Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Holiday decorations can pose hazards for curious youngsters

Consider putting the lights a little higher on the tree and out of a child's reach. (Thinkstock)
Children love multicolored Christmas lights and candy. To a toddler, they look a lot alike. Just ask someone who's worked in the emergency room at Christmastime. Chances are they know of at least one child who tried to eat something very pretty - but not edible - during the holiday season. From candles that look like cinnamon buns to power cords, small ornaments, ribbons and plastic bags, there are a hundred and one more hazards that little eyes - and hands and mouths - are drawn to at this time of year. Even parents who have thoroughly childproofed their home can sometimes forget that holiday décor poses dangers to little ones.

But don't resign yourself to undecked halls just yet. According to home safety expert Louie Delaware, you don't have to be a décor Scrooge to keep your children safe. You just need to consider a few commonsense guidelines when getting your home ready for Christmas.

"Young children are naturally fascinated by all of the exciting new items in their homes during the holiday season," said Delaware, author of “The Home Safety Guru's Definitive Guide on How to Childproof Your Home: Making Your Home Safe and Secure for Little Ones,” (Blue Indigo Publishing, $9.99, howtochildproofyourhome.com). "And in many cases, their parents have not considered how seasonal décor might translate into accidental injuries. Fortunately a little foresight can make your home a (safe) but still festive place to enjoy the holidays."

Delware offers the following tips for parents planning to deck the halls for Christmas:

1. Secure the Christmas tree. Whether you're putting up a real tree or artificial tree - make sure that it's secure. Delaware said children have been known to push, pull, and even climb trees and recommends that parents consider tethering the tree to a wall or to the ceiling. This is also a good idea for families with pets. I can remember as a little girl watching our cat Tiger creeping up to the tree and then shooting up its trunk like a rocket - in hopes of knocking down a loose ball - which she would proceed to bat around on the floor. Our tree rattled and shook but luckily never tumbled.

2. Trim the tree responsibly. "I recommend limiting the number of light strands and ornaments that you use and putting them only on the upper branches of the tree," said Delaware. "Especially if you have a toddler, I recommend decorating the tree a little higher than you think your child can reach. It's also a good idea to use only flame-resistant, non-breakable ornaments, just in case. And definitely avoid using real food such as popcorn, berries and dried apples in garlands as your child may attempt to eat them." 

3. Be cautious with all electrical cords. Remember all of the junctions in the electrical cord hooked to the tree in "The Christmas Story?" For everyone's sake, don't overload any electrical cords. Also, although necessary for at-home holiday displays, electrical cords present a risk of strangulation and can also be chewed through - by a child or pet. "So, ensure that they are out of sight and out of reach," Delaware said. "Don't forget about lights that allow another strand to be plugged into the first or extension cords with multiple unprotected outlets."

4. Outlets should remain covered. Whether it's the holiday season or the middle of summer - the task of covering wall outlets should already be done. "I recommend installing tamper-resistant outlets or even better sliding safety cover plates, which automatically cover the outlet when a plug is pulled out," Delaware said.

5. Educate little ones on what is hot and off-limits. There is nothing more inviting to an adult or child than a warm fire burning beneath a mantle or in a wood burning stove. But even without directly touching the fire someone can get hurt. "The surfaces around the fire can be in excess of 450 F, making them a serious burn hazard," Delaware said. It goes without saying no child should be left alone in a room if the fireplace or stove is being used. You might also consider putting up an articulating barrier (one that is jointed and can be configured so that it juts away from the fireplace). It should be securely mounted into walls and placed at least 20 inches away from any hot surface. Delaware does not recommend using a fireplace screen with children around as it can easily be moved.

6. Children can be magicians. The second you think a crystal vase is safe because it's on top of a table and out of reach of youngsters, they give the tablecloth a magician's tug and smash-bang goes the crystal vase. 

7. Nature can be dangerous. We love using poinsettias and holly bushes for decorating. But certain plants can be poisonous to pets and children, specifically the berries of mistletoe and holly, Delaware said.

8. Choking hazards are not always visible. Unwrapping gifts is fun for everyone but keep a garbage bag handy for discarded bags, tags, wrap and twist ties (which pose a choking threat to little ones). 

9. Big screens can be big trouble for youngsters. If you happen to be in the market for a flat screen TV and have hit a good sale on Black Friday, consider where it's going to go. "Many parents don't realize it but televisions can easily be pulled over," Delaware said. "In fact, televisions injure over 17,000 children annually and unfortunately every three weeks one of those accidents is fatal." To prevent this type of accident from happening, he suggests taking precautions including: mount the TV on the wall out of a child's reach; tether the TV or entertainment center to a wall using solid straps (securely affixed into wall studs or other mechanical wall fasteners not plastic drywall inserts); use a mounting bar to secure the TV to the wall on an entertainment center. If you have a large plasma that can be easily mounted, try tethering it further with Velcro double-sided strips (there is actually a version designed for use in earthquake zones) and again, make sure all TV cords are out of a child's reach.

10. Take a holiday tour. Get on your hands and knees and crawl through your home looking at new objects from a child's perspective. Make it a game and ask them to join you. "Even if an accident seems extremely unlikely, it can still happen," Delaware said. "Remember, you want your family's holiday memories to include joy and laughter not an unfortunate incident that could have been prevented."

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