Preventing Injuries at Home

Preventing Injuries at Home

There’s no question that children’s safety, along with their health and well-being, is a top parental priority. As both a parent and a pediatrician, I have long been vocal about my conviction that staying well-informed of common and preventable childhood injuries is one of the single most important responsibilities of parenthood. According to

SafeKids Worldwide, a well-respected safety organization, nine million children are treated for preventable injuries in emergency departments every year. Staying abreast of the best ways to keep children safe is admittedly a big and sometimes daunting responsibility. Fortunately, a lot is known about which injuries are most likely, as well as the strategic measures we can put in place to prevent them – starting in, but extending well beyond our own homes.

It’s worth starting with a brief consideration of passive versus active injury prevention, since both are necessary to best ensure children’s safety. In the case of passive prevention – simply think of those things we can do, buy or install that keep our children safe without anyone having to spring to action. From outlet covers, corner protectors and safety locks to child-proof medicine containers and pool fences, these all represent but a few of the vast number of ways we can effectively make environments more safe for children so that when it comes time to sit down and play, explore or simply crawl around – kids can do so safely.

At the same time, injury prevention experts all agree that while these measures represent a big step in the right direction, passive strategies are only one aspect of the safety equation. Equally important is what is referred to as active prevention. Sounds intuitive, and fortunately – it is. Pools may have numerous passive safety features – but all the fences, covers and alarms combined do not take the place of direct adult supervision, any more than airbags and cars skillfully engineered to direct crash forces away from the passenger compartment take the place of the active buckling of car seats, harness straps and vehicle seat belts. In both instances, there is a critical element of active prevention required – from being within reaching distance of a young child in a pool to the correct installation of a car seat and its appropriate use each and every time the child is transported.

While the list of actual items, actions and recommendations around children’s safety and injury prevention may be all but endless, there are a few overarching safety strategies that, when adopted, can help parents best ensure that children’s surroundings are safe to explore.

Room Profiling 

Armed with an understanding of passive injury prevention, make a habit of scanning rooms to look for potential hazards. Almost anything can be potentially hazardous, but for the sake of your sanity start with this list of common hazardous items provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Have these risks been addressed without requiring an adult to jump, holler or intervene at every turn? Are windows locked and cribs away from windows or dressers? Are outlets covered and cords tug-proofed? Are medicines, cleaning agents and other dangerous-to-ingest items locked safely out of arms reach?

See the World Through Your Child’s Eyes

This not only means literally getting down on the floor and crawling around to see what your newly-mobile infant could now reach and/or get in to – something I always recommend to parents and other caregivers alike – but also taking into consideration how toddlers and young children think, act and view the world. In the case of young children, for example, not only is it expected that they will reach for, touch and/or grab everything they can get their hands on, but they will most likely then put it in their mouths. Developmentally normal, absolutely. But, also predictably hazardous if a room hasn’t been appropriately scoured for potential choking hazards. For a list of potential hazards to keep out of your child’s reach, visit www.safekids.org/infantsafety.

Think Outside the House

As the place children spend a significant amount of time and where we tend to have the most control of the surroundings, implementing a home safety checklist is unquestionably important. However, it’s equally important to invest time and energy into making sure children are safe other places where they spend time – from the car to friends’ houses to child care, school or grandma’s house. Anywhere they spend time, you need to invest additional time and energy into making sure they are safe as well.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Simply put, if young children don’t see something, they’re less likely to want it. This general principle is one that can help minimize the risk that children’s inquisitive nature will lead them to trouble (not to mention help minimize the resulting tantrums when a dangerous object is taken away!). Take medicine, for example. A pill or pill bottle left out is sure to pose both temptation and the serious potential for harm. Child-proof lids certainly help, but they aren’t fool-proof, and the same inquisitive nature we prize in our children is inconveniently the same trait that can cause them to get in to trouble. Whether it’s sharp objects, poisonous cleaning agents, gas cans or medications, the best safety combination is to have them in their original safety-proof containers, out-of-reach and ideally locked out of sight.

Accept No Substitutes

Short of keeping children in a padded room or in a plastic bubble (neither of which are recommended for optimal development of happy, healthy children), no amount of safety proofing eliminates the need for age-appropriate adult supervision. This applies to pools, playgrounds, kitchens and child care settings alike. Clearly the younger the child, the more direct supervision is necessary, but keep in mind that this parental responsibility carries well into the teen years. Quite simply, our ongoing role as parents is to provide our children with a safe environment in which they can learn, explore, run, play, touch, smell and interact with the world around them to the best of our ability.

When all is said and done, keeping children safe requires a delicate balance between nurturing their important need to explore, and protecting them from harm. Achieving this balance means not letting our natural parental instinct to protect our children at all costs from every scratch, trip or tumble dominate our every move, lest parenting become a predominantly scary business. Rather, it inherently involves a mix of informed purchases (think safety gates to sunscreen, or any of the many other proven-effective safety products), anticipation (understanding children’s predictable behaviors) and supervision – all of which ultimately help ensure our children will grow up happy, healthy and safe.

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