KEEPING YOUR CHILD SAFE DURING THE HOLIDAY SEASON
The holidays are a magical time of year. We have opportunities to spend time with family and friends. And often it is a time filled with traditions from gift giving, to gatherings, to festive decorations. It is important during the holidays to continue to be vigilant keeping our children safe. We will discuss how to choose safe toys, how to visit friends and family safely, especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic, and how to keep your home safe for the holidays.
Giving gifts is a hallmark of many winter holidays including Christmas and Hanukkah. The joy on a child’s face when opening up a wanted toy is one of the best feelings to observe. When picking out the perfect toy, not only do you want to pick a toy that your child will love, we want to make sure it is appropriate and safe.
To make sure your toy is appropriate you want to follow age recommendations. Age recommendations are set in order to make sure the toy is developmentally appropriate meaning your child will understand how to use the toy. We want to choose toys that interactive. This means your child should play WITH the toy, the toy shouldn’t play FOR your child. If your child doesn’t need to interact or manipulate the toy to engage in play, it isn’t probably the best choice.
Children learn from play and we want them to be engaged in their play. Toys can be symbolic or encourage pretend play (such as a doctor’s kit or a kitchen set), manipulation (such as blocks or puzzles), encourage gross motor play (such as push toys or ride-on toys), encourage language concepts (such as books or games), or encourage fine motor or art play (such as play dough or paints). A great resource for toy ideas is the National Association for the Education of Young Children website that list high quality, safe toys for children by age and development.
To ensure that you are choosing a safe toy please check the following:
• Read the label to ensure you know how to use the toy
• Make sure the toy is bigger than your child’s mouth if younger than 3-4 years old
• Avoid toys that shoot things to reduce the risk of eye injuries
• Avoid loud toys as use close to your child’s ears can harm their hearing
• Check to make sure the toy is sturdy with no broken parts
• Check to make sure sewn or stuffed toys have secure stitching and no loose parts
• Make sure the toy is made of non-toxic material, it should be labeled as such
• For any electric toy it should have a “UL-approved” label
• Make sure the toy does not have a strap or string longer than 12 inches to reduce the risk of strangulation
• Check your toys frequently to make sure they are in good condition with no broken or loose parts
SPECIFIC TOY CONCERNS
Button batteries are small batteries that can be found in some toys and other small objects such as remote controls.
If placed in the nose they can cause injury to the mucosal surfaces of the nose or can create a hole in the nose or nasal septum. If placed in an ear they can create a hole in the ear drum, cause facial nerve paralysis, or cause hearing loss.
If ingested they can start to corrode in less than 2 hours causing severe tissue damage to the esophagus. It can also cause vocal cord paralysis or significant bleeding.
If you suspect your child ate a button battery, administer 2 tsp of honey (if over 12 month of age) and proceed directly to the ER.
Avoid toys with small or high-powered magnets. If ingested magnets can cause life threatening injury to the gastrointestinal tract. If your child swallowed magnets contact us immediately. Symptoms can include abdominal pain and vomiting.
Water beads are also known as gel beads or polymer beads. These beads absorb water and can swell to over 200 times their original size (meaning up to tennis ball size).
If swallowed they can cause a gastrointestinal obstruction. Symptoms include refusing to eat, drooling, vomiting, wheezing, feeling like something is stuck in their throat/chest, abdominal pain or constipation. See care immediately with a known or suspected ingestion.
If placed in an ear, it can obstruct the ear canal, cause damage to the ear drum or cause hearing loss.
There are a few websites that give frequent updates on toy dangers and recalls. Toys can be recalled due to causing a choking or fire hazard, for having high lead levels, or for various other issues. You can check on recalls or receive alerts for recent recalls at sites including the Consumer Product Safety Commission or Recalls.gov.
One of children’s favorite holiday traditions is decorating your house. This may include a Christmas tree, a menorah, or plants. These items are often beautiful and very attractive to small children to play with or touch.
For Christmas trees, make sure you place any breakable ornaments up high and out of reach or maybe avoid placing them on your tree while your child is small. Also be careful about tree decorations that children may try to put in their mouth or ingest that can be a choking hazard. These include cranberry or popcorn garlands and tinsel. Your tree should be watered regularly to prevent it from becoming dry and a fire hazard. Also check any lights you put on your tree for fraying cords. When you leave the house or when you are sleeping, the lights should be turned off. Bubble lights and foam snow spray can be toxic if ingested so please keep these items out of reach.
Candles or any item with a lit flame should be kept out of reach. Make sure the item is 12 inches from any surface or object that can burn. Make sure if you leave the room you blow out the candles. Store matches or lighters out of reach and out of sight of children.
Plants often used in holiday decorations can be harmful and poisonous to children and pets. These plants include mistletoe, holly berries, poinsettias, and Jerusalem cherry plants. If you use these plants in your holiday décor, make sure they cannot be reached by your child. Also make sure to frequently check for fallen petals, leaves, or berries.
For many families, food is an important part of the celebrations. Remember basic kitchen safety such as storing knives out of reach or making sure your keep handles of pots and pans on the stove turned away. When you and your child are cooking or baking together, make sure you are providing constant supervision.
Exchanging gifts is always a holiday highlight. Shopping is a fun and important part of gift giving. This year try to avoid shopping with children if at all possible, to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. If you cannot avoid taking your child, be careful in parking lots or around stores as they are often very busy, and drivers may be more distracted. Make sure your child is secured in a stroller, in a carrier, or you are holding hands at all times. You should also discuss a plan for if you are separated from your child. Once gifts are exchanged, it is important to immediately remove all plastic bags, wrapping paper, and strings or bows to prevent ingestion and strangulation. Also, as discussed above, check toys for safety before unboxing and allowing your child to play.
Family celebrations can be a big part of all holidays. Make sure that alcohol is out of reach as many alcoholic drinks can look fun to children increasing the risk of an accidental ingestion. Celebrations occurring at friends’ and families’ houses require supervision of children as sometimes you will be in a house that is not childproofed for a younger child. Like with having a water watcher around water or pools, it is important to have a designated person who is in charge of watching your smaller child and a plan to rotate that role.
The COVID-19 pandemic is adding an extra level to holiday stresses this year. We recommend following federal and state guidelines for holiday gatherings. You want to make sure you take into consideration these factors before attending a gathering:
• Community levels in your town and where the party will be held
• What exposures you may have during travel to gatherings
• Where is the gathering? Will there be proper ventilation, outdoor spaces?
• How long is the gathering?
• How many people will be attending?
• What are the behaviors of the attendees prior to the gathering
• What are the behaviors of the attendees during the gathering (for example, mask wearing, distancing).
We recommend for any gathering that you wear a mask, wash hands and use hand sanitizer frequently. Avoid attending a gathering serving food potluck style. Also make sure the site of the gathering has increased ventilation with open windows or a chance to use outdoor spaces. Also make sure the gathering has limited crowds and adheres to state and federal gathering regulations.
If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, have symptoms that indicate possible COVID-19 infection, are awaiting test results, or have been exposed to COVID-19 in the past 14 days, please do not attend family gatherings. Also, those people who are at risk of severe illness with COVID-19 infection should carefully consider any gatherings.
The holidays may look different for everyone this year. Despite necessary changes, we hope you are able to find joy in the traditions you and your family have created for your special holiday. If you have any questions about toy safety or celebrating holidays safety, please do not hesitate to speak to your provider.
Children’s Health Care of Newburyport, Massachusetts and Haverhill, Massachusetts is a pediatric healthcare practice providing care for families across the North Shore, Merrimack Valley, southern New Hampshire, and the Seacoast regions. The Children’s Health Care team includes pediatricians and pediatric nurse practitioners who provide comprehensive pediatric health care for children, including newborns, toddlers, school aged children, adolescents, and young adults. Our child-centered and family-focused approach covers preventative and urgent care, immunizations, and specialist referrals. Our services include an on-site pediatric nutritionist, special needs care coordinator, and social workers. We also have walk-in appointments available at all of our locations for acute sick visits. Please visit chcmass.com where you will find information about our pediatric doctors, nurse practitioners, as well as our hours and services.
Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.