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Accident Alert

Toddlers are injury magnets. In fact, a study published last year found that childhood injuries peaked at 15 to 17 months of age. This comes as no great surprise, of course, because these natural explorers consider the whole world their playground and don't really understand the concept of risk.

"Toddlers aren't yet able to protect themselves, so it's up to the adults around them to provide a safe environment," says Rose Ann Soloway, R.N., associate director of The American Association of Poison Control Centers, in Washington, D.C. To keep your fearless adventurer safe and sound, think one step ahead and use these essential toddler-proofing tactics.

In the Kitchen

  • Get into the habit of drinking hot beverages from a travel mug to avoid spills. Use place mats instead of a tablecloth.
  • Push electric coffeepots and teakettles away from counter edges, and wrap dangling cords in a twist tie.
  • Turn the water heater down to 120°F or lower to prevent scalds from faucets.
  • Cook on the back burners of the stove, and turn handles so they don't extend over the edge of the cooktop.
  • Store cleaning fluids in their original containers, and lock them in a cabinet out of your child's sight and reach.
  • Don't leave your toddler alone in a high chair, and always use safety straps.

In the Bathroom

  • Keep the toilet lid down when not in use. If that doesn't stop your little one from playing in the water, invest in a toilet lock or block the doorway with a safety gate.
  • Never leave the room or answer the phone when your child is taking a bath. "You don't want any distractions during bathtime," says Meri-K Appy, of the Home Safety Council, in Washington, D.C.
  • Don't use a bath seat or bath ring. They've been a factor in dozens of drownings. The seats give parents a false sense of security; accidents happen when seats tip over or children slip out of them.
  • Keep all medicines and vitamins in their original, child-resistant containers, locked out of sight and reach. Don't depend on child-resistant caps to do the job; persistent toddlers can open them.

All Around the House

  • Scan floors for choking hazards -- small toys (anything that fits through a toilet-paper roll), coins, batteries, and popped balloons, described as "the biggest single nonfood choking hazard" by Robert Sege, M.D., director of the Pediatric and Adolescent Health Research Center at Tufts -- New England Medical Center, in Boston. Latex balloon pieces are dangerous because they conform to the shape of a child's airway and are difficult to dislodge.
  • Install pressure-mounted gates at the bottom of each staircase and hardware-mounted gates at the top. To reduce the risk of falls, keep the barriers up until your child is at least 2 years old and 36 inches tall.
  • Place TVs and VCRs on a wall-mounted stand or at the back of a shelf fastened to the wall, with electrical cords out of reach. Studies and statistics show an increasing number of children are injured by falling televisions. Bolt bookcases and chests to the wall with mounting hardware so they won't tip if your toddler tries to climb on them.
  • Use outlet covers on all electrical outlets. Cover sharp edges and corners on furniture and fireplaces with foam or rubber bumpers.
  • Choose window treatments that don't use pull cords; they're a strangulation hazard. If you must use blinds with cords, cut loops and secure all cords out of reach.
  • Keep your child out of your home office by locking the door or closing off the area with safety gates. Its tantalizing contents -- from staples to paper clips -- are choking hazards.

In the Yard and Driveway

  • Lock front and rear entry doors when you're home so your toddler can't leave the house and head to the nearest pool, pond, street, or driveway (getting backed over by a car in the driveway is a major cause of injury and death at this age).
  • Purchase a tall flag for the back of your child's tricycle or riding toy to make it visible to drivers. Buy a helmet certified by the Consumer Products Safety Commission.
  • Make sure your backyard play set has a soft surface underneath it. It should have a layer of ground cover like wood chips, mulch, or pea gravel at least 12 inches deep and extending from the equipment six feet in all directions. Grass, dirt, or sand isn't recommended.
  • Completely enclose pools, ponds, or hot tubs with fencing at least four feet high, and install a self-closing, self-latching gate with a lock. And don't forget to put up a fence between the house and the pool.