Here in the UK we're in the middle of Child Safety Week. A lot of my philosophy on raising healthy happy kids revolves around them spending time outside, playing using their whole bodies to climb and run and roll, and this does come with it's own element of risk. These risks are ones which kids need to develop fully, so long as you carefully reduce the ones of greatest danger, for example children under around 6 years old don't have the awareness to safely judge car speeds and cross roads by themselves.
However, in the modern obsession with risk outside the home, we forget what the statistics tell us year on year - the number of accidents involving children which are serious enough to require hospital treatment far more commonly occur within our homes. Part of this is undoubtedly due to the sheer amount of time children spend in the home, but a quick read through what the admissions are for will tell you that an awful lot of injuries and tragedies are caused by things that would have been relatively easy to avoid with a bit of planning.
Even when we crawl around our house on our knees and check out what hazards are at reaching height for our little ones and correct what we can, we are then totally at the mercy of others when visiting friends and relatives homes. I am probably very annoying to everyone whose hot drink I move out of reach, but even with my cautiousness my kids have pulled a teapot down over themselves at our house and a cup of tea at a relative's home because I wasn't quick enough to push the offending items back out of the way when others left them in reaching distance. We were just lucky both times the contents were only warm and not hot, or I would have had children with extensive facial scalds. You cannot rely on others to be as careful as you, so unfortunately you never get a chance to really relax.
You can't watch kids every minute of every day - even the most camel-bladdered of us has to go to the bathroom, so the best we can do is try to make our own homes safe, and remind visitors and relatives of trying to be safe too - who cares if it seems rude, I'd rather kids don't pay the price for us being too polite.
The Child Accident Prevention Trust has lots of great advice, but here's a few of the top things that I think are easy to implement and which will help keep the ones precious to you safe. There's lots more, but these are the things which have directly affected us, our family and friends:
1. If you have the option to go to a home safety class, go to it. We got a free stair gate at the one I went to when Ollie was a baby. They will be able to alert you to the most common causes of accidents.
2. Find out if there are first aid courses running in your area - you can sometimes get on these for free if you are in receipt of certain benefits such as income support. The chances of using most of the things you are taught such as rescue breaths are thankfully fairly uncommon, but every person trained is in a position to save a life, especially given small children's proclivity to choke on food and other items.
3. Stair gates only work if they're closed - this is particularly tricky if you share your house with older children at that between age when they can open the gate and manage stairs safely, but not reliably close it again when small brothers or sisters are on the move. If there's a chance they could get through, start training little ones to slide down the stairs on their tummy rather than trying to walk down them. That way even if they slip they will just slither to the bottom. Toby fell down a few stairs when he was smaller and Ollie left a gate open. He had a bumped head but fortunately nothing worse because he hadn't made it to the top and had slithered on his tummy. Stair gates are also particularly useful to divide off hazardous areas of the house, such as the kitchen when you're cooking, or the dog who needs a place away from poking fingers.
4. Cord pulls on blinds are the cause of death through strangulation to children every year. Tie them up out of reach, including when staying at others homes. If you are replacing your blinds, you can get a new style which has a twirly round stick thing instead of a cord - much safer. While you're at it, look to see what else could end up round their necks - ties on dressing gowns, skipping ropes etc... I once caught Ollie wrapping the vacuum cleaner cord round his neck in the hall where it was plugged in while I was vacuuming in the kitchen. Sheer luck that I went to see why the cleaner didn't pull behind me easily rather than just giving it a sharp tug.
5. Water is a massive danger. That couple of inches in the paddling pool or bath is enough for a child to drown. Anyone whose seen a child slip over in a pool will tell you that it's as if the shock of being dunked causes them to lose all ability to just sit up. I was knocked face down into a paddling pool myself when I was three and could have drowned if a neighbour hadn't vaulted over the fence (which was back in the 1980's when everyone just had low chain link fences instead of the 6ft fence panels we all have now). Tragically mum also had friends years ago who lost a child when someone failed to lock the fence around their pool. If the phone rings or the doorbell goes when your kids are in the bath or pool, you can either ignore it or carry your child with you wrapped in a towel. Don't start running a bath and wander off to do something else either - kids are crazy fast and will get into that bath before you even know they can climb like that. It's not a bad idea to add cold water before hot too, as this reduces the risk of scalds.
6. Hot drinks cause horrific scalds to kids. Can you tolerate adding more milk for a couple of years until they're bigger? I switched to fruit teas when they were really small as these weren't so yuck when they were cool as regular tea and coffee. One really clever suggestion I saw was to use a lidded coffee cup - like a travel mug - since even if it got knocked over there was a limited amount of liquid which could get out. Be cautious when eating out - the amount of times I've had to ask servers not to pass hot food and drinks over my kids heads is ridiculous. My relative was recently badly scalded all down her back by a server spilling coffee over her, it doesn't bear thinking about what if this had happened to one of her small kids instead! If you can, place kids in seats away from thoroughfares through restaurants, and make sure they don't run around as they could trip someone carrying hot food or drinks. At home keep cups, tea pots and kettles pushed well back to the back of the counter, with no leads within reach either. Other sources of scalds include pans on the cooker - get everyone into the habit of turning in pan handles so they don't hang out just where a child will reach up and grab them.
7. Fire risk can be reduced by following basic safety measures. The advice is to never leave a candle unattended - even when blown out for a short time afterwards there's enough heat and candle wax vapour in the air above the wick for it to relight or for the flame to jump. Incense sticks are potential risk too. The biggest risk however is from cigarettes and candles when people fall asleep with them burning. In the constant tired state of many parents falling asleep unexpectedly is pretty likely, so the best option is to remove cigarettes and candles from your home. I have a friend whose first memory is of being carried from his house by a fire fighter because of a fire caused by his Dad falling asleep with a cigarette. You can get LED candles now which are a safer option, and you don't need me to tell you about why it's a good idea to quit smoking, or at the very least do it outside. Deep fat fryers fall into problem categories due to burns from hot oil, but also from fires, so again if you can it's going to be the safest option just to get rid of it if you have one. A surprise cause of domestic fires is washing machines and tumble driers, so if you can make sure they are only used when attended it is a good idea, although not one I always manage when the machine hasn't finished before I have to leave the house.
Your local fire service is likely to run free home checks if you're in the UK, and often supply free smoke alarms, so it's well worth talking to them. Checking the alarm works every few months and keeping a supply of batteries for your alarms in the house is helpful too. Modern alarms are better at not going off for every bit of burnt toast, so if you have an alarm which you've taken the batteries out of because it goes off all the time, now is a good time to replace it with a newer one. Teach little ones what to do if they spot a fire - shout for help straight away and get to safety - lot's of kids cause fires by accident and then hide because they're afraid of getting in trouble, with tragic consequences. Always hide matches and lighters.
I have been going over a fire drill with Ollie since he was three - how to shout for help and then open the door and get out to the back yard and keep shouting until help arrives. Working out a fire plan for your home is not over cautious - it's sensible. The kids windows are locked to prevent them falling, but we have other windows upstairs that are not locked which are also large enough to climb out of if necessary. When staying with friends and family, work out where your exit points are. I get teased for this, but it doesn't bother me. Our biggest problem in our house is a lack of doors downstairs, but if you do have doors dividing rooms it's a good idea to shut them at bedtime to help slow the spread of any fire that does occur.
8. Poisons come in all shapes and sizes. If you have a load of toxic, irritant or poisonous cleaning products, having a child in the house is a good chance to reassess if you actually need all this stuff or if you can be a mean green cleaning machine with safer options such as vinegar, bicarbonate of soda and soap nuts.
Kids have a knack of getting hold of things they shouldn't have. As an 18 month old I left Ollie playing in his room while I went to the bathroom. When I came back he had knocked over the laundry basket and found a packet of silica gel nestled between the outer bin and the liner - I didn't even know it was there. He had eaten half the packet, resulting in my panic stricken rushing him to hospital who phoned the poisons advice line and established he would be fine.
Medicines and vitamins need to be kept out of reach - you may be surprised by what your child's reach is given their ingenuity at moving furniture and climbing. A relative as a child climbed up and ate a whole packet of children's vitamins. She was taken to hospital and was OK, but if they had contained iron she would probably have died. Grandparents can be a horrifying source of poisons to children - medicines left on bedside tables, pesticides that have been sitting forgotten in sheds for the last 20 years, kitchen cupboard full of bleach.... Toothpaste is a surprising hazard too as a tube has enough fluoride in it to kill a child, so as well as carefully supervising during brushing, that tube of paste needs to live out of reach.
Garden plants can be very poisonous - I bet you knew foxgloves were poisonous, but did you know that lupins were too? How about every part of the potato plant apart from the actual potatoes? Don't forget daffodils, lily-of-the-valley, rhubarb leaves, yew trees (with their enticing red berries), cyclamens ...
As always, I know you are all sensible folks and I don't want to 'teach grandmother to suck eggs' but every so often we come across something we didn't know about, and I hope this gives some food for thought without preaching to the choir.