Lois Lee, MD, MPH works in Children’s Emergency Department Injury Prevention Program
As a parent, you might not think of your home as a hazardous place, but through the eyes of a pediatric emergency physician, the home can sometimes seem like a dangerous booby trap for young kids. Places where children can potentially come into harm are everywhere in the home, but with the proper precautions and carefully placed childproofing equipment, you can do your best to keep your child safe.
Falls are one of the number one reasons children come to the emergency department for an injury. Stairs are a common culprit, especially for young children who may not be able to climb stairs well (or maybe not at all.)
If you have stairs in your home it is important to keep children under the age of 2 away from them at all times. Stair gates are important safety devices to prevent children from falling down stairs. Gates mounted at the top of the stairs should be securely mounted into the wall or banister, and should not be the spring-mounted type. Spring-mounted gates may not be able to withstand the weight of a child who is pushing against it and could fall over, causing the child to fall down the stairs. The spring-mounted kind should only be used at the bottom of the stairs to prevent children from trying to climb up, never at the top of a staircase.
Window guards are also important to prevent children from falling out of windows. Screens are not enough to prevent a child who is leaning against it from falling out. Also, keep furniture away from the windows if possible, so that children can’t climb up to the level of the window to get a better look. (Let’s face it, even as adults we tend to get sidetracked and stare out the windows every now and again. So for a toddler who is constantly discovering new sights and sounds the temptation to press up against the glass may be too much to resist. Curiosity in a child is healthy, but too close a look through an improperly guarded window has the potential for disaster.)
Unintentional poisoning is also another common home-related injury. All medications and vitamins should be kept in their childproof containers, but should also be kept in locked cabinets or in cabinets too high for a child to reach. Often medications look like candy, with their small sizes, round shapes and bright colors, but confusing meds for PEZ can be very dangerous, especially in improper doses. When grandparents or other relatives come to visit, be especially careful to make sure their medications are out of reach at all times.
Also, cleaning supplies should be kept in their original containers, and if transferred to another container, the new canister should be clearly labeled. These containers should also be stored in a securely locked cabinet. If you are worried your child has accidentally ingested something, you should contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.