Every year, children are rushed to the Emergency Department because they have swallowed or choked on a small toy.
Lisa Romein, manager of the Trauma Program at BC Children’s Hospital, reminds parents that the tradition of gift giving can put infants and children at risk of accidental injuries – like choking on toy pieces or suffocating on plastic packaging.
“An easy way to test if an item is a choking hazard is to see if it fits through a toilet roll tube. If it’s small enough to go through, it’s small enough to go in a child’s mouth”, says Romein.
Romein suggests gift-givers pay special attention to age recommendations and other labeling on toys and other gifts. For infants, look for toys that are soft to chew on, non-toxic and are safe in cribs and playpens.
As children grow, consider giving toys that can be handled, dropped, stacked and held with little fingers to help develop motor skills. Young children like to make noise on keyboards and experiment with ‘grown up’ activities by playing with things including mini kitchen sets, toy yard tools and household items.
Parents, caregivers and friends should be aware that toys with small parts, including batteries, are not appropriate for children younger than three. Avoid giving toys like yo-yos or kites with cords and strings longer than 12" to infants and toddlers, as they pose a strangulation risk. Plastic wrapping can pose a suffocation hazard, so remember to promptly throw away all packaging after opening gifts.
"Families see the immediate dangers of choking, but swallowing items like batteries or magnets are emergencies too, as they can cause severe injuries to internal organs," said Romein. Many emergency visits can be prevented by reading the warning labels on toys before giving them as gifts to young children. By taking a few small precautions, this can be a safe and enjoyable festive season for all families in BC.
- Buy age-appropriate toys: Pay attention to age recommendations and labelling on toys and gifts. Many toys have small parts that children may swallow or choke on. Parents should inspect all gifts for removable parts and batteries that could come loose. Throw away broken toys, popped balloons and plastic wrapping, and keep toys for older children away from their younger siblings.
- Protect children from fireplaces: Toddlers and children can accidentally stumble towards fireplaces or reach out to touch the flame out of curiosity, resulting in immediate burns from the flame or hot glass. Protect your child from burns by placing safety gates around your fireplace. Remember that even after a fire is out, it takes about 45 minutes for the fireplace glass to cool down to a safe temperature.
- Check holiday lights and electrical cords: Look out for any frayed, cracked or broken extension cords, lights or bulbs. Keep all lights and electrical cords out of reach. Use only indoor lights in your home – outdoor lights can heat up and pose a fire risk.
- Decorate your tree safely: Switch to low-energy LED lights to minimize risk of fires and avoid decorating the lower branches of the tree. Keep bright, shiny and small decorations that attract children’s attention out of reach on upper branches. Remember to switch off holiday lights before you go to bed or leave the house.
- Keep holiday plants out of reach: Although they look pretty, mistletoe and holly plants are poisonous and should be kept away from children.
- Travel safely: Among all the hustle and bustle of holiday travel, always remember to use appropriate car seats, booster seats and seat belts when travelling. Be mindful of parking lots, busy streets and crowded sidewalks. Follow all traffic signals, hold hands when walking and wear clothing that helps others see you and your children.
- Supervise children when visiting friends and family: When visiting other homes that may not be childproofed, keep a close eye on your children.
- Place candles carefully: Place menorahs and other candles on high, non-flammable surfaces and away from the edge of a table. Avoid placing candles on tablecloths or anything else that a child could pull down or knock over.
- Cover hot drinks: Take caution drinking hot liquids when young children are near, or ensure they are sealed in travel mugs to avoid scald burns. Only place hot liquids on a meal table that is supervised by an adult.
- Handle and prepare food safely: Remember to wash food prep, cooking and eating surfaces before and after every use. Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs away from ready-to-eat foods and eating surfaces.
Have a happy and safe holiday season!