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2011-04-28 18:27:40
10 Kid-Safe Home Tips to Help Parents Worry Less

10 Kid-Safe Home Tips to Help Parents Worry Less

By Scot Meyer of SwitchYard Media

The typical house can be a dangerous place for small children. Child-advocacy group Safe Kids USA says that every year, an average of 2,096 children in the United States die from injuries suffered at home.

The good news: That average has declined for the past 20 years, the organization says, and that trend can continue if parents take some simple precautions.

Here are 10 trouble spots to be aware of and tips for making sure home sweet home is also a home safe home.

1. Install a window guard

Each year, falls from windows kill 12 children younger than 10 years old and injure an additional 4,000, Safe Kids USA says. These falls are most common in big-city apartment buildings, but the American Academy of Pediatrics' Healthy Children website recommends that parents install guards on all windows above the first floor in suburban houses, as well.

'You also need to think about which window in each room you would use as an emergency exit in case of fire, and make sure whatever device you use on that window has a quick-release mechanism,' says Meri-K Appy, president of Safe Kids USA.

Safe Kids USA says that fatal window falls declined by 35% in New York after the city passed a law requiring guards in windows of all apartments with children 10 or younger.

2. Add a gate to your stairwell

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents install stairway gates  to prevent falls. Appy says parents should place them at the top and bottom of the stairs.

Each year, about 103 U.S. children die from falls, and more than 2.3 million fall-related injuries are reported, Safe Kids USA says.

In addition to falling down stairs, infants are at risk from falls from furniture and from baby walkers, which the pediatrics academy recommends that parents not use.

3. Lock ovens and kitchen drawers

Parents can install special locks and knob covers that are designed to keep toddlers from opening the oven, turning it on or activating burners on the stove.

Most kitchen drawers and cabinets also should be secured, says Frederick Ilarraza, co-founder and president of New York baby-proofing firm Baby Bodyguards. It's OK for parents leave one drawer — far from the stove — unlatched for a child to explore, however, he says. This drawer can contain kid-friendly items, including plastic containers and plastic and wooden utensils.

'But you shouldn't allow (children) to play with pots and pans, because they won't differentiate between the pot they are allowed to play with and the one on the stove with steam coming out of it,' Ilarraza says.

4. Turn down the heat

The most common burn injuries for children younger than 4 come from hot liquid or steam, Safe Kids USA says. Although most scald burns are from hot foods and liquids spilled in the kitchen, hot tap water accounts for about 25% of scald burns and causes more hospitalizations and deaths than other liquid burns.

To prevent scalding in the kitchen and bathroom, parents can set the thermostat on their water heater to 120 degrees. Those who want an extra level of safety, or who don't have access to their building's water heater, can install special faucets and shower heads that shut down the flow when the water gets too hot.

'Young children's skin is thinner than adult skin,' Appy says. 'What might just feel uncomfortably hot to us can badly burn a child.'

5. Ensure your smoke alarm works

Every bedroom should have a smoke alarm, as should any common area within 10 feet of the kitchen. Each floor of your home also should have a carbon-monoxide detector.

The National Fire Protection Association says that about 3,000 people die in the U.S. each year because of fires, and children younger than 5 are 1.5 times more likely to die in a home fire.

The association's research shows that nearly two-thirds of home-fire deaths were in residences with no working smoke alarms. Data from 2009 show when a smoke alarm was present during a home fire but did not go off, the failure was because of a dead or discharged battery 22% of the time, and the battery was missing or disconnected 53% of the time.

6. Tie down bookcases

Small children like to grab and climb, and those instincts make large pieces of furniture and other heavy objects dangerous.

'File cabinets have a mechanism that prevents more than one drawer from being opened at a time, but dressers and changing tables do not,' Ilarraza says. 'Bookcases can seem secure and are, so long as they are bottom-heavy. But once a toddler removes the bottom two shelves of (its) books, the piece becomes top-heavy and easily toppled.'

To prevent toppling, parents can buy straps to hook bookcases, television stands and dressers to the wall. These are available where other child-proofing products are sold.

It's also wise for parents to put heavier items on lower shelves or place safe items in which children are interested on the bottom, so kids won't be tempted to climb.

7. Install bumpers on sharp edges

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends removing sharp-edged or hard furniture from rooms where children play and installing bumpers on coffee tables and other hard edges throughout the house.

Ilarraza says that corners are especially dangerous because they can create puncture injuries. 'Toddlers seem to have strong magnets in their foreheads that attract coffee-table corners,' he says.

Soft foam corner protectors cost a few dollars.

8. Keep kids away from water

Unintentional drowning was the leading cause of injury-related death for children ages 1 to 4 in 2007 and the No. 3 cause for children ages 5 to 9, the National Center for Health Statistics says. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also says that more than 20% of the 3,443 drowning victims that year were 14 or younger.

Children can drown in less than 2 inches of water, the American Academy of Pediatrics says. Thus, bathrooms should be off-limits to unattended young children, who can drown in bathtubs, toilets and even in pails of water.

Parents also should surround their swimming pool with a fence that is at least 4 feet high on all sides and that has self-latching gates.

9. Place cords out of reach

Young children are at risk for strangulation and suffocation around the house, says the American Academy of Pediatrics, which urges parents to place baby cribs away from windows.

Cordless window treatments are a good idea, the academy says. If that is not possible, shade cords should be tied high and out of reach and not knotted together.

Electrical cords can be hazardous, too. Baby Bodyguards says that while many people realize the dangers of cords that dangle near a crib, they think nothing of putting plug-in baby monitors near or inside the crib. 'They work just as well and often better from the other side of the room, where your child can't reach the cord from the crib,' Ilarraza says.

10. Cover electrical outlets

Young children love to poke and prod, so it's a good idea to cover all electrical outlets to reduce the risk of shock.

'Most parents know to place caps in electrical sockets,' Ilarraza says. 'Unfortunately, many of the socket caps on the market today are the size of a quarter (and are) a choking hazard.

Ilarraza says he recommends a product called SafetyCaps, which are larger, so children cannot get them lodged in their throat. The caps also have holes to allow air to pass.

Surge-protector covers also are available.

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