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Published on November 30, 2021

Don’t let your holiday season turn tragic

Holiday Childproof

There’s so much to do to get ready for holiday visitors, it’s easy to forget one important job: childproofing your house.

More than 10,000 children are seen in emergency departments every day for the kinds of injuries that commonly happen in the home, according to Safekids.org, a nonprofit funded by corporations like Johnson & Johnson. While you can’t make your house totally injury-proof, a few simple steps reduce the risk for grandchildren and other young visitors.

For example, unless you live fulltime with a baby or preschooler, you might not realize the danger posed by an everyday item like a bookcase.

“Anything that is higher than the height of a kid is usually top heavy and can come down on top of them,” said Leah McDonald, MD, an emergency room doctor at Falmouth Hospital. “We definitely see that; kids climbing on top of things taller than they are will cause them to fall backwards and the object to fall on top of them. And they usually end up with some kind of head trauma.”

An estimated 25,500 individuals were treated annually, on average, in U.S. hospital emergency departments for an injury associated with a tip-over of furniture, televisions, or appliances from 2017 to 2019. Children are at increased risk of tip-over injury, with most injuries and fatal incidents involving children younger than 6 years old, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Young children also get hurt falling off couches or chairs, perhaps when they reach for something, said Dr. McDonald, who happens to have a 10-month-old daughter.

“Any kind of head injury can lead to a concussion,” she said. “It depends on how strong of an impact it is when they fall, but those are the most common injuries that we see in kids.”

The solution? Install furniture anchors, which use strapping or metal cords to keep furniture like bookcases, bureaus or TVs anchored to the wall.

Here are six more pre-holiday steps to take, based on what Dr. McDonald sees in the emergency room:

  1. Put away medications. “Any pills you take should be put away in a place where the child can’t get to it,” Dr. McDonald said. “Kids will take anything off counters, and bottles can be opened. Any little bit of medication -- especially diabetes medications, seizure medications -- can have a big effect on kids.”
  2. Tuck electrical cords out of reach. “The biggest thing we would see is lip injuries from chewing on a wire that’s been plugged in,” Dr. McDonald said. “If you have any wires that need to stay plugged in, I’d make sure you cordon those off.” Also, install plug covers in unused electrical outlets. “People are pretty good about that,” she said.
  3. Protect sleeping areas. If kids are mobile, they should be put to bed in a child-proofed room where, for example, there are no small objects they can put in their mouths -- “because they are probably going to be venturing around their room,” she said.
  4. Rethink holiday decorations. “I have seen kids take off pieces of ornaments and swallow them. The best ornaments to go on the bottom of the Christmas tree are big plastic ones that a kid can take off and won’t cause any injury. Anything small should go up top.”
  5. Be conscious of pets. You might not have to totally separate kids and pets to avoid scratches or bites, but you should keep an eye out, Dr. McDonald said. “I would be wary of an older cat or dog that isn’t used to kids. Be sure that you’re watching when they’re around. The child is likely to go for the pet in a friendly way, but the animal may take it as a sign of aggression. We definitely see animal bites pretty frequently.”
  6. Update your parenting skills. There have been changes in child safety rules in the last generation. For example, any child under 12 months old should be put to sleep on their back without loose blankets or pillows. “It can be hard to think that grandparents need to do things differently than how they did it,” Dr. McDonald said. “So, they need to have a little bit of patience.”