As I sat in the emergency room waiting with my child, my mind drifted to those usual thoughts all parents have as they wait for the doctor’s assessment. How could this have happened? How could I have been so careless? For someone so conscientious of safety, how could I have made such a potentially critical mistake in the care of my son? Of course, I realized that accidents happen to everyone. Your guard can’t be up all the time. This may have comforted me briefly if it weren’t for the fact that this was the second time on the same day that I had to run one of my kids to the emergency room; one visit for an allergic reaction and the other for a laceration.
Despite this, I still consider myself somewhat of a childproofing expert. After almost a decade of childproofing our home we still have many of the safety features you would find in the home of a toddler even though our youngest is almost six.
Because our seven-year-old has autism his ability to make safe choices is often compromised. Instead of packing away the outlet covers and removing the hardware from the baby gates, most of the childproofing strategies we used when our three children were infants and toddlers, are still present in our home today.
Our son can tell you that you shouldn’t put money in your mouth, that you have to look both ways before crossing the street and that walking in front of someone on a swing is dangerous. But he runs on internal impulse and tends to screen out external dangers, these rules and safety tips go unheeded and ignored even if they appear to be understood.
When it comes to the safety, nothing beats close supervision. Even with all the safety products on the market – and there are some good ones- nothing beats a watchful eye.
Now that we are outside enjoying the simple pleasures of blowing bubbles, flying kites, riding bikes, and all the other wonderful warm-weather activities we have to remember to take our childproofing strategies outdoors. Close supervision and a few important tips and reminders can ensure a safe and enjoyable time outside.
Water safety – I keep telling my kids we are lucky because we have two pools in our backyard. One is inflatable and can sort of accommodate all three children at once. The water might even come up to their knees when filled (at least it did last summer). The other pool is round and plastic and, with enough water, I would guess we can make it 18 inches deep. While our swimming amenities pale in comparison to our neighbor’s in-ground pool, the rules are essentially the same including no running or pushing around the water and no “swimming” alone.
Even if a child knows how to swim, he or she should never be left unsupervised, regardless of how good a swimmer he or she may be and regardless of how shallow your pool is. When we are done with our pools, we always make it a habit to empty them. Unlike our neighbor’s yard, we do not have a fence to keep the kids out of the water and children can drown; even in just a few inches of water. If you do have an in-ground pool, you should always, always lock the gate when you are not around.
Playground safety – Playground equipment should always be inspected closely. Parents often forget to check to see if the equipment is too hot from the sun. You should also look at the ground below the playground equipment. A soft surface is more likely to protect against a serious injury if a fall occurs when compared to asphalt, concrete, or even grass. This is also true for home swing sets. Woodchips or rubber mulch are both good choices for home equipment. Clothes should be playground friendly too. This means avoid clothing with strings and hoods as well as flip flops. Close-toe shoes are best for active outdoor play.
Sunblock – The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding the use of sunblock on babies under six months. The organization recommends doing so by keeping them out of direct sunlight, dressing them in lightweight clothing that covers their arms and legs and having them wear those adorable brimmed hat. OK so the AAP guidelines do not actually say “cute brimmed hats” but what baby doesn’t look adorable in one. With babies and children six months and older, proper sunblock use is crucial. When using sunscreen keep in mind the following:
- Apply sunblock 20-30 minutes before sun exposure to give it time to absorb and work. Most parents, including myself, don’t always put on enough sunscreen. I once read that most of us put on 25-50 percent less than we should be using.
- Reapply, reapply, reapply. I’ve seen conflicting information on how often but the consensus seems to be around every two hours unless your child is actively sweating or swimming for long periods of time.
- If possible choose a sunblock made for children and if it’s new to your family, test it first in a small area for any allergic reaction.
- The sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and most of the rays can come through clouds so don’t skip the sunscreen on a cloudy day.
Bike safety – I know, “we never wore helmets when we were kids and we survived.” I hear that a lot from friends. When my kids protest, I tell them I’d rather look “silly” in a helmet than live with the consequences of an avoidable head injury.
Wearing a helmet is not enough. Proper fitting head gear is essential. Helmets should be worn low over the child’s forehead and fit sung enough that when she shakes her head no, the helmet doesn’t move. We recently upgraded our helmets and had good luck at a local bike shop where the salesman was more than happy to ensure we left with properly fitting helmets.
Somebody could easily write an entire book on outdoor safety tips. I am guessing that someone probably already has. There is so much to keep in mind from keeping your child hydrated (don’t wait until he is thirsty) to waiting an hour after eating before swimming. Oh wait, as far as I know, that one is just a myth. As I said before, close supervision is the best strategy for keeping our little ones out of harm’s way. At the same time, we can’t watch our children 24/7. Even moms and dads need potty breaks. Oh wait, my kids still try to follow me in the bathroom so if I really wanted to, I could even watch them there.
—Jen Lovy, Parenting Program Volunteer