Rule: Cut grapes and hot dogs in half
Keep slicing these choking hazards until your child is 4, the AAP recommends. That's the age when most kids can chew with a "grinding motion" -- and also when their airways are large enough to accommodate an accidentally swallowed grape, hot-dog chunk, or piece of popcorn. "But if your older child doesn't chew well, continue cutting!" says Dr. Brown.
Rule: Use bed rails
You can take them down when your child stays in one position for most of the night -- usually around age 3 or 4. Place something soft alongside the bed for the first few weeks. "Definitely take the rails down if your child starts climbing over them, because he'll be more likely to hurt himself that way than if he falls out of bed without the rails," says Karen DeBord, MD, associate professor of child development at North Carolina State University, in Raleigh.
Rule: Use covers on all outlets
If your child can explain why poking something into an outlet could hurt him, it's probably okay to remove the covers. But since they aren't much of an inconvenience, there's no rush -- especially if he loves to experiment. Even some 7-year-olds can't resist an open outlet.
Rule: Don't let your child play with marbles, coins, or other small objects
To be safe, pediatricians recommend, you should keep these choking hazards out of reach until your child is 4 or 5, when his windpipe is larger. If he is over 3 and no longer puts nonfood objects in his mouth, you can let him play with small toys before then -- but you must supervise him carefully and store them where he can't reach them, says Dr. Brown. Be sure to follow the age recommendations on toy packages.
Rule: Put gates at the top and bottom of stairs
There's no consensus about this. Some doctors say you can remove the gates once your child can go up and down stairs without holding on, which usually happens at age 3 or 4. Others say it doesn't hurt to keep gates up longer, particularly at night in case your child sleepwalks -- as long he isn't trying to climb over them.
Rule: Avoid the big swings at the playground
Most doctors say it's best to let your child move from bucket swings to the flat-seat types when she's 5 and her feet are more likely to reach the ground. But she'll probably beg to switch before then. Adult supervision is key to avoiding falls: If you can trust her to hold on tight, you can push her in a big swing when she's 3 or 4. Also make sure the swings are on a soft surface, and that your child knows to wait until the swing has come to a complete stop before getting off.
Rule: Use fluoride-free toothpaste
Because ingesting too much fluoride can cause permanent white spots on your child's teeth called fluorosis, some doctors say it's safest not to use any regular toothpaste until she can spit -- a skill typically mastered at age 3 or 4. But the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that children use a small amount of fluoride toothpaste (no more than the size of a pea) starting at age 2 to prevent cavities -- especially if your local tap water isn't fluoridated. Talk to your dentist and doctor about what's best.
Rule: Supervise bathtime
Never leave your child alone in the tub until he's 5, and then only leave him briefly until he's at least 7. Although drowning can happen at any age, most children who drown in tubs are under age 5, according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission. If your child has learned how to swim, you can feel more confident leaving him alone. Nevertheless, you should never be far away. As your child gets older and wants more privacy, insist that he keep the bathroom door unlocked, says Dr. DeBord.
Copyright © 2007. Used with permission from the October 2007 issue of Parents magazine.
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