Holidays were made for children. The lights, decorations, visits from adoring grandparents, gifts, even the boxes they come in, are sources of wonder and delight.
The trappings of Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa or other winter festivities also can introduce some unexpected hazards into your home. Here's how to make sure that your kids' holidays are as safe as they are merry.
Kids love a party as much as adults. Include them as long as you stay alert for hazards and keep them out of children's reach.
Toddlers who spy a half-empty drink glass on a low table will likely follow their natural instincts and take a swig. Remember, even a small amount of alcohol can slow a child's breathing and even lead to unconsciousness.
Bowls of peanuts or hard candy at child-level pose a choking hazard. So can the little toothpicks in party appetizers.
If relatives or friends come for a visit, show them where they can safely store any medications they may be taking. Too often, a curious child will explore grandma's purse and find a bottle of pills. If you go elsewhere for the holidays, make sure medicines there are locked away while you are visiting.
"Small children are especially at risk when it comes to toys because they can easily choke on small toys or even small parts," says Heather Paul, executive director of the National SAFE KIDS Campaign.
That's why it's important to pay attention to warning labels and age recommendations printed on the toy packaging.
When shopping for young children, Paul recommends avoiding:
* toys with sharp points or edges;
* playthings with strings or cords longer than seven inches, which could wrap around a child's neck;
* toy darts or other projectiles, which can cause eye injuries.
Don't forget to include a helmet if you buy a child a bicycle. Gifts of in-line skates or skateboards also should include protective gear.
If your child opens toys alongside an older sibling, watch that the small parts of big brother's construction set don't end up in his little sister's mouth.
Gift wrappings should be disposed of promptly as a small child might chew paper containing harmful substances or get a ribbon wrapped around his neck.
"It's easy to get caught up in holiday preparations and to overlook the potential hazards of decorations," Paul says.
Christmas trees and toddlers can coexist if you take a few precautions. It's best to keep a very young child out of the room where the tree is unless you are there to supervise. Even then, hang tree lights, breakable ornaments and decorations with small parts on the highest branches where they can't be grabbed by a child's quick-as-lightning hand. Keep needles swept up so a crawling baby can't ingest or inhale them.
Artificial snows and sprays are best avoided when there are small children because those substances can cause eye and throat irritation.
Decorative holiday plants, such as poinsettias, aren't deadly, as many people think, but they can cause unpleasant symptoms. Kids who chew on poinsettia leaves can experience mouth irritation. Mistletoe and holly berries can cause nausea, vomiting or diarrhea in some children. Berries or pieces of a leaf also can cause a child to choke. Keep those plants out of reach and pick up any fallen berries.
Candles are important elements of many holiday celebrations. Be sure you don't leave kids alone in a room with a lighted candle, and be sure to store matches out of reach.
Kids love to help bake holiday cookies. Keep vanilla and almond extracts out of their reach. Those ingredients contain high levels of alcohol, which can be harmful if swallowed by young children.
The Best Prevention
When it comes to keeping kids safe during the holidays--or anytime--there's no substitute for supervision. This is especially important when you visit the homes of family or friends. If they don't have small children, they may not have taken the same child-proofing measures as you.
With a house full of relatives and friends, it's easy to assume someone's eye is on your toddler every minute. That's when he might slip away and get into harm's way. During hectic periods, it's wise for family members to take turns being the designated supervisor. You'll probably have plenty of volunteers.
Susan Crites Price is co-author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Child Safety" (MacMillan).