How to Keep Your Kids Safe During the Holidays

We turned to the experts for tips on avoiding holiday-related injuries, and what you can do if any accidents occur

By Robin Stevenson
From the print edition, November 2011

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Illustration by Lillian Chan

The holiday season can be a tough one for toddlers who just want to touch everything they see. But a decorated tree or a burning fireplace, while beautiful, can pose potential hazards to curious children.

The easiest way to ensure a safe holiday season for your toddler is to provide active supervision, says Kristen Gane, program manager for Safe Kids Canada, the national injury prevention program of The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. “Be proactive. During family get-togethers talk about who is going to watch the kids, and take turns so everyone gets time to relax; otherwise everyone tends to assume someone else is watching the young ones when, in reality, no one is.”

We asked Gane and Dr. Jeremy Friedman, head of Paediatrics at The Hospital for Sick Children, how else to protect little ones from some common holiday dangers and what to do if an accident does occur.

Decorating the Christmas Tree

Gane says parents may have to make a few concessions regarding their holiday decor during their child’s toddler stage. Hang sharp or fragile ornaments high up, far from grabby hands or make this the year of fabric ornaments.

First aid:If your child suffers a cut from a glass ornament, stop any bleeding by applying pressure and elevating the injured area. When the bleeding stops, wash the area thoroughly with water, apply a topical antibiotic ointment and cover with a bandage. If any glass in the wound appears easy to remove, do so, but if you can’t see anything, then leave it alone, says Dr. Friedman. Seek medical attention if glass is embedded in the wound or if it continues to bleed and is deep.

Lighting Candles and Fireplaces

Lit candles are a common cause of household fires in Canada, notes Gane. If you can’t live without them, keep them well out of reach of children and don’t leave candles unattended. And remember that glass barriers on fireplaces can get hot enough to severely burn a child. To minimize the risk, keep children at a safe distance or, as Gane suggests, consider using the fireplace only after the kids have gone to sleep.

First aid: “I’ve seen a few toddlers with burns to their palms from touching the glass doors from a fireplace,” says Dr. Friedman. To treat burns, place the area under cold running water, or place a cold, wet, clean cloth over the burned area. Do not apply butter or other greasy lotions and do not pierce any blisters. If your child is uncomfortable, you can give her a pain reliever. If the area appears infected, make an appointment with your doctor.

Stringing Holiday Lights

Before you hang your lights, look for loose connections, frayed wires or damaged bulbs. Use ones that have been certified by a recognized standards organization and do not overload electrical outlets. And try to keep cords where a child cannot access them, says Gane. “Young children may chew on them.”

First aid: If your child gets an electrical shock and is still in contact with the source, do not touch her until the cord has been unplugged or the electricity has been turned off, advises Dr. Friedman. If that is not possible, use an item that will not conduct current, such as a wooden or rubber object, to push her away. The current can disrupt the electrical rhythm of the heart causing cardiac arrest; if she is not breathing, start CPR and call 9-1-1.

Buying Toys

Ensure your child’s toys are safe by checking Health Canada’s website for recalls and by following the age recommendations on the package. Toys meant for older kids can be a choking hazard for toddlers, says Gane. Avoid toys with magnets (the Canadian Paediatric Society does not recommend toys with small magnetic parts that could be ingested for children under six) and ensure any batteries in a toy are only accessible with a screwdriver. Both can cause internal injuries if swallowed.

First aid:A choking child’s face may turn red or dusky blue and she may attempt to cough up the item, says Dr. Friedman. She may have a croupy cough (like a bark) or a hoarse-sounding voice. If she is able to speak or cough and is breathing adequately, encourage her to try to cough the item out. If this isn’t working, perform the Heimlich manoeuvre. If she loses consciousness, start CPR and call 9-1-1.

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