The holidays are a great time to connect with the people and places that matter most, especially for children. School parties, outdoor activities, traveling to visit out-of-town family and friends add excitement to the season—and present a range of risks for pediatric illness and injury.
To keep the focus on fun and avoid potential pitfalls, share these safety tips for parents to help them enjoy safe and pleasant holiday activities this year.
1. Advise caution with Christmas lights and decorations.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, holiday decorations are responsible for approximately 1,070 house fires each year, resulting in nearly 50 deaths. The main culprits are faulty lights, unattended candles, and Christmas trees and flammable decorations being placed too close to a heat source. Remind parents to:
- Inspect lights carefully each year for frayed wires and signs of excessive wear. Don’t use any lights that appear worn.
- Avoid overloading electrical circuits. If any wires connected to a socket are warm to the touch, immediately unplug them. Don’t connect more than three strands of lights.
- Never leave lights plugged in when no one is home.
- Keep a natural tree stand filled with water and don’t leave a natural tree up for more than two weeks.
- Extinguish candles when they leave a room; never leave lit candles unattended.
- Test smoke detectors at the start of the holiday season and replace batteries if needed.
2. Counsel good food safety habits.
Each year, 48 million Americans get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from food-borne illnesses, and these illnesses are especially dangerous for infants and young children. Some of the most common culprits of food poisoning are holiday favorites, including turkey and gravy, ham, rare or undercooked meats, custards and creamy desserts, cheeses, and even fresh fruits and veggies on appetizer trays. Suggest that parents:
- Avoid cross-contamination. Keep raw meat, poultry, and eggs away from fresh fruits and vegetables in the kitchen.
- Refrigerate leftovers promptly in shallow containers to ensure rapid cooling and discourage bacterial growth.
- Thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables before serving. Use separate cutting boards for meats and fresh produce.
- Always cook poultry to proper temperatures to kill salmonella, listeria, and campylobacter bacteria.
3. Remind them to be on the lookout for choking hazards.
The holidays expose young children to all sorts of choking hazards most parents don’t even think about during this busy season. Some seasonal tips:
- Don’t put mistletoe and holly in reach of children. In addition to the potential choking hazard with their berries, they can also be toxic if ingested.
- Watch out for tiny batteries in small electronic devices. Make sure battery covers are securely fastened and unused batteries are stored safely. Keep musical greeting cards out of reach of children—they also contain button batteries that are easily swallowed.
- Carefully check all toys children receive as gifts to make sure there are no loose parts or other small pieces that could be swallowed by small children.
- Make sure all pen and marker caps are accounted for after preparing holiday cards and wrapping gifts.
- Never let young children play with latex balloons unattended. Deflated and popped balloon pieces are common choking hazards for children under age 3.
4. Help them prepare for winter weather.
Mountains of snow, ice storms, and freezing temperatures pose special risks for children. A little preparation goes a long way toward keeping kids safe from winter weather hazards. Remind parents to keep these safety tips in mind:
- Dress children in several thin layers to keep them warm and dry playing in the snow. Don’t forget hats, gloves, and warm boots.
- Avoid bulky snowsuits for children while riding in the car. Snug, warm layers keep them safe in their carseats.
- Learn about frostbite: How to prevent it, how to spot it, when (and how) to safely treat it at home, and when to seek medical care.
- Never let children sled or ice skate in areas that aren’t approved for those activities and make sure an adult is supervising at all times.
- Children can still get sunburned in winter sun, especially while playing in the snow. Use sunscreen on exposed areas and consider sunglasses.
Caring for children requires diligence all year round, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed and distracted at holiday time and overlook the special hazards that are present this time of year. Share these pediatric holiday safety tips with the parents you work with to help them enjoy a healthy season with their kids.