April 22, 2020

How to make “safer at home” safe for children

“As kids get bored they start getting into things they shouldn’t be getting into because they have nothing else to do,” says Children’s Hospital safety expert.

Little boy in a dangerous situation in the bathroom. A toddler in a laundry basket, legs sticking out.

Schools are out and children are spending their time at home with varied routines and often under less supervision. Parents are trying hard to maintain a balance working from home, managing their new normal and homeschooling their children. This is an unfortunate recipe for an increase in at-home injuries.

“As kids get bored they start getting into things they shouldn’t be getting into because they have  nothing else to do,” says Purnima Unni, MPH, Injury Prevention Manager at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. “Their curiosity gets the better of them as they start exploring the house, and this in turn will get them into trouble.”

To protect kids from injury, there are some key home safety tips parents should be aware of:

Lock up your medication and cleaners

Many items around the house can be poisonous or harmful. This includes cleaning supplies, medicine, laundry detergents, toiletries, alcohol and more.

Due to COVID-19, there is a major focus on household cleaners. Cleaning and sanitizing your home can help prevent COVID-19, but cleaning products can be poisonous. Some of them might have bright colors or smell like orange or lemon, which can cause small children to confuse them with drinks.

Medication is another worry because children can search through purses or bags or find medication bottles on lower shelves.

  • Don’t leave them out: As soon as you’re done using a cleaning product or medicine, put it away.
  • Put them up high and out of sight: Place hazardous materials on a high shelf so small children can’t reach them. If you keep medication in a purse or bag, hang the bag on a hook to keep it out of reach.
  • Lock them away: If you do put medications in a closet, use a lock to keep children from getting to them.
  • Know the right numbers: Unni recommends storing the number for Poison Control (1-800-222-1222) in your phone and posting it somewhere in the house.

Cook safely

Parents may be cooking while simultaneously watching their children, or trying to get work done. Older children might be taking on new responsibilities during the day, including helping with meal prep. Remember these tips for maximizing safety.

  • Baby-free zone: Teach little ones to stay at least 3 feet from the oven/stove. If they’re too young to understand, place them in a high chair or find another safe way to secure them where you can still see them while you cook. Remember not to carry or hold a child while cooking.
  • Use the back burner: Keep children from pulling hot food or liquids onto them by using the back burners when cooking and turning pot handles away from the edges of counters.
  • Use caution with the microwave: A common cause of burns that brings children into the ER are scalds that occur when taking hot food out of the microwave. Adults should help with this step, especially when microwaves are overhead. Remind children to slowly open containers that have been in the microwave, as steam can burn fingers and faces.

Lock your firearms

If you have a gun in your home, securing it from children and teenagers can prevent death by unintentional shooting or suicide.

  • Keep guns unloaded when in the house.
  • Lock guns away.
  • Lock ammunition away in a different location.
  • Make sure children don’t know where the keys to gun or ammunition cabinets are located.

Secure heavy furniture and prevent falls

Heavy or tall items can potentially tip over onto children who climb onto them or pull on them, causing serious injury or death. This includes appliances, furniture or televisions that aren’t mounted to the wall. To prevent a tip-over:

  • Anchor heavy or tall objects like bookshelves and televisions to the wall.
  • Don’t store toys, videos, books and other items up high. Children might be tempted to climb onto a tall object if they see an item that they want, resulting in a tip over.
  • Strap them in. When placing babies/toddlers in highchairs, strollers or swings, be sure to secure them with the straps. Install approved safety gates at the top AND bottom of staircases. Follow the installation instructions.

Unni said to remember, none of this is easy. “Give yourself grace during these hard times. We are all just doing our best,” she said.

Photo by iStock.