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Accident-Proof Your Kids

  • by Stacey Colino

    I've made my share of safety mistakes -- like leaving change on a hotel nightstand where my 3-year-old son Nate could reach it. He swallowed a penny and we spent five hours in the local ER. (He passed it without harm the next day.) That was the last time I've let loose coinage linger, but I'm bound for other blunders down the road -- all moms are. "Nobody can watch a child at every moment," says Robert Sege, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at the Boston University School of Medicine. But that doesn't mean it hurts to step up your game. Check out these seven situations that can turn frightening in a flash -- and learn how to keep them as uneventful as possible.

  • Cart surfing may seem like a rite of passage, but allowing kids to ride in the main basket or perch on the outside can lead to trouble. In 2005 more than 17,000 American children under 6 were treated in emergency rooms for injuries related to such hijinks -- and most were head or neck injuries. "A child's head is the heaviest part of his body, so if he leans, he'll go right over," says Michael Turner, M.D., a pediatric neurosurgeon in Indianapolis.

    Play it safer: Obviously, always strap your child into the seat until he's too big (or too independent to stand for being confined). Bring along toys, books, and snacks -- and don't turn up your nose at those little car-shaped carts (they're low and don't tip easily). And mini-carts are great for getting little kids to walk along and "help" shop.

  • Little kids have a knack for getting injured when you're right there, and in a blink, too. Just ask Doris Alexander, a mom of four in Pasadena, Texas. She turned her back on her 2-year-old son, Andrew, while unloading the dishwasher. "In that quick second, he reached in and touched the still-hot heating element in the bottom," she says. "He wound up with a second-degree burn over half of his palm."

    Play it safer: Whenever you're doing anything that's potentially hazardous -- unloading a steaming dishwasher, using caustic cleaning chemicals -- take a minute to settle your child somewhere safe before you get started, like in a play yard or high chair with a toy or a snack (or, yes, a video!). And keep in mind that the most common time for accidents is during meal preparation: If your husband's around when you're cooking dinner, put him on kid watch while you stir the pasta sauce.

  • It might seem like the perfect in-a-pinch plaything: a shakable plastic container of pills or capsules with a child-resistant top. Katie Rainville certainly thought so when she handed her 18-month-old daughter, Sydney, a bottle of gelcaps to rattle while she went to get the vacuum cleaner. "From the next room, I heard Sydney say, 'Mmm,' " recalls Rainville. When the mom from Franklin, New Hampshire, came back, the meds were all over the floor. At the ER, blood tests confirmed that Sydney had swallowed just one pill, which, fortunately, wouldn't hurt her.

    Play it safer: "Don't mistake 'child-resistant' for 'childproof,'" says Carl Baum, M.D., an associate professor of pediatrics at the Yale University School of Medicine, in New Haven, Connecticut. These kinds of lids are hard for kids to open, but not impossible. Second, keep a stash of safe, age-appropriate toys in baskets or drawers all over the house. If you're desperate for a distraction, reach for a set of keys. They may not be especially clean, but they're not deadly, either.

  • He's on top of the dinner table because, let's face it, parking him where he can see you is the only way he'll let you eat. Or he's on the dryer because the vibrations from the spinning clothes never fail to soothe him to sleep. Regardless, putting a car seat or bouncer on a high-up surface and expecting it to stay there can lead to a Humpty Dumpty-like disaster. It can rock, shift, or shimmy off -- baby and all.

    Play it safer: The easiest way to make sure an infant in a car seat or bouncer doesn't wind up on the floor is to put him down there in the first place. But if the hum of the dryer is the only thing that calms him down, or having him on the ground makes the distance between the two of you just too great for comfort, then commit yourself to the utmost vigilance.

  • You de-fuzz in the tub, so where else would you keep your razor, right? Here's why it's worth rethinking: While Kelly Scott was giving her 10-month-old son a bath, she turned around for a washcloth. Next thing she knew, Justin had her razor in his mouth. "I gasped, and he pulled it out," says Scott, who lives in Sandusky, Ohio. "I expected to see blood streaming from between his lips, but I was lucky: The razor had the plastic cap on."

    Play it safer: Stash your razor high in the medicine cabinet when you're done, or at the very least on a high shower rack. Razors are shiny and unusually shaped, and some of the ones marketed for women are as chunky and brightly colored as toddler toys! They're tempting -- better to just keep them out of sight.

  • You might be tempted to skip buckling her in if the stroller's just going to be sitting there. Why risk waking her? But according to the mommy version of Murphy's law, there's a chance she'll wake up when you're not right there, roll over, and tumble out. "Think about where she'll wind up if that happens," says Dr. Sege. "It could be on the floor, in a pool, on the street, depending on what the stroller's near."

    Play it safer: Slip on the straps and fasten them. The chances you'll wake her up are pretty slim. "When a young kid sleeps, she really sleeps," Dr. Sege says. Even if your child wakes up for a second, you can gently shush her back to the land of Nod as you buckle her up. That way, you both can rest assured.

  • Kristin Gregor, a mom of three in Clifton Park, New York, had a medicine mishap when her 18-month-old, Alex, was sick. She and her husband were sharing bedside duty when he gave Alex a second dose of acetaminophen an hour too early. Alex was okay, but Gregor was right to be worried: It's not that hard to give a child too much acetaminophen -- especially if it's in another medication he's taking at the same time, says Denise Dowd, M.D., codirector of the Center for Childhood Safety at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri. (If you believe your kid got too much of any drug, call the Poison Help hotline at 800-222-1222.)

    Play it safer: Keep track. Now when any of her kids are sick, Gregor posts a calendar on the fridge where she writes down the name of the sick child, which medicines he or she is taking, and when they were given. "We've been mistake-free ever since," says Gregor -- a goal worth shooting for, even if no parent will ever reach it 100 percent!

    Stacey Colino, a mom of two boys, writes frequently about health and psychology.