Keeping Kids Safe from Burns
Cook with Care
When cooking around children, use back burners as much as possible and turn pot handles inward, toward the back or center of the stove, and always place hot food or drinks at the back of a counter so your child can't pull them down. Or make the kitchen a no-go area during meal preparation: Use a safety gate to block access to the room or establish a "kid zone" a safe distance away from the kitchen, where your child can safely play and you can still supervise him. When you're not cooking, use knob covers or remove front-facing knobs to prevent kids from turning on the stove. Be cautious with microwaves, too. Microwave food can heat unevenly, which may cause lip, tongue, or throat burns, and kids may spill hot contents on themselves. "When preparing or removing food from the microwave, always use oven mitts, just as you would for the oven," says Christi Cassidy, LPN, Burn and Trauma Outreach Educator at Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, Missouri. Always set the food on the counter away from the edge and stir it to cool it down and eliminate hot spots. Before giving the food to your child, test it to make sure it's not too hot.
Clear the Table
Curious or hungry kids can pull down tablecloths or place mats, spilling hot food and liquid. A bare table is best, but if you must use place mats, use nonslip ones. Hot foods should never be placed within a child's reach or on a table unless the child is in a high chair. Always let dishes cool in a safe place so that your kids don't reach for hot food immediately, and always have an adult (or much older sibling) prepare their plates. Open microwave containers away from you and your child, as the steam can scald the skin, and test microwave foods and drinks before giving them to a young child. Avoid heating baby bottles in the microwave, as the heat may be unevenly distributed. And never carry a child while also carrying a hot drink or hot food.
Check the Water Temperature
Scalds are also common types of burn-related injuries among young children. Decreasing the temperature of your water heater's thermostat to 120°F or lower (or installing anti-scald devices for water faucets and shower heads) can prevent the water in your home from getting too hot. When preparing your child's bath, don't assume what you feel is "just right" will be right for your child. "Keep the water temperature between 90° and 100°F because children's skin is more sensitive to heat than adults' skin," says E. Hani Mansour, MD, Medical Director of The Burn Center at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, New Jersey. Check the water temperature with your elbow or wrist or with a bath thermometer before bathing your child.
Look Out for Tools
When using curling irons, flat irons, blow dryers, or clothing irons, never leave a child unattended. Little children love to mimic adults, so if your kid is able to find the curling iron or flat iron, she's likely to plug it in and style her hair "just like Mommy's." When using heated tools, always know where your child is so that she doesn't bump (or scare) you and cause you to drop them on her or yourself. Always unplug the tools and let them cool after using them, but make sure they are cooled and stored in areas that are out of reach, and that no cords are dangling.
Hide the Cords
Oral burns or electrocution can occur if a child chews on an electric cord. Many new appliances come with retractable cords but if they don't, always bind excess cord with a plastic zip tie, twist-tie, Velcro strap, or any other product designed to hide the cord. Position TVs and other electronics as close to the wall as possible so the cords are hidden and kids can't pull on them easily. And don't forget about the charging cables for your laptop, cellphone, and other electronic gadgets -- when you're charging a device, keep an eye on your child so that he isn't near any power cords. When chargers aren't in use, keep them unplugged and in an area that isn't easily accessible.
Plan a Walk-Through
Put screens around fireplaces and wood burning stoves (areas designated as kid-free zones); cover all unused electrical outlets, and make sure the ones in use aren't overloaded. Store matches, lighters, and gasoline in an area that's out of children's reach and keep flammable items such as clothing, papers, and furniture at least three feet away from the fireplace, heather, or radiator. Teach your kids to notify an adult immediately if they find stray lighters or matches and to avoid touching those items. Prevent fires by equipping your home with a fire extinguisher that you know how to use, and have the fireplace and chimney cleaned at least twice a year before using the fireplace in the winter. Remember to replace batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors at least once a year (a good time is when you change your clocks for daylight saving time). Be careful with heaters and humidifiers, too. Use space heaters only if they have been tested and certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory, and consider choosing one with a guard around the flame and heating area. Keep them on a hard, level surface, and keep children, pets, and clothes away from them. For humidifiers, opt for a cool-mist model rather than one that uses hot water or steam. Assess your home periodically by having a "burn-proofing" walk-through in each room.
Play in Safe Areas
Playground equipment, whether metal, plastic, rubber, or another nonmetal surface, that has been under direct sunlight for an extended period of time can scorch a child's skin. And it's not only during the summer months that you need to be aware; warm spring days can also cause the playground temperatures to rise. Opt for a playground that has lots of trees so the equipment is in the shade. If that's not an option, test the equipment using your hand or fingers. "If you cannot comfortably hold your hand in place for three to five seconds, you should not let your child use the equipment," Mansour says. Even toys in the playroom can be a risk: Electronic and battery-operated toys can overheat, give off sparks, or catch fire. If a toy feels too warm or has an unusual smell, a frayed cord, a leaking or corroded battery, or a broken battery cover, replace or repair it immediately. Before your child plays with a toy -- even a new one -- inspect it to make sure it's in good condition. Always check toys periodically to ensure that they remain safe to handle.
Keep the Shoes On
Hot pavement and sand can burn the soles of the feet. "If temps are greater than 75° or the area is in constant sunlight, always assume the surface is hot," Cassidy says. To protect your child, make sure she wears (and keeps on) well-fitting shoes or sandals when playing or walking outside in the sun. At the pool or beach, have her wear water shoes, and always apply sunscreen to the top of her feet and toes when she's wearing sandals.
Check the Car
On warm days, leather seats, buckles, and straps (those connected to the car and car seats or booster seats) heat up quickly and can burn skin. Avoid parking in direct sunlight. Park in the shade or use a windshield cover to reduce the car temperature. These precautions still won't eliminate all of the heat, so it's a good idea to cover the car seat or the buckles with blankets or towels. Before letting your child get into the vehicle, open the doors and turn the air conditioner on high for a few minutes. When the temperature, including seatbelts and straps, is comfortable for you, it will be comfortable for your child.
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