Toddler health

Electrical hazards

Your average household cords and wires are dangerously enticing to toddlers. Find out how you can prevent injury

My sister once came to my house when my kids were toddlers and pointed out that the living room would look nicer if the furniture were rearranged: “Why don’t we move the couch away from the wall and make a conversation area?” What she didn’t understand was that the couch got pushed against the wall so it could block the outlets after I caught my toddler unplugging the TV and then trying to plug it back in.

When your baby learned to crawl, you made a point of babyproofing — using plastic covers to block electrical outlets and moving appliances out of reach. But now he may be strong enough to pry off the flimsier plastic covers and unplug the lamp — and he’s already tried at least once to stick a knife into an outlet.

Lynne Warda, medical director of Impact, the injury prevention centre of the Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg, points out that electrical injuries are common and always potentially serious. A 2004 Canadian study found that, over a period of five years, 411 children under age four suffered electrical injuries that were serious enough to require a trip to the hospital, and one child in that age group died. Here are the top causes of injury, beginning with the most common:

Top causes of injury

1. Sticking an object or a finger in an outlet
2. Playing with an appliance or electrical device
3. Putting an electrical cord in the mouth (and presumably biting it)
4. Touching a live wire
5. Combining water and a source of electricity

Prevention and being prepared

So how can parents prevent these injuries? Researchers recommend outlet covers that are permanently attached to the outlet and have an automatic shield closure, so that it works even if parents forget.

Warda also recommends the approach to interior design that worked for me: “Move your heaviest furniture so it’s in front of the outlets, especially in children’s rooms and play areas.” Also keep in mind that toddlers love to imitate their parents — so don’t unplug the lamp or stick a knife in the toaster to retrieve that crust of bread in their presence.

Being prepared to deal with electrical injuries is also important. Warda recommends that parents learn how to do CPR on infants and children, just in case. If your child does get a serious electric shock, though, get medical treatment quickly. “If your child is unconscious, collapses or has a seizure, call 911 immediately,” says Warda. “Other-wise, go directly to the emergency department.”