'Tis time to be more than jolly. 'Tis the season to be careful, too.
Everything from candles at carol-singing to tree decorations can pose hazards if not properly handled, warns the National Safe Kids Campaign, a program of the Children's National Medical Centre in Washington, D.C.
"It's easy to become caught up in the excitement of holiday decorating and overlook potential hazards of decorations," says Heather Paul, executive director of the campaign in a press release.
"Whether you're putting up a Christmas tree or lighting candles," she says, "taking simple precautions can help make your holidays more joyful and safe."
Topping the list of hazards is the tree itself, presenting a plethora of risks from prickly branches poking kids' eyes and the potential for fire, to breakable ornaments and dangerous lighting cords.
Dr Ellen Schumann, a Wisconsin paediatrician and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Paediatrics, says just a few simple measures can help keep kids and trees out of each others' turf.
"One idea is to put the tree inside the playpen so kids can't get in," Schumann says. "Some people will use a coffee table to make a barricade around the tree."
"You also may want to put all the ornaments up high so the kids can't reach," she suggests. "And try not to use ornaments that kids can put in their mouth, especially the old glass ornaments."
And you definitely want to make sure the tree isn't going to topple, Schumann adds.
"With little kids, it's also a good idea to somehow secure the tree so they can't pull it down on themselves," she says. "That can be done by tying a string around the tree and somehow affixing it to a hook on the wall."
Any number of creative ways exists to prevent kids' interest in electrical cords, she says.
"It's a very good idea to use the automatic timers to turn off the Christmas tree lights, and there are also switches in which you use your foot to turn lights on and off," she says. "That way, the kids don't see you plugging and unplugging and get the idea to try to imitate you."
Still more hazards emerge over the holidays because parents face so many distractions, adds Angela Mickalide, program director for the safety campaign in an interview.
"You've got a potentially dangerous mix going on around the holidays," she says. "Parents are distracted, and there can be more lapses in their supervision than is normal."
"On top of that, if your kids are out of school, they're now under foot, when you might not be used to that," she says. "And then you've got the added element of family and guests in the house who have bags filled with all kinds of temptations for kids - grandma's medications, coins, sewing kits, matches, lighters. You name it, it's in there."
The additional company might make it seem that more people are watching the kids, but that's deceptive, Mickalide says. "When everyone is in charge, no one is in charge," she points out.
What To Do
To help families enjoy safe holidays, safety campaign organisers suggest:
- To help prevent choking, keep round, hard foods and sweets - such mints, nuts and popcorn - out of the reach of young children. Also keep small ornaments, tinsel, small figurines and other decorations away from children.
- While preparing your home for the holidays, be aware of seemingly innocent and unexpected forms of poison.
- Keep alcoholic drinks and containers out of reach. Holiday beverages laced with alcohol seem sweet and inviting to young children. Do not leave alcoholic drinks unattended. They could be harmful if consumed by children.
- Keep common baking ingredients such as vanilla and almond extract out of reach. They contain high levels of alcohol and may be harmful to young children.
- Keep poisonous plants out of reach. These include amaryllis, azalea, boxwood, Christmas rose, crown of thorns and English ivy. Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias are not poisonous, but they can cause skin irritation and gastrointestinal distress.
- Avoid using artificial snow sprays to decorate. These sprays can cause lung irritation if inhaled.
- Cut back the lower branches of your Christmas tree to avoid eye injuries to small children.
- Decorate your tree with children in mind. Don't put breakable ornaments, ornaments with small, detachable parts or metal hooks, or those that look like food or sweets on the lower branches where small children can reach them. Also, make sure tree lights are hung out of reach of young children.
- Keep phone numbers for local poison control centres and emergency medical services by all telephones. And leave a phone number for babysitters so they can reach you while you are out.
- Keep ipecac syrup in the home for use only on the advice of a poison control centre or a doctor.
(Joanne Hart, Health24, November 2010)