The 15 Biggest Safety Mistakes

Bathtubs, Foods, and Pools

Babyproofing Your Home: Bathroom
Babyproofing Your Home: Bathroom

Leaving Your Child Alone in the Bathtub

Of course, most parents don't leave their kids alone in the tub as a matter of course. Yet more than half of all infant drownings occur there. "It's that one time when you're waiting for a delivery or a phone call," says Angela Mickalide, PhD, program director for the National Safe Kids Campaign. "You dash out, and in those few moments your child can get submerged and drown." A child will lose consciousness within two minutes underwater, and irreversible brain damage occurs after four minutes.

Bath seats or rings are often involved in bathtub drownings. Parents think the seats will hold a child while their attention is diverted, but bath seats are not safety devices. The suction cups on the bottom can come loose, causing a child to tip over, or a baby can slip through the leg openings. Each year, eight babies drown in such incidents.

What to do: Never leave your child alone in or near any kind of water. Don't answer the door or the phone or attend to other children without taking your baby with you or draining the tub. Make it clear to older siblings who may be eager to help that they can't give the baby a bath or play "beach" unless you're present. Get safety latches for all your toilets, and empty any containers that collect water.

Serving Unsafe Foods

Food accounts for the majority of child choking injuries, and the most common culprits are small, round, hard, or gummy foods that easily block the airway. These include nuts, grapes, gummy and hard candies, carrots, popcorn, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, hot dogs, taffy, marshmallows, and caramels. Children younger than 3 are most at risk for choking on food because their airway is so small and they tend to put everything in their mouth. "Even spoonfuls of peanut butter can be a hazard, because globs of it easily get stuck in a child's tiny esophagus," says Mickalide. (Peanut butter and peanuts are also a danger for kids younger than 3 because they're highly allergenic.)

What to do: Cut all foods into small pieces and make sure children are sitting down while eating. Encourage small bites and chewing slowly and completely. Nix all small, round, smooth, or sticky foods.

Forgetting About the Pool Next Door

I admit it: My attention wandered every time I heard or read about pool dangers. After all, we don't own a pool. Then one day I found my 2-year-old on our neighbors' deck, ready to jump into their pool. We had been playing in the yard, and I stopped to say hello to another friend from the neighborhood. My daughter simply climbed over a low stone wall into our neighbors' yard and up their steps and unlatched their gate. I was lucky to have noticed in time to stop something horrible from happening. But this scenario isn't uncommon. The majority of children who drown in pools were last seen in the home, had been out of sight for less than five minutes, and were in the care of one or both parents at the time.

What to do: Four-wall fencing of your property is certainly something to consider, but in the meantime, take other precautions. Think of every pool in the neighborhood -- above-ground, in-ground, even wading pools -- as a potential danger. Get alarms for your doors that sound when they're opened to alert you if your child manages to slip out of the house. (Some security systems come with this feature.) Ask your neighbors to lock their pool gate and offer to purchase a pool alarm, which sounds when something falls into the water. Door and pool alarms are available where pools are sold.

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