- Does your baby's changing table have a safety belt?
- Are all painted cribs, bassinets, and high chairs made after 1978? (Prior to this, paint was lead based.)
- Are crib slats less than 2-3/8 inches (6 centimeters) apart?
- Are the crib's headboard and footboard free of large cut-outs?
- Is the crib mattress firm and flat? Does it fit snugly in the crib?
- Are the side rails up on the crib?
- Is the crib free of soft pillows, large stuffed animals, and soft bedding?
- Have any strings or ribbons been clipped off hanging mobiles and crib toys?
- Are strings on crib bumpers 6 inches (15 centimeters) or shorter?
- Are window blind and curtain cords tied with clothespins or specially designed cord clips? Are they kept well out of reach and away from cribs?
- Are dressers secured to walls with drawers closed?
- Do the lids on toy chests or toy storage containers have a lid support to keep them from slamming shut? Are all toy chests non-locking?
- Has a window guard been placed on any window that isn't an emergency exit?
- Are any night-lights in the room not touching any fabric like bedspreads or curtains?
- Does your child wear flame-retardant sleepwear?
- Have you removed all drawstrings from your child's clothing?
- Are all medication bottles, loose pills, coins, scissors, and any other small or sharp objects out of reach?
- Are window blind and curtain cords tied with clothespins or specially designed cord clips?
If you own firearms:
- Are they stored in a securely locked case out of kids' reach? All firearms should be stored unloaded and in the un-cocked position.
- Is ammunition stored in a separate place and in a securely locked container out of kids' reach?
- Are keys kept where kids can't find them?
Childproofing and Preventing Household Accidents
When was the last time you crawled around your home on your hands and knees? As strange as it sounds, give it a go. Kids explore their everyday environments, so it's crucial to check things out from their perspective to make sure your home is safe.
And though we often think of babies and toddlers when we hear the words "babyproofing" or "childproofing," unintentional injury is the leading cause of death in kids 14 years old and under, with more than a third of these injuries happening at home.
Household injuries are one of the top reasons kids under age 3 visit the ER, and nearly 70% of the children who die from unintentional injuries at home are 4 years old and under. Young kids have the highest risk of being injured at home because that's where they spend most of their time.
Supervision is the best way to prevent injuries, in the home and out, but even the most watchful parents can't keep kids completely out of harm's way every second of the day.
Here are some simple ways to help prevent injuries in your own home:
Accidents That Can Happen at Home
The common causes of home-injury deaths are fire and burns, suffocation, drowning, choking, falls, poisoning, and firearms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most home accidents happen where there's:
- water: in the bathroom, kitchen, swimming pools, or hot tubs
- heat or flames: in the kitchen or at a barbecue grill
- toxic substances: under the kitchen sink, in the medicine cabinet, in the garage or garden shed, or even in a purse or other place where medications are stored
- potential for a fall: on stairs, slippery floors, from high windows, or from tipping furniture
You can take precautions to make these places safer, but the most important thing to remember is to watch young kids at all times. Even if your home is childproofed, it only takes an instant for babies and toddlers to fall, run over to a hot stove, or put the wrong thing in their mouths. Your watchfulness is your child's best defense.
However, accidents will still happen, so it's important to be prepared. If you're expecting a baby or have kids, it's wise to:
- Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the age-appropriate Heimlich maneuver.
Keep the following near the phone (for yourself and caregivers):
- poison-control number: 1-800-222-1222
- doctor's number
- parents' work and cell phone numbers
- neighbor's or nearby relative's number (if you need someone to watch other kids in case of an emergency)
- Make a first-aid kit and keep emergency instructions inside.
- Install smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.
Top Safety Tips
- Keep guns, choking hazards, and toxic, hot, and sharp items out of reach
- Use safety gates
- Install outlet covers
- Never leave young kids unattended in a bath.
- Install smoke detectors.
- Install knob covers on doors to non-childproofed areas.
- Don't put soft bedding or toys in cribs.
- Don't use walkers.
Household Safety Checklists
- Are all unused outlets covered with safety plugs?
- Are all major electrical appliances grounded?
- Have cord holders been used to keep longer cords fastened against walls?
- Have you checked for and removed other potential electrical fire hazards, such as overloaded electrical sockets and electrical wires running under carpets?
- Are televisions, computers, and stereo equipment positioned against walls?
Heating & Cooling Elements
- Are all radiators and baseboard heaters covered with childproof screens if necessary?
- Have gas fireplaces been secured with a valve cover or key?
- Do all working fireplaces have a screen and other barriers in place when in use?
- Have any chimneys been cleaned recently?
- Are all electric space heaters at least 3 feet (91 centimeters) from beds, curtains, or anything flammable?
Emergency Equipment & Numbers
- Have you placed a list of emergency phone numbers near each phone in your home?
- Are there fire extinguishers installed on every floor and in the kitchen?
- Do you have an emergency ladder for the upper floors of your home?
- Are there smoke detectors on each floor of your home?
- Have smoke detectors been installed in the hallways between all bedrooms of your home?
- Have you tested all smoke detectors within the last month?
- Have you changed the batteries in the smoke detectors within the past 6 months?
- If you cook with or heat your home with natural gas or have an attached garage, have you considered installing a carbon monoxide detector in your home?
Walls & Floors
- Are walls in good condition, with no peeling or cracking paint (which could contain lead in older homes)?
- Are rugs secured to floors or fitted with anti-slip pads underneath?
Doors & Windows
- Have you installed a finger pinch guard on doors?
- Have you removed the rubber tips from all door stops or installed one-piece door stops?
- Have you placed doorknob covers on doors so that your toddler won't be able to leave the house?
- Do all glass doors in the house contain decorative markers so they won't be mistaken for open doors?
- Do all sliding doors have childproof locks?
- Are there safety bars or window guards installed on upper-story windows?
- Are window blind cords tied with clothespins or specially designed cord clips?
- Are bookshelves and other furniture secured with wall brackets so they can't be tipped over?
- Is there protective padding on any corners of coffee tables, furniture, and countertops that have sharp edges?
- Have you checked that all used or hand-me-down baby equipment hasn't been recalled?
- Are there hardware-mounted safety gates at the top and bottom of every stairway?
- Are stairways clear of tripping hazards, such as loose carpeting or toys?
- Have you placed a guard on banisters and railings if your child can fit through the rails?
- Are the railings and banisters secure?
- Is the door to the basement steps kept locked?
You read labels, buy fresh foods, and do your best to prepare tasty meals for your family. But one thing that might not cross your mind as you cook is food safety.
Why is food safety so important? Proper food preparation protects against foodborne illnesses from bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Listeria (which can cause diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, and dehydration).
Safety precautions include knowing how to select foods in the grocery store, then storing them properly and cooking them safely, plus cleaning up well afterward.
Here's how to make sure your kitchen and the foods you prepare in it are safe.
Buying safe food is the first step. To ensure freshness, refrigerated items (such as meat, dairy, eggs, and fish) should be put in your cart last. Keep meats separate from other items, especially produce. If your drive home is longer than 1 hour, consider putting these items in a cooler to keep them fresh.
When purchasing packaged meat, poultry, or fish, check the expiration date on the label. Even if the expiration date is still acceptable, don't buy fish or meats that smell or look strange.
Also check inside egg cartons - make sure the eggs, which should be grade A or AA, are clean and free from cracks.
- fruit with broken skin (bacteria can enter through the opening and contaminate the fruit)
- unpasteurized ciders or juices (they can contain harmful bacteria)
- prestuffed fresh turkeys or chickens
Leaving Your Child Home Alone
Whether it's a snow day home from school, an unexpected business appointment, or a childcare arrangement that fell through, situations are likely to arise where you feel you have little choice but to leave your child home alone.
It's natural for parents to be a bit anxious when first leaving kids without supervision. But you can feel prepared and confident with some planning and a couple of trial runs. And handled well, staying home alone can be a positive experience for kids, too, helping them gain a sense of self-assurance and independence.
Factors to Consider
It's obvious that a 5-year-old can't go it alone but that a 16-year-old probably can. But what about those school-aged kids in the middle? It can be difficult to know when kids are ready to handle being home alone. Ultimately, it comes down to your judgment about what your child is ready for.
You'll want to know how your child feels about the idea, of course. But kids often insist that they'll be fine long before parents feel comfortable with it. And then there are older kids who seem afraid even when you're pretty confident that they'd be just fine. So how do you know?
In general, it's not a good idea to leave kids younger than 10 years old home alone. Every child is different, but at that age, most kids don't have the maturity and skills to respond to an emergency if they're alone.
Think about the area where you live. Are there neighbors nearby you know and trust to help your child in case of an emergency? Or are they mostly strangers? Do you live on a busy street with lots of traffic? Or is it a quiet area? Is there a lot of crime in or near your neighborhood?
It's also important to consider how your child handles various situations. Here are a few questions to think about:
- Does your child show signs of responsibility with things like homework, household chores, and following directions?
- How does your child handle unexpected situations? How calm does your child stay when things don't go as planned?
- Does your child understand and follow rules?
- Can your child understand and follow safety measures?
- Does your child make good judgments or is he or she prone to taking risks?
- Does your child know basic first-aid procedures?
- Does your child follow your instructions about staying away from strangers?
Make A "Practice Run"
Even if you're confident about your child's maturity, it's wise to make some practice runs, or home-alone trials, before the big day. Let your child stay home alone for 30 minutes to an hour while you remain nearby and easily reachable. When you return, discuss how it went and talk about things that you might want to change or skills that your child might need to learn for the next time.
Handling the Unexpected
You can feel more confident about your absence if your child learns some basic skills that might come in handy during an emergency. Organizations such as the American Red Cross offer courses in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in local places like schools, hospitals, and community centers.
Before being left home alone home alone, your child should be able to complete certain tasks and safety precautions, such as:
- knowing when and how to call 911 and what address information to give the dispatcher
- knowing how to work the home security system, if you have one, and what to do if the alarm is accidentally set off
- locking and unlocking doors
- working the phone/cell phone (in some areas, you have to dial 1 or the area code to dial out)
- turning lights off and on
- operating the microwave
knowing what to do if:
- there's a small fire in the kitchen
- the smoke alarm goes off
- there's a tornado or other severe weather
- a stranger comes to the door
- someone calls for a parent who isn't home
- there's a power outage
Regularly discuss some emergency scenarios - ask what your child would do if, for example, he or she smelled smoke, a stranger knocked at the door, or someone called for you while you're gone.
Before You Leave
Even after you decide that your child is ready to stay home alone, you're bound to feel a little anxious when the time comes. Taking these practical steps can make it easier for you both:
- Schedule time to get in touch. Set up a schedule for calling. You might have your child call right away if he or she is coming home to an empty house, or set up a time when you'll call home to check in. Figure out something that's convenient for both of you. Make sure your child understands when you're readily available and when you might not be able to answer a call.
Set ground rules. Establish some special rules for when you're away and make sure that your child knows and understands them. Consider rules about:
- having a friend or friends over while you're not there
- rooms of the house that are off limits, especially with friends
- TV time and types of shows
- Internet and computer rules
- kitchen and cooking (you might want to make the oven and utensils like sharp knives off limits)
- not opening the door for strangers
- answering the phone
- getting along with siblings
- not telling anyone he or she is alone
- Stock up. Make sure your house has everyday goods and emergency supplies. Stock the kitchen with healthy foods for snacking. Leave a precise dose of any medication that your child needs to take, but don't leave medication bottles out as this could lead to an accidental overdose or ingestion, especially if younger siblings are also present.
In addition, leave flashlights in an accessible place in case of a power outage. Post important phone numbers - yours and those of friends, family members, the doctor, police, and fire department - that your child might need in an emergency.
Be sure that you:
- Create a list of friends your child can call or things your child can do if lonely.
- Leave a snack or a note so your child knows you're thinking of him or her.
- Make up a schedule for your child to follow while you're away.
- Make sure the parental controls and filtering systems, if you have any, are programmed for the Internet on your computer and on your TV.
Childproof your home. No matter how well your child follows rules, be sure to secure anything that could be a health or safety risk. Lock them up and put them in a place where kids can't get to them or, when possible, remove them from your home. These items include:
- prescription medications
- over-the-counter medications that could cause problems if taken in excess: sleeping pills, cough medicine, etc.
- guns (if you do keep one, make sure it is locked up and leave it unloaded and stored away from ammunition)
- car keys
- lighters and matches
Ready to Go
When you're ready to leave your child home alone for the first time, a few other steps can help both of you manage the transition.
You might have an older teen or a friend of the family come over to stay with your child. Don't call that person a "babysitter" - tell your child that the person is there to keep him or her company. You might also want to let your child invite a trusted friend of the same age to come over, and propose this as a trial run for later solo stays. Be sure to let the friend's parents know that you won't be home.
And don't forget that pets can be great company for kids who are home alone. Many kids feel safer with a pet around - even a small one, like a hamster, can make them feel like they have a companion.
So cover your bases and relax. With the right preparation and some practice, you and your child will get comfortable with home-alone days in no time!