The holiday season is a time of joy and excitement for children, but it can also pose dangers for them. Potential hazards — kitchen appliances, candles, and festive decorations — may cause injury to curious children. You can ensure that a child’s holiday season remains merry and bright with some education and proactive measures. Likewise, you can make your home a safe place for the children of your visiting friends and family.

Be on the lookout for, and educate children about, these potential dangers:

Fire

Fires are common occurrences year round that can lead to devastating damage, but fires are especially common during the holidays.

  • Fireplace – Set up a sturdy screen in front of the fireplace when in use, even with glass-enclosed fireplaces since the glass can become hot enough to catch nearby flammable items on fire or burn the skin.
  • Candles – Watch out for unattended candles near children, and keep lit candles away from curtains or other flammable materials. Also monitor the candle’s burning progress as candleholders or low-sitting decorations may catch fire as the candle burns low. Consider using electric or battery-operated candles instead.
  • Light strands – Always check your light strands — even new ones — for broken bulbs and frayed wires before use, and be careful not to overload power strips or extension cords.

Cars

The holidays can be a hectic time filled with trips to the store for presents and ingredients for your staple dish. Traffic increases in many areas during this time of year, which may lead to more accidents.

  • Parking lots – Crowded parking lots are especially dangerous during the busy holiday season. Teach your child to watch for vehicles before crossing a road or parking lot, as well as vehicles preparing to back out of or pull through parking spots.
  • Familiarize yourself with your route – If you are trekking to a new part of town to visit a specific store, it is wise to know your way around ahead of time. Relying on GPS may lead to dangerous last-minute turns and lane changes.
  • Intoxication – Be aware of other drivers, since Christmas and New Year’s Eve are times of higher alcohol consumption. Similarly, don’t drink and drive; your child’s life is in your hands. Also, teach your children the importance of not riding with an intoxicated person.

Poisoning

Poisoning is a year-round concern, but the holidays present an increased risk of poisoning for little ones.

  • Plants – Keep poisonous plants like mistletoe, Jerusalem cherry, holly, and poinsettias out of children’s reach.
  • Food – Make sure raw meats are cooked thoroughly and foods that need refrigeration are not left out at room temperature for longer than two hours. It is also important to familiarize yourself with safe food storage procedures to prevent any illness you may get eating that delicious leftover ham sandwich.
  • Alcohol – Children may pick up unattended drink containers and consume the leftover alcohol, which can lead to alcohol poisoning due to their small size. Always store alcohol out of reach and do not leave alcoholic drinks unattended.
  • Keep medications up and out of sight - Young children visiting your home may be curious about bottles of medication. Make sure all medication is stored in a secured cabinet and out of sight and reach of little hands.
  • Unlocked cabinets – If your home is not childproofed, secure unlocked cabinets that may contain cleaning products or laundry supplies if your holiday visitors includes children. If you are visiting another home with your little one, remind curious children to not explore the house.
    • Prevention is key, but in case of emergency, call the Poison Hot Line at 1 (800) 222-1222.

    Choking

    As a general rule: if an object can fit in a child’s mouth, it’s too small for him or her to play with. Some common choking hazards include:

    • Small parts – Button batteries, Legos, and gift tags are just a few of the items that can easily fit in a toddler’s mouth.
    • Plant pieces – Tree needles can cut a child’s mouth and hurt his or her throat if swallowed.
    • Foods – Holiday treats such as popcorn and peanuts can be a choking hazard to small children. Keep these out of reach and offer children safe treats instead.
    • Burns

      Burns can happen in a matter of seconds and range from an uncomfortable blister to serious damage to tissue.

      • Kitchen – Hot plates, stovetops, and pans can cause burns, so make sure to keep hot items out of a child’s reach, use the back burner when possible, and turn pot handles away from the front of the stove. Actively watch your child while they are in the kitchen; it is very easy for a child to reach for a yummy cookie off a hot sheet while your back is turned. For optimal safety, keep children out of the kitchen.

      Other accidents

      • Shopping safety – Teach your kids to be cautious with strangers and agree on a location to meet up if they are separated from you during shopping.
      • Tree safety– Anchor artificial Christmas trees to the wall or use a sturdy tree stand for real trees so they can’t be knocked over. Keep small, breakable ornaments away from the bottom branches to prevent children from playing with them or putting them in their mouths.
      • Safe decorating – The holiday season often means lugging out boxes of decorations and turning your house into a winter wonderland. While garland on the railing and nutcrackers on the steps may make your house look out of a magazine, both pose potential fall hazards. While decorating, prioritize safety over aesthetics to prevent potential injuries.
      • Cuts – Many holiday decorations are fragile and may break if dropped; make sure glass decorations and delicate kitchenware are out of your child’s reach. Knives and other sharp utensils should be put away in a safe location.

      Many of these potential accidents may require medical attention, which can be tricky during the holidays when many health care providers are open limited hours. Luckily, Patient First centers are open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., every day – including holidays. For those who are traveling, Patient First operates centers in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.


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