Home -- it's where children grow and learn, the place where they find comfort, love and care. It's where they can see, touch, explore and experience the world around them, so their minds and bodies develop properly. It's also a place where children need to feel safe.
However, home injuries are a leading source of accidental death for children. Almost 21 million medical visits and 20,000 deaths each year are the result of accidents in the home [source: Home Safety Council ]. Media reports bring attention to the possible accidents that can occur, such as being bitten by a trusted pet, choking on balloons or wandering out the front door.
Fortunately, home injuries are largely avoidable through education and prevention. Parents can take proactive steps to childproof the home and keep their children safe by teaching them a few practical rules.
Take a look at the top 10 home safety tips for children.
Never Leave Children Alone Near Water
Splashing around in the water at bath time or playtime is great fun for children, yet water presents many possible hazards. Drowning can occur in less than an inch of water, making bathtubs, sinks, pools and even pails a source of great danger. For safety, it's essential to prevent situations that may lead to accidents.
Never leave a child unattended near water, even for just a few seconds. If the phone or doorbell rings while your baby or young child is in the bathtub, pick him up, wrap him in a towel and take him with you. Do not leave him alone: It takes only a few seconds for drowning to occur. If you leave your baby with a caregiver, make sure he or she knows your safety rules.
Backyard pools, hot tubs, wading pools, even small koi or fishponds, can become dangerous in an instant. Make sure you have a fence around the pool or pond to keep young children from venturing where they shouldn't, and consider an alarm system on doors leading out to the pool area. Hot tubs should be covered when they are not in use. Wading pools or splash pools should always be emptied when playtime is over.
Scalding burns from hot water are also a potential concern. To be safe, lower your hot water heater settings to 120 degrees F (49 degrees C) to avoid scalding by water that comes out of the bathtub or sink faucets. Test bath water temperature with your hand or elbow to make sure it is at a comfortable temperature before lowering your child into the tub.
Keep Cleaning Materials and Other Chemicals Away from Children
From detergent to deodorant, many household products are potentially poisonous to kids if swallowed. To childproof your house, think from a child's perspective, even getting down on your hands and knees to see things from your child's point of view.
Be sure to install cabinet guards on any cabinet where cleaners, chemicals or garden fertilizers are stored. Keep these products in their original container; do not store them in a container where they might be mistaken for food.
If there are certain rooms that aren't childproofed or contain many potential hazards, such as a workshop or a hobby room, keep the door closed and install a doorknob cover or childproof lock.
Store all medicines in a locked cabinet, away from a child's reach. Even cabinets that are up high need a lock, because curious kids might climb up to see what's inside.
Never leave cosmetics and toiletries within easy reach. Children like to mimic the things they see their parents doing, and everyday products like perfume, hairspray, nail polish and remover, even mouthwash, can be harmful to children.
If an accident occurs despite all of your precautions, and you find your child holding a half-used bottle of detergent, contact the American Association of Poison Control immediately at 1.800.222.1222. Experts are on-call to help guide you to the most appropriate first aid and the next step for treatment.
Any Firearms Should Be Unloaded and Locked Away
It's estimated that 42 percent of all U.S. homes have a firearm, and if you choose to have one, it's your responsibility to know how to use it safely. Make sure it is not stored loaded with ammunition and lock it away in a safe place that is not accessible by children. Gun safes, locked cabinets and other options are available for secure storage.
Talking with children about the dangers of guns is extremely important, especially if your child comes into contact with a gun in someone else's home. The National Rifle Association recommends that children should be taught simple gun safety at an early age. Teach them the safe response if they see a gun: "Stop! Don't touch! Tell an adult! Leave the area!" [source: NRA].
Keep Sleeping Areas as Bare as Possible, Especially for Babies
Suffocation is a leading cause of unintentional injury-related death, and 60 percent of these cases occur in a baby's sleeping environment. An infant's nose and mouth can be covered accidently by soft fluffy pillows, comforters or stuffed animals, restricting his or her ability to breathe. Keep your baby's crib as bare as possible. Use one light blanket and tuck the bottom underneath the end of the mattress to create a pocket. The blanket should only reach to the center of your baby's chest so that it can't be pulled over his head. As the weather get cooler, dress your baby in warmer pajamas instead of adding blankets, or consider using sleep sacks [source: Parents].
As children get older, talk to them about the dangers of suffocation and be diligent in providing safe areas for play. Watch out for potential hazards and find ways to make them safer, such as:
- Remove lids or locks from furniture or trunks to prevent a child from climbing inside and finding it cannot be opened from the inside
- Remove doors from old refrigerators or freezers
- Keep plastic sacks, such as grocery bags or dry cleaning wraps, out of reach
- Lock the car trunk and keep car keys hidden
Cover Electrical Outlets and Protect Children from Electrical Wires
Electrical shock causes deaths and injuries each year. An electrical shock occurs whenever a child touches an electrically charged object, while touching another surface that can conduct the electricity to the ground. Proper grounding, electrical safety devices and avoiding hazardous situations can help prevent electrical shock in children.
Childproof your home from electric shock with these safety tips:
- Cover unused electrical sockets with plastic covers
- Repair or discard any damaged appliances or electric cords
- Keep young children away from electrical appliances
- Teach kids to respect electricity as early as possible
- Do not use a hair dryer or radio near water
Electricity is also a common cause of household fires. If you notice unusual odors, flickering lights or unusual power surges, have an electrician inspect your house and make sure the wiring system is safe.
Keep Small Items and Food Out of Reach
Many injuries occur when children are unable to breathe because food or other objects block their internal airways and cause choking. Most choking injuries occur with food items, so cut your child's meals and snacks into bite-sized pieces. Children are at risk from choking on small candies, nuts, hotdogs, grapes, carrots and popcorn, so keep these foods out of their reach.
Make sure small household items, such as coins, buttons, jewelry, small balls and pins, are stored away from a child's reach to avoid accidental choking. Don't select toys with many small parts. Look for labeling on toys with small parts that warn they are not safe for children under 3 years old.
Beware of the hidden dangers that lurk inside handbags and briefcases. Children are naturally curious about what's in Grandma's purse, but loose coins, gum, small candies, medicine, cosmetics, cigarettes, matches or other items commonly stashed in a purse can be deadly to a small child. So when Grandma (or another relative or friend) comes to visit, make sure her belongings are kept safely out of reach (and yours are, too).
Install a Smoke Alarm and Carbon Monoxide Detector
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, two-thirds of home fires that kill children under 5 occur in homes without a working fire alarm [source: U.S. Fire Administration]. When a fire breaks out, you have seconds to escape the heat, smoke and deadly gases. Families can increase their chance of survival by installing and maintaining smoke alarms and following a few simple procedures:
- Install a smoke alarm on every level of your house
- Test the alarms once every month and change the batteries every year
- Make sure your children are familiar with the sound of the fire alarm
- Have a fire escape plan that you can discuss, even with your youngest child, and arrange a family meeting place outside if the alarm does go off
Carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless gas, is also a danger to families with children. Any burning fuel creates carbon monoxide. If central heating, fireplaces, space heaters, water heaters or furnaces are not properly ventilated or leak, the dangerous gases can escape. Install a carbon monoxide detector along with your fire detector, and keep it properly maintained, to help ensure your home is safe.
Secure Windows, Block Stairways and Lock Doors
Accidental falls are one of the most common types of injuries to children, and taking some simple precautions can help avoid a serious problem. The severity of the injury often depends on the distance of the fall, so be aware of the dangers of heights. Never let your child sit on a bed or counter unattended. Keep stairs and hallways clear and free of clutter that could cause a child to trip and take a tumble, and install safety gates to block a toddler's access to a staircase.
Many injuries to older toddlers and preschool children result from falling out of an unsecured window. To avoid injuries, keep windows locked and screens in place. A young child could squeeze through a window opened as little as 5 inches (12.7 centimeters). Screens are not strong enough to keep a child inside. Discourage play near windows and patio doors, which could lead to a fall through glass. And don't store or display anything a child could climb near a window.
Keep young children from wandering out the front door by keeping it locked. It's a smart habit.
Keep Children Safe Around the Family Pet
Pets bring love and companionship to families. However, more than 155,000 children in the U.S. are bitten by pets each year, and most bites occur at home with familiar pets [source: Kaiser Permanente]. Every pet has the potential to bite, especially if he or she feels scared, threatened or overly excited.
Here's how you can help keep children safe around your family's furry friends.
- Choose a pet that suits your family's lifestyle. Learn how much space and exercise a breed needs, and make sure you are committed to meeting those needs. An active terrier may need long walks and a yard to play in, while another breed's needs for exercise and space are minimal. Some breeds are great with families, while others are devoted to a single master.
- Never leave your child alone with a pet.
- Spay or neuter your pet to help decrease aggression.
- Do not play rough games, wrestle or try to hug your dog.
- Teach children not to approach Fido when he is eating.
- Never try to take a toy, bone or treat away from a pet.
- Warn your child to stay away from an animal who is caring for its young, growling or showing its teeth, or acting strangely.
Teach your children these simple rules about how to behave around an unfamiliar pet:
- Ask permission before you approach and touch someone else's pet
- If the owner says it's OK, allow the animal to sniff your closed hand
- Stand quietly and back away if you see warning signs such as growling, bared teeth, ears thrown back or staring
Be Prepared for an Emergency
No matter how well you childproof your home or try to prevent accidents, one of the best things you can do is prepare yourself for an emergency. To help keep your kids safe, it's smart to:
- Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the abdominal thrust procedure (Heimlich maneuver)
- Assemble a first aid kit with emergency instructions
- Keep important numbers near your phone such as poison control, your pediatrician, your work and cell phone numbers, and a neighbor or nearby relative
And, as soon as your child is old enough to know her own name and address, teach him or her to dial 9-1-1 to call for help in case of an emergency.
Today's latchkey kids are likelier to come from low-income families than high-income ones — a flip from the early 2000s. HowStuffWorks explains why.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- "Pet Safety Guide for Parents & Children." The Permanente Medical Group. http://www.permanente.net/homepage/kaiser/pdf/50910.pdf
- "Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning." WebMd. http://children.webmd.com/prevent-carbon-monoxide-poisoning.
- "Safety Measures Around the Home." WebMd. http://children.webmd.com/tc/health-and-safety-ages-2-to-5-years-safety-measures-around-the-home
- Zintl, Amy. "The 15 Biggest Safety Mistakes." American Baby.http://www.parents.com