Childproofing Your Home for the Holidays

By Karen Sheehan, MD

I can no longer deny it. The holidays are here in full force — first came Hanukkah, then Thanksgiving, then Black Friday (which I realize is not technically a holiday, but it is a day celebrated by many nevertheless). This time of year is certainly full of tidings of joy, but it can also be stressful. And, unfortunately, increased stress, along with change of routine, can lead to the increased possibility of childhood injury. However, I believe I can write you a prescription to help prevent such misfortune.

  • Encourage your children to get a healthy amount of sleep. If you can implement this first recommendation, you will prevent the vast majority of injuries over the holidays. I realize this recommendation in the time of so many distractions — school vacation, out of town guests and spectacular presents — will require you to use all of your desperate parenting strategies (i.e. bribing, cajoling and threats), but adequate sleep is key to an injury-free holiday. The fact is that kids are more likely to be hurt when they are sleepy. For example, toddlers love to run around in nice footy pajamas, which protect their entire body except their head. This exposed head, in a sleepy child, will inevitably hit the corner of a table or a wall, leading to a laceration, thus requiring a trip to the emergency department (ED) for stitches, which I know for a fact is a place no one wants to be during the holidays.
  • Safeguard prescription medications. Grandparents are a treasure and so are their purses and toiletry kits, which kids love to explore. However, these bags can potentially be a source of very harmful drugs for a young child to ingest (even though they may be filled with lifesaving medication). In addition, sometimes grandparents drop a pill and don’t realize it or do not keep their medicine in childproof containers because of arthritis, allowing easier than usual access to medicines. If, despite your best efforts to keep medicine out of reach, your child does get into something he/she shouldn’t have, call the Illinois Poison Center at 1.800.222.1222 for advice. Sometimes an ingestion can be monitored at home, although it may require a trip to the ED.
  • Keep hot liquids out of reach. With the cold weather, hot drinks sound particularly tasty, but distracted guests not used to small children have been known to leave their hot liquids on low tables where children can grab them and pour them on themselves, causing serious scalds. Sometimes just informing your guests about how your children like to explore is a sufficient reminder to keep the hot drinks up high. However, in a crowded party, you may just want to forgo the really hot liquid.
  • Store colored lamp oils out of the reach of children. If you remember nothing else from this post, it is imperative that you remember this. These lamp oils are often pretty jeweled colors — ruby red, emerald green, royal blue — and kids, who learn about the world through putting things in their mouth, want to taste them because they look like they might taste good. The fact is they taste horrible, but kids only need to ingest the smallest amount because these oils are hydrocarbons which target the lungs and can cause tremendous, irreversible damage.

In summary, although we usually speak about “childproofing” a home, I think during the holidays, we should re-frame the concept as “adultproofing” the home because it is the naturally chaotic nature of holidays filled with guests, special foods and drinks that often lead to injury. Planning ahead (e.g., have grandma store her purse in the locked bedroom) can help decrease any exposure. Also, schedule naps for everyone. This may not prevent every injury, but being well rested makes everything more tolerable — even waits in a busy ED!

For more tips on keeping your house safe for children year round, read through the Kohl’s Cares Safety Network home childproofing tips.

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