Like most toddlers, Becky was curious. She was a healthy, active 17 month-old girl, who liked to explore. Because of this, her mother was very cautious about keeping her safe. She had locks on all the cabinets to keep Becky from getting into dangerous cleaners, medicines, and other chemicals. But locks are only so effective. When the cabinet under the sink was left open, Becky explored, and found some lamp oil that her mom stored there. Becky was able to open the lid, and tried to drink some of the lamp oil. But because of the chemical properties of the oil, some of it went into her lungs. Becky became terribly ill, was taken to the ER, and directly admitted to the pediatric ICU.
I was a second-year resident when Becky (not her real name) came in that day. She was the sickest child I’d ever seen at that time. She was immediately placed on a ventilator, and continued to spiral downwards over the next 24 hours. She almost died multiple times, but we were able to save her. Over the next several weeks, she gradually improved, and much later, was able to go home. But because of the damage done, she was deaf, and had cognitive delays.
This case is an illustration of how difficult it can be to keep your home truly “child proof.” However, there are some simple things you can do to prevent this from happening to you.
Can’t Prevent All Accidents
It’s true that you can’t prevent all accidents, but the goal is to prevent the most serious ones. These typically involve poisoning and burns. Less common, but equally devastating, are injuries from guns.
Most children start to crawl around 9 months old, but many do so well before that age, so make sure you make your home safe starting at 6 months. One strategy is to crawl on your hands and knees all over the house, and see it as your infant or toddler sees it. That may reveal dangers you didn’t know about.
There are many ways to keep your home safe, and the following are just some of the more important measures to take:1-3
- Keep ALL dangerous products that may be ingested up high, and out of reach. It is critical to keep bleach, ammonia, all medicines (even over-the-counter ones like Tylenol and Motrin), pesticides, alcohol, gasoline, and any other dangerous products completely out of reach of infants and toddlers. One study found that in homes where medicines were not kept out of reach, a child 0-4 years old is almost 60% more likely to be poisoned.2 Don’t rely on cabinet locks to protect your child: locks break, they won’t work if the cabinet is left open, and no lock is foolproof. The case of Becky is a prime example of this.
- Store medicines in their original containers, and never put them in old food containers. This confuses children and makes them more likely to try to eat the medicine.
- Use containers with safety caps for all medicines. Remember that these are not childproof, merely child resistant, so keep them out of reach.
- Keep everyday products (toothpaste, soap, mouthwash) in a different place than dangerous products.
- Get rid of expired medicines.
- Take medicine where children cannot see you. This may prompt them to copy you.
- Call medicine by it’s name. Don’t tell children it’s “candy,” as they are more likely to try taking it.
- Keep the poison control number in your phone or somewhere easily accessible: 800-222-1222. If your child ingests anything that could be dangerous, call the poison control center, not your doctor.
- Store paint, varnish, thinners, pesticides, and gasoline in a locked container or cabinet.
- Have a working smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector in your home, and make sure the batteries are replaced regularly.
- Keep a working fire extinguisher in the kitchen.
- Never leave you young child unattended in the bathtub, even for a moment, Children can drown in just a few inches of water.
- Never leave water in the bathtub when it’s not in use.
- Lower the thermostat on your water heater so the hottest temperature is no more than 120° F (48.9° C). This will prevent accidental scaldings.
- When cooking on the stove, turn all pot and pan holders inwards, and place them on the back burners when possible.
- Keep guns locked in a secure place. And keep the ammunition separate from the gun.
- American Academy of Pediatrics. Protect your child: prevent poisoning.
- Kendrick D, et al. Poison prevention practices and medically attended poisoning in young children: muticentre case-control study. Inj Prev. 2017 Apr;23(2):93-101.
- American Academy of Pediatrics. 5 bathroom safety tips for infants and young children.