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Preventing Serious Childhood Injuries

Dear Elizabeth,
I currently care for my 3-year-old niece & 4-year-old nephew. Are there things I can do to ensure their safety in my home while they're under my care?
Scarlet Rodriguez
Elizabeth's Tips
Elizabeth Sanchez
Elizabeth Sanchez
  • Check your home for potential hazards
  • Take necessary safety measures
  • Never leave children alone
  • Create safe spaces for outdoor play
Expert Advice
Dr. Alan Greene
Dr. Alan Greene
Injuries are the leading cause of death of children under age 4 in the United State and most of those injuries can be prevented. Injuries tend to happen because parents arenít aware that their kids are learning Ė theyíre learning so fast Ė and theyíll start jumping and running before they expect them to.

Adjust Safety Measures as Children Develop
Home safety precautions differ for infants and toddlers than for preschool age children. Every time a child enters a developmental stage, there will be new dangers. When they become toddlers thereís a different set of injuries, when they become preschoolers, itís different yet again. So you want to baby-proof, but then you also want to toddler-proof, and then you want to preschool-proof.

Check Home for Hazards
One really great way to remember when to update your safety measures is to have it coincide with your childís physicals. Every time you bring your child for a physical, ask your pediatrician or health care provider for a safety checklist when you go home. There will be one checklist at age 2 and then a different one at age 4. Health care providers will usually have these checklists in their offices and theyíre provided by the Academy of Pediatrics. Use the physical as a time to re-evaluate your home and environment because the physicals usually coincide with major developmental milestone ages. There are also safety and baby-proofing services that will come to your home and help you with this.

Preventing Serious Childhood Injuries
Some of the most common kinds of serious childhood injuries are falls, scalds, poisoning, drowning, fires, suffocation/choking, and firearm hazards. Hereís what you can do to prevent the injuries:

For 3 and 4 year olds, because kidsí abilities are so great now, theyíre going to be having different falls than before. Play equipment falls are very common, so you want to be sure the surface under the play equipment is soft and can absorb the fall. Be aware of locking doors to places that could be a problem and cause falls. Gates on stairways may still be important, and window guards above the first floor are important.

The kitchen is one place that scalds tend to happen a lot. So one place to start is to set water heaters to 120 degrees. Itís great to get kids involved in food preparation, but you donít want them to be right under where there may be hot liquids or hot grease or hot food you could spill on them, so pay attention to where they are. Itís also good to turn handles inward so that someone walking by isnít going to accidentally bump the handles and spill the hot contents.

Itís true that kids will open drawers and climb anywhere at 3 and 4 years old, and they may very well swallow things, especially if they look attractive. People have even mistaken pine oil cleaners for flavored beverages and died from ingesting them, so locking cabinets is good. Even better than that are the very, very safe cleaning products on the market that you donít have to lock up. Whether thatís dishwashing liquid or laundry detergent or household cleaners, you can get ones that are truly non-toxic Ė that can go a long way. The number one cause of poisonings are personal care products, number two are household cleaning supplies, and then itís various medicines.

One of the big things is to never leave kids alone, not even for a minute. Wading and swimming pools, in particular, are very important places to have fences all the way around. By age 3 or 4, kids can learn to keep their heads above water, and itís a good time to start lessons to teach them how to do that.

Fire-Related Injuries
One of the biggest things you can do to prevent injuries from fires is to have working smoke alarms on every floor of the home, especially near sleeping areas and close to the kitchen where many fires start. You want to make sure to change the batteries once a year if theyíre battery operated. Make sure not to overload electrical circuits or use anything with worn power plugs or cords.

Suffocation/ Choking
Many times choking happens from hard pieces of food Ė hot dogs, raw carrots, peanuts, popcorn, whole grains, etc. Ė so you want to make sure kids are sitting down when eating any of those and not otherwise distracted and that youíre around when theyíre eating. Age 3 is about the cusp where this becomes much less of an issue, usually, except for balloons, which remain a choking hazard for a number of years after this. Balloons actually cause more choking deaths between the ages of 4-to-6 than other things. Be aware of small parts that could come loose from toys because those also become choking hazards.

Firearms Hazards
When thereís a gun in the home, itís about 43 times more likely to kill a family member or friend than it is to kill an intruder. If you have a firearm in the home, be sure to keep it unloaded and locked, especially ammunition locked separately. Itís also important to pay attention to the houses where your kids play because many of them may have guns and they may not be kept safely. Some studies have shown that if thereís a gun in the home it becomes the most likely cause of death of that child in childhood.

Be Safety Conscious, But Donít ďOver-ProtectĒ Your Kids
I tell parents that we want kids to be active, and we want kids to explore, but these few simple precautions will help you relax quite a bit and let them be kids. From time to time people may hear warnings against letting kids use scooters, etc., because of the risk of sprained ankles. Iím more concerned that kids arenít getting active enough. Iíd rather see them do things that involve a little risk than to have them sitting around all the time. If theyíre protecting their heads with helmets, then any bumps or scrapes resulting from an activity like riding a scooter are just a normal part of childhood.
Child Care Provider Comments
Joaquin Gurrola
Joaquin Gurrola
Cares for his nieces and nephews
I keep all of my cleaning materials in safe places and away from the kids. I keep matches and lighters away from the kids. I explain to them the dangers and that only an adult should handle them.
Rachelle Vargas
Rachelle Vargas
Child care provider for 17 years
I like to have the children vocalize the rules because it seems to get them more involved and engaged in their own protection and safety. I believe that if you allow yourself to do everything, then the children wonít know how to handle things themselves as they get older. Itís easy to teach the children about safety when the issue hits home.
Mechellet Bickerstaff
Mechellet Bickerstaff
Mother of two
You have to take safety precautions in the house. If a child hurts himself, he may be hesitant to walk. He will have that fear factor. When I had my second child, we decided to use bumper guards with my daughter. All sharp edges were protected and we just moved stuff to make it easier for her. We continued to child proofed our home and all of the cabinets.

Treating Burns Featured Activity:
Treating Burns
Preventing Serious Childhood Injuries Featured Video:
Preventing Serious Childhood Injuries
Topic: Health & Safety
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