The happiest time of the year for kids could also be one of the most perilous.
While parents across southeast Michigan and beyond are busy preparing for holiday gatherings, experts say they should also be thinking about the dangers their kids could encounter during this otherwise celebratory season.
“Injuries happen more frequently during the holidays because of visiting and because you end up with a lot of people in your house that normally wouldn’t be in your house,” says Joann Moss, injury prevention education coordinator at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan. “It’s the most wonderful time of year for society as a whole but the winter holidays are the busiest time of the year [at the hospital] because of these injuries that occur.”
A lack of supervision is often to blame. As grown-ups gather in the kitchen or living room, the children in the family may run off to another room unattended. That could lead to accidents or kids coming across something dangerous like poisons, weapons or medications – hence the concern over “what’s in Grandma’s purse.”
“It doesn’t have to be a grandmother,” Moss explains. “You have these things in there that are totally unsafe … (even) cosmetics can be toxic to little ones. It doesn’t even have to be a purse; it could be an unattended diaper bag.”
Parents are encouraged to be diligent about keeping tabs on kids during family get-togethers, especially in others’ homes. Consider uncovered electrical outlets, choking hazards and decorative items or furniture that could fall onto a child.
“If you go to a home where a person doesn’t have small children, then that home is going to be less child-proofed than the home of someone that has small children there already,” she says.
Other hazards commonly found during the holiday commotion include strong magnets and button batteries, both of which can be extremely dangerous if swallowed. Burns are also more common as families prepare elaborate meals and can become easily distracted.
“We need to maintain constant supervision,” Moss emphasizes. “There are just so many little things when it comes down to keeping the little ones safe during the holidays.”
Preventative measures are critical, like reducing the temperature of your water heater to a maximum of 120 degrees to avoid scald burns, installing carbon monoxide detectors throughout the house and keeping children away from glass fireplace doors that could be hot.
And after your holiday gathering has ended, don’t delay cleaning up.
“Toddlers can get into the leftovers of holiday parties and see what’s left out,” Moss says, which can lead to choking on food or even consuming alcohol. “Those cups have to be disposed of. Those are the kinds of things that you don’t think about.”
Keep in mind that holiday decorations – indoor and outdoor – can be fire hazards, along with dry Christmas trees. Choosing safe toys is another important consideration.
“Make sure the toys your children are playing with are age-appropriate,” rather than letting toddlers play with an older sibling’s toys, Moss points out. “We highly recommend without a doubt that you stay away from (toy) guns, and especially guns that resemble real guns.”
Another danger you might not realize? Balloons.
“Latex balloons are one of the biggest choking hazards there is for kids,” she adds. “If they should happen to get ahold of it … it can completely close off the airway. There have been some very deadly results from latex balloons.”
For more safety information or to find a Children’s Hospital of Michigan doctor, visit childrensdmc.org.