You'd never think of letting your child ride in the car without his seat belt fastened, but how about when he's in a shopping cart? You always hold his hand when he crosses the street, but how often do you reach for it when you step onto an escalator at the mall? When it comes to kid-safety hazards, it's easy to get caught up in worrying about the big, obvious threats, such as car accidents, toy recalls, and dangerous playground equipment. And with good reason, since they are responsible for many childhood accidents. But an everyday trip to the mall -- where parents are often distracted and kids are intrigued by elevators, escalators, and elaborate store displays -- poses a surprising number of hazards that can cause severe injuries. We asked experts how you can safely navigate the following four danger zones when you and your kids hit the stores.
Seems like only towering displays, the kind you'd find in warehouse-type stores, would be a threat. But even relatively small displays in malls can be dangerous, as Jennifer Keller, of Mesa, Arizona, learned when she and a friend were shopping for sunglasses. It turned out that the tables of sunglasses were really just wide hollow columns topped with a piece of heavy glass. "My friend's son leaned on one and it flipped," she says. "The glass landed on his foot and he screamed bloody murder." Luckily, he wasn't seriously injured.
Little kids are often freaked out by escalators, and they have reason to be: About 2,000 children -- most under the age of 5 -- are injured on escalators each year. Most of those injuries are due to falls; the rest occur when a child's hands, feet, or clothing are trapped in the escalator's moving parts. While some wounds are fairly minor (such as cuts and bruises from falls), entrapment injuries can crush a child's limbs, even requiring amputation.
Letting your kid ride in a shopping cart seems like a convenience, not a danger. But shopping cart-related accidents send nearly 21,000 children under age 5 to the emergency room each year, mostly for head and neck injuries, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Part of the problem lies in the cart's unbalanced design. "It's heavy and wide at the handlebar and gets lighter as the basket narrows," says Dr. Sheehan. "If your child stands in the cart or hitches a ride on the side or back, he can easily tip it over."
Nearly 2,000 children are injured by elevators every year, usually when their hands or limbs are crushed in the doors. "Most elevator doors will open if the sensor detects something in the way, but a kid's arm or finger can be so small that it may not register," says Dr. Sheehan.
The mall is a fascinating place to kids, and they won't think twice about running off to get a better look at anything that catches their eye. Here's how to avoid -- and handle -- store separations.
Originally published in the December 2007 issue of Parents magazine.