How to Keep your Child Safe
Keeping Your Child Safe in the Home
THE DANGERS IN THE HOME
Along with the joys of parenthood come a great deal of worries, not least how to keep our children safe. Whilst most of us worry about our child’s safety away from the home or when we are not around, we often forget about the very real dangers inside our own houses. Of course our homes are where we should be able to relax and feel safe and secure however, it is also essential that we remember that our home can also be a place full of hidden danger and hazards, which if not kept in check, have the potential to seriously harm or even kill our children.
It is impossible for parents to eliminate every single danger imaginable. Even the most vigilant of parents, who are aware of where their children are and what they are doing most of the time, will not be able to protect their children 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is because accidents can happen to anyone at any time. However it is possible to eliminate as many dangers as possible and to be prepared for all eventualities. Always remember that ‘prevention is better than the cure’ and one of the most important aspects of ensuring children are safe is to supervise them as much as possible.
By their very nature, children are inquisitive and it is their inquisitiveness which can sometimes land them in danger. They love to explore their surroundings and often enjoy playing with things which are ‘out of bounds’ rather than the toys their parents have bought for them. Some children are accident prone and have absolutely no sense of danger whatsoever, whilst others are more cautious and will actually limit the risks they take. Remember, however, that being able to recognise dangers and limit risks comes about with age and not all children are aware of when and how to practise safe measures.
REDUCING THE RISK OF DANGER
Despite being our shelter and a place to relax, our homes are full of potential dangers to a child. Often even the simplest of everyday appliances can be fraught with danger if a child is allowed the freedom to experiment and explore unsupervised. You can reduce the risk of danger in your home by fitting smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors and by checking the batteries regularly – it is pointless having any kind of alarm or detector if the batteries are flat and lifeless!
One of the main dangers which we all need to be aware of in our homes is carbon monoxide poisoning. Known as the ‘silent killer’ because it cannot be seen or smelt carbon monoxide can be potentially lethal. Make sure you have your gas boiler and gas appliances serviced regularly by a Corgi registered engineer and ensure that you have a carbon monoxide detector in all rooms where potential fumes may harbour.
KEEPING BABIES SAFE
Babies, despite being unable to move around, are still vulnerable to danger. In fact, they are probably more vulnerable simply because parents wrongly assume that because they are not yet mobile the dangers around the home are of less importance to them. Leaving a baby on the bed because they are unable to sit up or move around may lull a parent into a false sense of security as they may think, wrongly, that their child is not in any danger. But what happens when the child learns to turn over for the first time? If they are on the bed when this happens the chances are they will end up on the floor! Practise safe methods from the very outset and you will help to eliminate these kinds of dangers.
Never leave a baby unattended on a bed, sofa or changing station and immediately you will ensure that dangers from falls in this way are eliminated.
OBVIOUS AND NOT SO OBVIOUS DANGERS
Dangers, unless obvious, are often overlooked and this is when children are more at risk. This chapter will look closely at each room in the house and explore the potential dangers from a baby, toddler and young child’s perspective before offering advice on how to eliminate the potential dangers.
Look carefully around your house and try to spot as many potential dangers as you can. Ask yourself how these dangers may affect your child and how you can eliminate them. Now carry out this task again only this time drop to your knees and crawl around each room. This will enable you to look at things very differently – through the eyes of a child. By studying each room in your house at a child’s level you will be able to see instantly if flexes or sharp corners pose a danger.
CHILD PROOFING YOUR HOME
Child proofing your home is all a matter of preference. Whilst some new parents spend a small fortune on fancy gadgets, locks and gates to ensure that their home is as safe as it possibly can be, others may find this completely unnecessary or indeed may be unable to afford these expensive items. Broadly speaking, with the most basic of safety equipment in place – such as a secure fire guard and safety gates – together with constant supervision there is probably little need for locks on every drawer or cupboard, safety film on every window or protectors on every conceivable corner of furniture in your home. Basic common sense and supervision of young children at all times is the key factor in keeping children safe in the home.
We will now take a look at each room in the house and establish some of the potential hazards they pose to babies and young children. Some of these hazards will be obvious whilst others can often be overlooked. All of the hazards need to be considered carefully and, should your own particular home need attention to any area you should make sure this is done as a matter of priority. Never put off addressing a potential hazard. Accidents can happen to anyone at any time but with safety measures in place and a common sense approach to eliminating dangers, accidents can and should be kept to a minimum.
The kitchen is probably the most dangerous room of all. It is a minefield of potential hazards and young children should never be allowed to play or have access to this room without supervision. The dangers in this room are both obvious and numerous. Every house will of course be different but most will include similar appliances and equipment. Each should be looked at separately in order to ascertain how they pose a threat of danger to young children and how this threat can be reduced.
Ovens and hobs
Keep oven doors shut at all times and ensure that children cannot touch the oven door when it is hot or reach the hob. Turn pan handles away from the edge of the hob to avoid children reaching up and pulling hot pans onto themselves.
Fridges, freezers, washing machines and tumble driers and dishwashers should have their doors closed tightly when not in use. If possible, fit a door lock. Never allow your child to play with these appliances even when they are not in use.
Chest freezers pose a great danger to young children who have been known to climb inside and become locked in. Even freezers which are no longer in use and are not plugged in provide another great place for young children to hide. Once inside if the door shuts the child is at great danger from suffocation. If you do have a chest freezer, whether it is in use or not, fit a child lock and be safe.
Small electrical appliances
Kettles should be pushed to the back of the work surface. You must ensure that flexes are out of reach and cannot pose a danger by dangling near the edge of work surfaces or kitchen units. If possible opt for a cordless kettle that is completely detached from the flex when lifted, as this will avoid pulling on flexes and splashing boiling water from the spout. Microwaves, irons and toasters should be stored out of the reach of children and the flexes to these electrical appliances must not be accessible to them.
Overloaded sockets can start a fire. If you do need to use an extension lead or adapter, avoid cables on a reel as these can become overheated.
Other kitchen hazards
Hot beverages can severely scald a child, scarring them for life. Never leave cups of tea or coffee within reach of a child. Always place hot beverages high up out of reach and avoid placing on coffee tables or near the edge of tables and work surfaces.
As with hot drinks, never leave pans or plates of hot food close to the edge of kitchen units, work surfaces or tables.
Hot drinks are the main cause of scalds among children under the age of 5 years old – keep them out of a child’s reach! Never pass a hot drink to someone over a child who may be playing on the floor. Splashes and spills can burn!
Cleaning materials All cleaning materials and medicines should be kept either in a locked cupboard or in a cupboard out of the reach of children. Always store cleaning materials and medicines in their original containers. Whenever possible, opt for childproof bottles and containers but bear in mind that these can never be completely 100% safe. Many manufacturers are adding Bitrex to cleaning materials. Bitrex is the most bitter substance ever discovered and by adding this it should deter children from swallowing potentially harmful chemicals. If medicines are stored in a fridge make sure that you fit a lock. Alcohol Alcohol must be stored out of the reach of children or in a locked cupboard. If it is stored in the fridge make sure that you fit a lock. Plastic bags
All plastic bags and wrappings should be stored out of the reach of children. Remember young children and babies can suffocate on them.
All knives and sharp objects should be stored out of the reach of children, preferably in a secure cupboard. Never store knives on a work surface or leave them lying around after cooking or preparing food. When placing knives in a dishwasher, always place them ‘point down’ to avoid serious injury should a child trip and fall.
- Window locks – useful for securing the windows in a child’s room. If you do need to open the window for ventilation make sure you choose a window which is high up. Glass film and guards are also worth considering for patio and balcony doors.
- Corner and edge bumpers – coffee tables and other occasional furniture are notoriously dangerous as these items usually have sharp corners which are at eye level of a young child. Fitting corner bumpers will help to prevent serious injuries from falls or bumps.
- Safety locks – these are ideal for preventing access to fridges, freezers, medicine cabinets or drawers where knives etc. are stored.
- Door stops – these can prevent small fingers and hands from being trapped in doors.
It is essential that you are aware of how to cook and store food correctly so that it does not pose a threat of food poisoning to your child. Babies and young children are particularly prone to food poisoning and a high standard of personal hygiene must be practised at all times in order to eliminate any risk. Always remember that, as a parent, you are your child’s first teacher and the practices you follow will inevitably be copied by your child. Children like to imitate adults and, by setting a good example for them to follow, you will be setting them up for life with regard to personal hygiene.
Shopping for food
Although as a parent you have a responsibility to your child to purchase healthy, nutritional food in order for them to receive a quality, balanced diet, it is also your duty to ensure that the food that you do purchase is of good quality and that it is handled, stored, prepared and cooked appropriately.
Rules for food shopping
When you are shopping for food stick to these important rules:
- Always check food for the ‘sell by’ or ‘best before’ dates. Never buy inferior quality foods which have surpassed these dates. If you have already purchased food and not consumed it within these dates, then it is better to throw it away rather than risk infection.
- Never buy cans which are dented or swollen.
- Never buy food which has soiled packaging.
- Never buy food which has ‘leaked’ from the packaging.
- Never buy food that has packaging which appears to have been tampered with as this may indicate that the goods have been repackaged to avoid ‘sell by’ or ‘use by’ dates.
- If frozen food is not solid to the touch do not buy it.
- If the packaging on frozen food is soiled, do not buy it as this may indicate that the food has thawed out and been re-frozen.
- Check the ‘load line’ and temperature of fridges and freezers in store. If they do not appear cold enough or if food is stacked above the ‘load line’ do not purchase food from them.
- Make sure that you purchase frozen or refrigerated foods last and take them home immediately. Never leave them in your car to get warm whilst shopping for other items and, if possible, try to arrange for delivery from the store directly to your house as the food is kept frozen and refrigerated en route.
It is absolutely essential that you are aware of how to store and prepare food safely if you are to avoid contamination and infection.
Rules for food storage
You can ensure the safety of your child by following these simple rules:
- Make sure that your refrigerator is set no higher than 5°C – use a thermometer if you are unsure.
- Make sure that your freezer is set at -18°C.
- Always cover any food which is left out, to avoid the spread of bacteria and eliminate the risk from flies etc.
- Never re-freeze food which has been allowed to thaw out.
- Never overfill your refrigerator – air must be able to circulate round the refrigerator in order for the correct temperature to be maintained.
- Once you have opened a can of food or fruit juice, transfer any leftovers to a leak-proof container before storing in the refrigerator. It is worth remembering that once a can has been opened and air has been introduced the contents can be affected.
- Cans, dried foods and packets should be stored in a cool dry place.
- Always take note of the ‘sell by’ and ‘use by’ dates. Often people think that canned food has an unlimited shelf life – this is not true. The contents of cans should be consumed within twelve months of purchase before the expiry date on the label otherwise they should be thrown away.
- Soft fruit, vegetables and salads should be stored in the refrigerator. If you have to leave fruit in a fruit bowl or vegetables in a rack make sure these cannot be contaminated by flies or animals.
- Take care when storing food in the refrigerator. Remember raw meats can drip blood and juices – which invariably contain harmful bacteria – onto other foods and so must never be stored on the top shelves. Always place food items that leak in a suitable container and store in the bottom of the refrigerator. Never store raw and cooked foods next to one another.
Children love to help to prepare meals and snacks and baking sessions are an excellent learning opportunity for children. However, if you and your child do not stick to safe practices when preparing food, then the result could be food poisoning. Use your baking sessions to teach your child the importance of handling, storing and preparing food correctly so that they will learn these important points along with learning how to cook. Practising good hygiene methods in this way from an early age will set children up for life and they will follow what you have taught them automatically. Let your child see you wash your hands thoroughly before handling or eating food and encourage them to do the same – remember it takes no less than 30 seconds to wash hands effectively. (See hand washing on page 18.)
Children should be supervised at all times when preparing food and you should use your common sense – based on the age and ability of your child – before deciding which tools and appliances they are allowed to use.
Rules for food preparation
Always make sure you follow these good practices in food preparation:
- Use different boards to chop vegetables, slice bread and cut raw meat as the blood and juices from raw meat can contaminate other foods. Plastic chopping boards are the easiest to keep clean and the most hygienic. This applies to different plates, knives and utensils as well.
- Allow food to thaw out in the refrigerator in a leak-proof container rather than on the kitchen work surface.
- Allow food to thaw thoroughly before cooking.
- Always ensure that you follow the manufacturer’s cooking instructions, which can be found on the food label, when storing, heating or cooking food.
Remember that boiling point is 100°C and harmful bacteria in food is not destroyed until food has been cooked to a temperature of 71°C. It is absolutely essential that food is cooked thoroughly, at the correct temperature and for the correct length of time to avoid food poisoning.
One of the easiest and most effective ways of preventing the spread of infection is by washing hands. However many people do not realize the importance of this simple routine and how, if this is done randomly or rushed, it ceases to be effective.
When to wash hands
Teach your child the importance of washing hands correctly and ensure that they are aware of why it is necessary to wash hands.
You should wash your hands:
- After blowing noses
- After changing a baby’s nappy or wiping a child’s bottom
- After coughing or sneezing
- After gardening or playing in sand
- After handling babies’ feeding bottles
- After handling money
- After handling or feeding pets
- After handling raw or cooked food
- After playing outside
- After visiting the toilet
- Before feeding babies and children
- Before you eat
- When dealing with a first aid situation
- When dealing with a minor injury such as a graze
- Whenever hands appear dirty!
Why we wash our hands
Preventing the spread of infection is essential if you are to ensure that your child is healthy and free from illness. Children pick up infections easily and through many means, such as touch, food, water, animals, cuts, grazes and droplets in the air. It has to be said that most children’s hygiene methods leave a lot to be desired! Encourage your child to wash their hands often and explain the reasons behind this necessity.
How we wash our hands
When teaching your child to wash their hands follow these simple rules:
- Wet hands thoroughly with hot water before applying soap.
- Use liquid soap if at all possible as this is more hygienic than bars of soap which have a tendency to harbour bacteria if allowed to sit in water for any length of time.
- Massage both hands with lather paying special attention to fingernails, thumbs and between the fingers.
- If rings are worn, these should either be removed and washed separately or washed underneath whilst on the finger.
- Rinse hands well under running water before drying.
Each person should have their own towel.
It is advisable to wear plastic gloves when dealing with urine, blood, faeces etc. however, hands should still be washed thoroughly even if gloves have been worn.
To wash hands correctly the whole process should take a minimum of 30 seconds. Encourage children to time themselves by leaving an egg timer or stop watch by the sink until they have learned to recognize the acceptable length of time needed for successfully washing hands.
Animals form a large part of many families and, when treated with consideration, they can become much loved members of the family. It is important to remember at all times, however, that they are animals and, as such, they can be unpredictable. Even the friendliest of dogs for example, can react violently if hurt whether this is intentional or not. If you have pets in your home make sure that they are tolerant of children and that you teach your child to respect them. Animals are not toys and you should never allow your child to tease or annoy a pet. Children should be encouraged to care for animals and, when old enough, learn how to clean their cages and feed them.
Animal and child safety guidelines
By following these simple guidelines you will be able to ensure that your children and pets live in harmony with one another:
- Never leave young children alone with pets no matter how friendly you consider the animal to be. No one can predict how an animal will react if it is hurt even if this is done unintentionally.
- Discourage children from feeding pets from their plate and, whenever possible, make sure that pets are not allowed in the same room whilst you are eating.
- Ensure that pets have their own feeding bowls and that these are washed separately from the rest of the family dishes.
- Make sure that children wash their hands after being in contact with pets.
- Ensure that your pets see a vet regularly and that dogs and cats are treated for worms and fleas periodically.
- Ensure that you clean up after your pet immediately. Pets, like humans, can get sick and have ‘accidents’. If this is the case, use disinfectant to clean up and dispose of everything immediately and hygienically.
The market is absolutely saturated with equipment and devices aimed at parents, and it is probably true to say that new parents, in particular, feel slightly daunted at the prospect of choosing the right kind of equipment and accessories for their child. One of the most important things to remember is that, used correctly following the manufacturers’ guidelines, most equipment on the market today should be safe. It is essential that any equipment or toys you purchase for your child conform to British safety standards. The easiest way to do this is to make sure that you look for one of the safety symbols such as the ‘kite’, ‘lion’ or ‘CE’ mark on all items before you buy them. Take extra care if you are buying toys and equipment from car boot sales or jumble sales.
Guidelines for toys and equipment
The following guidelines will help you to ensure that the toys and equipment you buy are safe and free from potential dangers.
Toys are the cause of thousands of accidents a year. Tripping over toys left on floors or allowing young children to play with toys which are inappropriate for their age and stage of development are just some of the ways in which toys can be dangerous. Make sure that clutter on the floor is kept to a minimum and encourage children to put toys away before allowing them to get something else out. Despite the Toys Safety Regulations 1995 it is still possible for unsafe, illegal toys to be purchased in England and you should take special care when selecting toys for young children.
Make sure there are no small parts which can wear or become loose and check the age range on the packaging to ensure their suitability. Never be tempted to purchase a toy which is aimed at an older child even if your child is highly intelligent and may well enjoy such a toy. It may contain small parts which can pose a choking hazard. Remember guidelines are there to be considered, not ignored. Extra care should be taken with regard to battery operated toys. Always make sure that young children can not gain access to the batteries, particularly the small mercury disc batteries, as these can easily be swallowed. Make sure you dispose of spent batteries carefully – never burn them – and always use the correct batteries for each toy.
Avoid purchasing dolls and soft toys with lots of hair as this can pose a choking hazard for young children.
Make sure that buggies and prams are in a good state of repair and that these conform to the British safety standards. Always use reins to securely fasten children in and check regularly for worn or missing parts. If you purchase a ‘buggy board’ designed to carry a toddler on the back of your buggy make sure that this is correctly fitted and that it is suited to your make of pushchair.
Never buy car seats from second-hand shops or car boot sales as you have no way of telling whether they are safe. Ensure that you know how to fit your child’s car seat correctly and follow the manufacturer’s instructions at all times.
Many parents swear by baby walkers, however there is no evidence to suggest that they assist a child in walking. Some people believe that the opposite is true and that baby walkers actually hinder the walking progress. What is certain however is that walkers can be potentially very dangerous. If you do intend to purchase a baby walker make sure that your child only uses it under strict supervision and that the floor is flat – no stairs – and free of clutter. The area where they are used should be clear of furniture and other potential hazards such as fires. I personally would not advise anyone to use a baby walker as the potential for children to overbalance in them and tip them over is very high. Safety gates Although safety gates are intended to assist with the safety of the child, care should be taken when selecting which gates to purchase. Safety gates are very important pieces of equipment and it is essential that the gates fit securely and that the fastenings are firm and child proof. It is preferable to choose an opening gate, rather than one you climb over. Highchair Another important piece of equipment. Highchairs should be suitable for the size and weight of the child that they are intended for. The child should be securely fastened in using a safety harness, which will need to be adjusted to fit the child comfortably as they grow. Always make sure that highchairs are placed on a flat, even floor and that they do not wobble or tip. Table-mounted chairs should be used with caution as these can be very unstable. Baby seats should always be placed on a flat even floor and never placed on tables or work surfaces. Babies and children should always be securely fastened into a baby seat.
An important part of toilet training for many children; potties should be free from cracks or splits. Child toilet seats, which are designed to fit over an adult toilet seat, must also be checked for cracks and splits and children should never be allowed to climb in order to reach the toilet. Provide a non-slip step for children to reach the toilet safely
Make sure your child is safe by following these rules:
- Supervise your child at all times – remember babies and children learn by exploring their surroundings and it is up to you to keep them away from danger.
- Eliminate as many potential dangers in your home as possible.Teach your child about potential dangers and how they can keep safe from an early age.
- Babies and young children have no understanding of danger!