
3 Keep the Poison Help number available at all times: (800) 222-1222. The Poison Help number is available 24 hours and is the same number nationwide. Parents should keep this number available anyway, but grandparents and other relatives may not keep such information handy. Poison Help provides advice about many different types of exposures, from medicines to animal bites. A simple call can be quite valuable, either by helping parents decide if they should go to the hospital, or by providing home-care advice.
4 Check doors and locks for security, as well as fencing around the home. Nobody wants a child wandering around an unfamiliar property. Many newer homes are handicapped-accessible, but this also means doorknobs that are easier for toddlers to open. Deadbolts at adult height are best. Be sure pools and other water sources are locked behind fences, and if not, keep your young children (below age 7) within arms’ reach during your visit.
5 Check holiday decorations for risk of falling onto children if within their reach. Christmas trees should be behind baby gates or have some other barrier, or at least have child-safe, unbreakable ornaments on them. Children love bright colors and lights, and it is very tempting for them to touch and tug on dangling tree limbs. Even harvest-themed décor may be a fire or choking hazard, so watch your children closely to keep these items out of their reach.
6 Live Christmas trees can be a fire hazard if not properly watered or if lights are left on all night. Make sure candles and holiday lights are turned off before bedtime to prevent small fingers from getting burned early in the morning, before the adults wake up. The extra benefit is saving on the electric bill!
7 Stairs may seem like an obvious hazard, but require some extra attention when the child is unfamiliar with the home, or when there are no baby gates in place. Our family had a habit of taking two extra gates to my mother’s house at holidays, because her stairs have no carpet and really made me nervous when our twins were younger and more adventurous.
8 One last warning: those cute little cars and baby dolls may be perfectly appropriate for an older child, but could pose a huge choking risk to a child under 4. If you have a range of ages represented in the family, designate a safer area for the toddlers, and make that room hazard-free, with the older kids and their toys off-limits. The youngsters will feel special, you can select more age-appropriate toys for them, and there is less risk of an older child getting too rough with a little one. It also makes supervision easier for the adults, since you can rotate the role of “nanny” among the adults at the event, so none of them feels unfairly banished to toddler world.
With a little planning and a team effort on the part of the whole family, the holidays can be safe and pleasant for everyone, with lots of new memories just waiting to be made!
By Dr. Brian Gannon, Dr. Brian Gannon is a pediatrician at Pediatric Partners in Owensboro. With four kids still in car seats and lots of family in the Deep South, he and his wife are real pros at traveling with young children for the holidays.