Grazed knees and bruises are part of everyday life for young children. By exploring the world around them - and testing boundaries - children grow in confidence.
However, every parent wants to protect their baby or toddler from serious injuries. And it takes just a few sensible steps to ensure your child isn’t one of the million who end up in a hospital emergency unit every year as a result of an accident in and around the home.
Most accidents at home occur in the nought to four age group, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), and the most serious happen in the kitchen and on the stairs. So it advises to keep the stairs well lit, fit a gate to reduce the risk of falls which account for the majority of non-fatal accidents, and keep small children out of the kitchen if possible. Also never leave children or babies unattended in the bath or in a pool - not even for a second - because it takes less than 3cm of water for them to drown.
Buying age-appropriate toys is another must, according to the charity, because toddlers can choke on small objects such as marbles.
“You can’t childproof a home because children need to explore the world around them and people have to take medication and use sharp knives,” says Sheila Merrill, RoSPA’s public health advisor.
“Instead, supervision is the most important thing. A good tip is get down on your hands and knees in the kitchen for a child’s eye view and see if there are any leads hanging down from the worktops, for example.
“Fit window restrictors in addition to locks so that children can’t climb out. Children learn from watching so also fit socket covers to stop them plugging anything in like a hot iron.”
Nappy sacks are a major suffocation hazard, according to Sheila, because they’re ‘soft, tactile and smell nice’.
So make sure they’re stored where your toddler’s inquisitive hands can’t find them. “A small baby will suffocate easily because they don’t have the ability to pull the bag away from their mouth and nose,” she warns.
Dr Joe Brierley works in intensive care and sees first-hand the types of injuries children suffer such as scalds, burns and poisoning.
His advice is carry out a home ‘audit’ to identify and eliminate potential hazards such as televisions or heavy glass vases which children can pull over and injure themselves with. Ideally, this audit should be done every season and take into account visits to other people’s homes, according to Dr Brierley who works in the Portland’s Paediatric Intensive Care Unit and at Great Ormond Street Hospital.
“Summer holidays or Christmas are the times of year when children may go to their grandparents,” he says. “Or they may be going somewhere with a pond in the back garden. In winter, the hazard could be faulty heating appliances - people are killed every year by carbon monoxide poisoning which is why detectors are very important in a home.”
There’s been several tragic cases of children being strangled by window blind cords so parents are advised to ensure either their blinds are cordless or to install a cleet. Curtain sashes are also a hazard says Dr Brierley. “We’ve seen children who’ve put their neck into these. In paediatricians’ houses no one has sashes.”
Dr Brierley is also working with the Child Accident Prevention Trust (CAPT) to raise awareness of child safety closures on bottles.
Nearly three quarters of parents believe wrongly that these caps make medicines and toxic cleaning products child-proof, according to a CAPT survey.
The reality is they may slow children down but some young children can open them in seconds. Katrina Phillips, CAPT’s chief executive, says parents shouldn’t be ‘lulled into a false sense of security’ and must instead store cleaning equipment and medicines in a high-up cupboard ideally locked away. “Store them in their original container,” she adds.
Liquid detergent tablets are another hazard, she warns, because their squishy texture and bright colour is attractive to children.
She urges parents to think ahead as their child develops “Parents don’t associate developmental milestones with a serious accident but they need to get into good habits early, for example, not putting a cup of hot coffee on a table near a 10-month-old child who could grab the cup and scald themselves,” says Katrina.
“Newborns have skin fifteen times thinner than an adult so they’re particularly susceptible to burns.”
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By Sophie Goodchild