By Nancy Maes
The winter holidays are a season of comfort and joy. Kids and parents revel in all the holiday traditions as well as the time spent with family and friends. But with the strings of Christmas lights, ornaments and new toys come a few potential hazards. While we don’t want to be Grinches, we do want to pass on these holiday child safety tips from top Chicago doctors. Since pets are a big part of the family holiday celebration, we suggest that you also consider these cautions for your furry friends too.
— Christmas trees. Christmas trees are a favorite tradition, but they offer some risks that can be avoided. Artificial trees should be flame retardant, says Poj Lysouvakon, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at University of Chicago Medicine’s Comer Children’s Hospital. Live trees should be freshly cut with bright green needles that are not dropping from the branches because a tree that is dried out can be a fire hazard. To prevent a tree from drying out, make sure to water it daily. Also, keep the tree at least three feet away from an open flame, such as a fireplace and lighted candles, as well as from heat sources such as space heaters.
— Lights and ornaments. Garlands and strings of lights can pose a risk of strangling young children and pets, so decorations should be out of reach near the top of the tree, says Lysouvakon, who helped start Safe Kids South Chicago. Fragile glass ornaments and ones with sharp edges also should be near the top, with unbreakable ones at the bottom. Metal ornament hooks can be a choking hazard and should be replaced with yarn or transparent fishing wire. Extension cords should be placed so that people won’t trip on them, and children won’t chew on them and burn their mouths.
Karen Sheehan, MD, MPH, medical director of the Injury Prevention and Research Center at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, suggests putting a gate around the tree to prevent it from being toppled over by an active toddler. She cautions against putting decorative displays on a surface covered with a tablecloth. If a child pulls on the tablecloth, the display could fall off and hit the youngster.
— Hazardous plants. Decorative holiday plants can be hazardous if children decide to eat them. Mistletoe, holly berries, Jerusalem cherry and amaryllis are among the poisonous ones, Lysouvakon says. If a child munches on any of these, it’s important to keep the plant nearby when calling the local poison control center so that it’s easy to describe it and get appropriate advice.
— Toys. Of course, Santa will bring toys to the tots. But be sure that toys are appropriate for the child’s age and developmental stage. Well-made toys indicate recommended ages on the packages. Toys that are small or have small parts present a choking hazard. If a toy can drop through a cardboard toilet paper roll, it’s too small and presents a risk for kids under 3, Sheehan says.
Paints and crayons should be nontoxic and labeled ASTM D-4236, which means that they conform to the safety standards of the American Society for Testing and Materials, Lysouvakon says. Fabric on toys should be flame retardant, and stuffed animals should be washable. He cautions parents not give hand-me-down toys to their children because older toys may contain lead paint.
— Batteries. A button battery can be particularly dangerous if a child swallows it. “If the battery gets stuck somewhere in the body, it can generate an electrical current and cause bad burns,” Sheehan says. “It’s an emergency even if a battery is put in the nose or the ear. It should be removed right away.”
— Magnets. Small magnets can also do harm if they are swallowed. “If a child swallows one magnet, if should pass through, if it doesn’t get stuck anywhere,” Sheehan says. “But if a child swallows two of these superstrong magnets, they could adhere against the loops of the bowel and cause perforation.”
To keep the holiday season full of good cheer, keep moderation in mind. When kids and parents are overstimulated and overstressed, accidents are bound to occur.
“The reason we sometimes see peaks in injuries is because kids get overstimulated and overtired and become extremely silly or hyper, and then they don’t follow directions well,” Sheehan says. “The best thing families can do is to try not to overschedule, and if your kid still takes a nap, to try to squeeze one in.”
Lysouvakon says, “I tell parents to do everything in moderation. They should tell their kids that during the holiday season, they are going to bend the rules this one time, but they should set a date when they will go back to a nonholiday routine and back to their regular bedtim and meal routines.”
While celebrating the holiday season, don’t sound like a Grinch, but be aware of holiday hazards for kids. These safety tips are designed to keep kids safer this holiday and to keep all merry and bright.