Keep Your Child Safe from Hidden Dangers: A Room-by-Room Guide

As parents, we do everything we can to make our homes safe for our children, but there may be hazards lurking in unexpected places. Find out how you can alleviate overlooked household dangers.

Did you know that the leading cause of death and disability in children ages one to four is home accidents? This is the sad and surprising truth, as reported by the National Safety Council (NSA). The NSA actually refers to these incidents as “unintentional injuries” instead of “accidents,” because in most cases they could have been prevented.

While no home can be 100 percent safe, you can greatly reduce the chance of your child getting hurt in your own home using the following information on hidden dangers.

Five Most Common Childhood Injuries

According to Safe Kids Worldwide, a global network of organizations whose mission is to prevent accidental childhood injury, almost two million emergency department visits each year come from injuries children receive at home. To better understand how to protect yourself—and your child—from an unwanted trip to the ER, familiarize yourself with these five most common childhood injuries:

Falls: Injury-prevention experts agree falls are at the top of the list when it comes to nonfatal injuries among children from birth to the age of 14 months. Why so many fall-related injuries? “Babies are top-heavy,” explains Angela Mickalide, PhD, Director of Education and Outreach for the Home Safety Council. Dr. Mickalide adds that babies learn how to climb onto objects before they learn how to climb down.

Poisoning: According to Safe Kids Worldwide, in 2002, an estimated 111,870 children ages 14 and under were treated in emergency rooms for unintentional poisoning (80 percent were children four years old and younger). Toxic household cleaners pose a serious risk, as do colorful prescription and over-the-counter medicines that lure curious toddlers.

Drowning: “Drowning happens quickly and silently,” says Carol O. Ball, Manager of Unintentional Injury Prevention at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. According to a September 2003 report from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, an average of about 250 children under age five drown in pools nationwide each year, and about 115 additional young children drown in other products in and around the homes—including bathtubs, buckets, toilets, hot tubs, spas and other containers.

Fires and Burns: Of the five injury causes, fires are the most fatal. Beyond dying from burns, children’s small bodies absorb smoke more quickly, making them susceptible to suffocation.

Suffocation or Airway Obstruction: The majority of suffocation deaths occur in the sleeping environment, says Ball. Babies can become trapped on their stomachs and suffocate in soft bedding or even a parent sleeping next to them. Children can also suffocate when their airways becomes blocked. Coins, toys, buttons, popcorn, cookies, and other small objects can lodge in a child’s airway if swallowed.

Now that you know how your baby can become injured, carefully consider what you can do to make your home safer. In addition to following our room-by-room guide, keep the number for poison control near the phone and always have your family’s health information and insurance cards handy in case of an accident.

A Room-by-Room Guide

Let’s take a look at your home room-by-room and evaluate what dangers can be eliminated.

In the Kitchen

  • Use the backburners instead of front burners for cooking; always turn pot handles inward, toward the stove.
  • Store knives, glassware, and appliances in cabinets with child-safety locks.
  • Avoid using placemats and tablecloths. Toddlers can pull these cloths down along with whatever is on top of them.
  • Never leave mopping supplies unattended. A child can drown in even an inch of water.

Top Hidden Danger: Holding your child while you cook. It’s easy to put your child on your hip while you make dinner, but it’s just as easy for a wiggly toddler to put out a hand and burn herself on a pan or for you to lose your balance and not be able to hold both your child and a hot pan.

In the Family Room

  • Use broad-based, non-wheeled carts and tables for televisions, fish tanks, and other equipment. Heavy items can topple over onto children.
  • Secure bookcases, shelving, and heavy furniture with brackets to prevent them from falling over.
  • Regularly test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms, replacing outdated batteries and alarms. Many alarms are designed for ten years of use; check with the manufacturer if you are unsure about your alarm’s effectiveness.
  • Place heavy artwork and pictures out of reach and away from furniture to prevent children from climbing on furniture to pull them down.

Top Hidden Danger: Choking or tripping on television, DVD, and/or game console cables. Babies and toddlers can pull down electronics by their cords as well as chew on stray cords or pull on power plugs. Place cords behind furniture or purchase cable organizers to encase and protect cords from little hands. Use outlet covers for open sockets and protective covers for sockets with plugs.

In the Bathroom

  • Set your home’s water heater to 120 degrees to reduce the risk of burns.
  • Install toilet seat locks to prevent drowning.
  • Place all medications out of your child’s reach.
  • Put safety latches on drawers and cabinets. Although the items in the drawers may not be harmful, toddlers can use the drawers to climb onto countertops.

Top Hidden Danger: Poisoning from bathroom cleaners. Even if cleaning bottle sprayers are in the off position, toddlers may put the sprayers in their mouths and lick excess liquid. Many cleaners contain hazardous substances; consider purchasing organic, non-hazardous cleaners, available at health food stores and larger supermarkets.

In the Nursery

  • Don’t use too much or ill-fitting bedding, and remove stuffed animals from cribs as they are a suffocation danger.
  • Never leave your baby unattended on the changing table to prevent falls.
  • Remove window blind cords and bows or strings on bumper pads. Both pose strangulation and choking hazards.
  • Throw away toys that become worn or broken. Loose parts are a major choking hazard.

Top Hidden Danger: Strangling or becoming entrapped in heirloom cribs. “Baby furniture built even a decade ago might not meet some of today’s safety standards,” says Ball. Review crib safety guidelines at the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website ( Older cribs often have spaces that are too wide between the crib rails or slats, where babies’ heads or body parts can become entrapped.

In the Home Office

  • Cover all outlets to prevent children from shock.
  • Store power strips and cords behind furniture and out of reach.
  • Keep paper shredders and other potentially dangerous office equipment well out of reach of little fingers.
  • Get covers for trashcans. Children can become trapped in the can or put something harmful in their mouths.
  • Secure bookcases and file cabinets with angle braces and anchors so that children can’t pull them down.

Top Hidden Danger: Office supplies that can choke or poison. Debra Smiley Holtzman, child safety expert and author of The Safe Baby: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Home Safety recommends parents lock up office supplies.

If you’ve ever given a toddler a pen to appease her while you finish an email, you may be endangering her without realizing it. Not only can toddlers put pen caps in their mouths and choke, some pens and markers have inks with harmful chemicals. Staples and paperclips pose choking hazards as well, while chemicals in correction fluid, printer toner, and glue can be toxic when ingested.

You can’t watch your child every second of every day but you can try to make your home as safe—and injury-free—as possible. And don’t underestimate your child. “Parents often don’t understand what their children are capable of. If you can imagine it,” admonishes Ball, “I fully believe there’s a child somewhere who can do it.”

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