Along with the warm fuzzies they create, the traditional holiday trappings — decorated trees, shimmering lights, candles and goodies galore — pose some dazzling dangers to the littlest members of your family. And with our seasonally strained attention spans (“What? You’ve got a nut allergy?!”) and hectic schedules (“Just light the fireplace already!”), safety isn’t always top of mind. So you don’t forget anything, here’s a rundown of what you need to watch out for this festive season.
1. Safe toys As a parent, you know to buy age-appropriate toys, but friends and relatives may assume the recommended age label is only a suggestion. In fact, it means that the toy has met safety standards set by Health Canada for a particular age, says Linda Ward, programs coordinator and nurse at SafeKids Canada in Toronto. For example, toys designed for the under-three crowd don’t contain tiny parts, which are potential choking hazards for those oral explorers. (Warning labels are usually printed on the side of toy packaging.)
Lend your friends and family a gift-giving hand by letting them know what items to avoid. Toys containing tiny magnets, such as those in Magnetix building parts, alphabet magnets and the clothing of Polly Pocket dolls can pose a risk to kids under age three. Though uncommon, if a child swallows more than one magnet, they may become attracted to one another while travelling through the intestines and cause damage.
2. Gift guidelines • When a toy part can fit through the inside of a toilet-paper roll, kids under three can choke on it. Always keep older children’s toys out of reach.
• Give gifts a once-over: Check for potential choking hazards and age-appropriateness.
• Make sure lids on battery compartments screw into place. Besides being choking hazards, batteries, when chewed, can cause serious burns. Always supervise young children when playing with “power” toys.
• Metal costume jewellery is a big no-no. It’s a choking danger and sucking on it may result in lead poisoning.
• Beware of antique or vintage toys, which may not meet Health Canada’s safety standards.
• Before passing along the Santa wish list, check Health Canada’s website, hc-sc.gc.ca for juvenile product recalls.
O tannenbaum, why do you have to pose so much danger? Of course the holidays wouldn’t be the same without a Christmas tree — and all the unsafe trimmings that come with it. If you choose a live tree, make sure it’s fresh and water it regularly to prevent it from becoming a fire hazard. And always secure your tree to a wall. For kids under two or those who just can’t keep their hands off the tree, you may simply want to gate it off.
3. Decor tips • If your kids are really young or particularly curious, don’t store gifts under the tree until shortly before opening. This includes adult gifts, which can conceal a cornucopia of potential poisons, including cosmetics, perfume and alcohol.
• Don’t stack gifts after opening. And make sure you secure large electronic equipment (TVs, stereos) to the wall to prevent dangerous crashes when little mountain-climbing enthusiasts shift into high gear.
• Pack away antique or breakable ornaments until your children are older.
• Avoid hanging breakable ornaments or lights on the lower, accessible area of the tree. “Instead, try making large paper ornaments with your children for that area of the tree,” says Heather McKay, health promotion specialist at Child Safety Link at IWK Health Centre in Halifax, NS.
• Small decorative LED lights (and the large ancient kind) can burn tiny fingers and, if pulled off the string, look plenty appetizing. Susan Gilmour, director of paediatric gastroenterology at Capital Health’s Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton, treats one or two cases of swallowed LED lights every year. Call 911 (and conduct CPR and the Heimlich manoeuvre) if your child is choking. But often the situation is not so dire: If your child can breathe, head to emergency yourself.
• Don’t decorate with mistletoe or holly berries; they are poisonous for children (and the fake ones pose a choking hazard). Put the festive flora and fauna at the in-laws up and away from grabby little hands, and call your local poison control centre immediately if your child has eaten even one berry. Poinsettias are actually not dangerous, contrary to popular belief, but may cause skin irritation, mild nausea or vomiting, says Ward.
Glass-door gas fireplaces can reach temperatures of more than 204°C (400ºF) in six minutes, and take 45 minutes to cool after being switched off. Even some pilot lights can leave doors hot to the touch. Avoid potential burns by keeping the heat — and, if necessary, the pilot light — off on gas-powered fireplaces when young kids are around.
4. Fire patrol • Block off fireplaces and wood stoves with a fire gate or barrier while they’re burning or cooling off.
• Replace candles with the electric and battery-operated versions and place them out of reach of children.
• Turn off the Christmas tree lights when you’re not in the room.
5. Child-friendly party fix
Parties pose particular hazards. Here’s what to stick up, put away or block off:
• anything enticing that is less than about three centimetres (cherished ornaments, office supplies, sweets or nuts in a bowl)
• purses with hazardous contents (lighters, medications, cosmetics)
• potential poisons (houseplants, kitchen cleaners, medications in the bathroom)
• climbing hazards and long cords that are inevitably attached to something heavy
• fire hazards (scan the fireplace and nearby bookshelves for matches and lighters)
• dangerous and sharp objects (utensils, tools, sharp corners on furniture)
• unattended alcohol and food
This article was originally published in November 2007.
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