Season greetings! Tis the season to be jolly. However, the very events that make holiday seasons so special for kids – festive atmospheres, gifts, and visiting friends and family – also cause holiday-related illnesses and mishaps.
Here are some tips to help you make the holidays healthier and safer.
1. Give your friends and relatives the gift of declining their invitations when your children are ill. And hopefully, they will disinvite you if someone at their end is ill. Family gatherings bring together people of all ages, from different communities, crowd them into close contact, with much hugging and kissing, ideal for exchanging disease-causing viruses. Kids with fevers accompanied by coughs and runny noses, for example, are likely contagious. Also, are your family’s flu shots up-to date?
2. Mentally baby-proof homes you visit. This is especially important in homes without children. Each year, American ERs see about 15,000 injuries resulting from holiday festivities. Serious hazards include lamps that can be pulled down, curtain cords that reach the floor, and tree ornaments. Place fragile ornaments sufficiently high that young children can’t reach them. Check that doors and windows are locked; they are often left open during parties. Very rarely, children have been shot by children finding poorly stored guns.
3. Consider poisoning when children become ill. Stomach upsets and peculiar behavior at parties or soon thereafter can be due to ingesting mistletoe, holly berries and other plants, or alcoholic drinks (left on coffee tables), or medications (carelessly left on nightstands), for example. The telephone number of the National Poison Control Center is 800 222 1222.
4. Ask about smoke and carbon monoxide monitors – especially for overnight visits. Each year, more than a thousand home fires are related to holiday decorations. Malfunctioning heaters to warm spare rooms and extension cords also start fires. Keep candles at least 12 inches from flammable objects.
5. Appoint a designated “toddler watcher.” Everyone wants to play with infants and toddlers. But when “everyone” watches them, no one is in charge, and toddlers wander off. When not overseeing your child yourself, make sure that someone responsible is, and that they personally return the child to you.
6. Be wary of pets. No dog is totally predictable, especially ones not accustomed to children. Two-thirds of dogs that bite have no history of aggressive behavior. Toddlers may innocently incite dogs by suddenly running towards them, arms flailing and making happy noises – behavior dogs often interpret as threatening. Pets become edgy with numerous and unfamiliar people, much activity and noise and owners ignoring them.
7. Check toys. Well-meaning guests may bring presents that are age-inappropriate, with sharp edges or small pieces, or not include safety items to go with the presents, helmets for skates and bikes, for example. Toys may have been brought from overseas and bypassed safety inspections. Toys requiring plugging into electric circuits are inappropriate for children younger than 10 years of age. Avoid toys which require small batteries – these can become detached and swallowed.
8. Be wary of food left standing at room temperature for long periods. Hosts may be inexperienced catering for large groups. Guests also bring food. Buffets are popular. With people coming and going, food is left standing unrefrigerated. Creamy items are especially likely to spoil. If your child has serious food allergies assume that hosts may be unaware of all the ingredients in the food that they serve.
9. Have infants and toddlers sleep in their own crib. For overnight stays, portable travel cribs are handy. Avoid “heirloom” cribs. These may date back to before stringent regulations regarding paint and spacing between slats. Also, avoid “co-sleeping. Infants have been injured falling off beds, or by adults rolling onto them, (especially obese and sound sleeping adults). Infants may experience breathing difficulties by burying their heads into pillows, blankets and loose bed linen.
10. Children who take baths and showers alone at home may need assistance elsewhere. Many bathroom fixtures are difficult to decipher, even for adults. Children receive burns in showers by turning on the hot water and then falling, trying to escape the water. Most tub injuries occur exiting the tub. Grab bars in tubs and showers may not be reachable by children. Instead, they reach for non-weight bearing towel racks, which pull off the wall. Floors wet from splashing increase the accident risk.