Child Safety Education: Keeping Your Child Safe

You know the obvious household dangers -- but what are you missing?
You know the obvious household dangers -- but what are you missing?

Most parents know to childproof their homes by installing safety plugs in electrical outlets and storing detergents and other household chemicals out of reach. But did you know that balloons kill more kids than virtually any other plaything? Choking on these colorful decorations is a serious hazard -- only bicycles and riding toys account for more deaths.

Susan Price, co-author with Miriam Bachar Settle, Ph.D., of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Child Safety, became interested -- no, consumed -- with the importance of child safety after the birth of her daughter, Julie, in 1985.

"Here I had this new baby, and I was totally responsible for keeping her safe," she remembers. "I felt like I didn't know anything, so I took a child safety class. That's when I learned how much can go wrong, and really got scared!"

Price recommends that every parent take a child safety course, but warns that taking classes is not enough; you also have to take action. Our childproof house shows you how to keep your home -- and your child -- out of harm's way.

"For example, everyone knows cleaning supplies should be locked up, but a class will show you that a lot of other products are dangerous too, like perfume, some cosmetics and vitamins that contain iron," she says. She also notes that safety advice can change. For instance, until recently, pediatricians recommended that babies sleep on their stomachs.

Now, they're urging parents to put babies to sleep on their backs, and this one simple act has cut the death rate due to SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) by 40 percent. Learning about the Back to Sleep campaign is just one of many examples of how changes in child safety recommendations can affect your child.

Another way to keep up with changes is to sign onto the Consumer Product Safety Commission's Web site to receive regular emails on recalled products. "Paying attention to recalls is important because you may think you have chosen the best equipment, but new information reveals it is defective," Price says. She also recommends checking out the Web sites of the Safe Kids Campaign and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which list safety tips for kids. 

Common Hazards

Falls are a top source of injury for children year-round, but especially in summer as people open windows, forgetting that screens will not hold a child. "Installing window guards is a good idea, especially above the first story," Price recommends.

"But guards on windows that could serve as exits in case of fire should have a quick release that can be operated by an adult. Children are also injured in falls from decks, porches and playground equipment, especially young children who play on equipment designed for older kids.

You need to make sure your kids are on age-appropriate equipment," says Price, adding that parents should check for cushioning materials, such as wood chips, rubber mats, pea gravel or sand under equipment. "Hard-packed dirt can cause serious injury to the head and neck," she notes.

Water safety cannot be overstressed. "Constantly, carefully, supervise your child around water," Price says. "Young children should never be left alone to swim, even in a backyard baby pool." Although lifeguards are important, they are no substitute for a parent's sharp eye.

The AAP recommends that an adult be within arm's length of infants and toddlers, to provide "touch supervision," and counsels against using floaties and other inflatable swim toys, as they are not a substitute for approved life vests and can give children — and you — a false sense of security.

Children are not developmentally ready for swim lessons until after their fourth birthday, according to the AAP. Swim programs for children under 4 can help familiarize children with water but do not decrease the risk of drowning.

Street smarts."Experts say that children under 10 should not cross the street by themselves," Price says, noting that this is a developmental issue, not an observation on how responsible the child is. "Before 10, kids don't have fully developed peripheral vision or depth perception," she says. "They often can't judge speed and distance. In addition, they're small, and cars often don't see them as well."

Can kids still have fun? Of course! But being aware of hazards and acquiring skills such as CPR and other first-aid techniques as they apply to children will give you confidence in your ongoing effort to keep your child as safe as possible.