The global COVID-19 pandemic is causing changes to everyday life in the United States.
Preventing the spread of the coronavirus is a top priority. Many schools are now closed and have moved to online learning classes, and more parents are working from home. Many people also are practicing social distancing.
Those measures mean both children and adults are spending more time at home than usual. And while preventing COVID-19 from spreading is crucial, so is keeping children safe within their own home.
“You have kids who are going to probably start getting into things they shouldn’t be getting into because they have already played with all their toys and watched all the movies,” says Christine Vitale, RN, MSN, injury prevention manager at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. “They’re going to start investigating around the house. Their curiosity just kind of takes over.”
Parents, guardians, babysitters, or other caregivers should make sure they’re watching children closely – especially children 5 years old or younger. Vitale says most injuries to children under the age of 5 happen in the home.
If parents can’t provide constant supervision because they’re also working, Vitale says they need to consider other resources. Those include asking someone else to watch children while they are working or using play yards for young children.
“Adults have to keep in mind that the best way to prevent an injury in a child is supervision,” Vitale says.
Here are some common home safety hazards and what adults can do to keep children safe from them.
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How to Protect Children From Household Poisons
Many items around the house can be poisonous or harmful – cleaning supplies, medicine, laundry detergents, toiletries, alcohol, and more.
Due to COVID-19, there is a major focus on household cleaners. Cleaning and sanitizing your home can help you prevent COVID-19, but cleaning products can be poisonous. Some of them might have bright colors or smell like orange or lemon, which can cause small children to confuse them with drinks.
“Adults are trying to keep on top of keeping everything disinfected and may not be thinking as much about where they’re storing things,” Vitale says. “Those things may be left out on the counter or not put up high enough to keep kids from getting them.”
Medication is another worry because kids can search through purses or bags or find medication bottles on lower shelves.
To see if you might need to make changes in your own home, Vitale recommends adults get down to children’s level. “Get on your knees, or crawl around, to see what they’re seeing,” she says. “Things can look different from a kid’s level.”
Other things you can do to keep common cleaners and medicines from becoming dangerous include:
- Don’t leave them out: As soon as you’re done using a cleaning product or medicine, put it away.
- Put them up high: Place hazardous materials on a high shelf so small children can’t reach them. If you keep medication in a purse or bag, hang the bag on a hook to keep it out of reach.
- Keep them out of sight: Put these products in a cabinet or closet where children can’t access them.
- Lock them away: If you do put medications in a closet, use a lock to keep children from getting to them.
- Keep items in original packaging: Don’t transfer cleaning products to another container. Make sure you keep them in their original packaging to avoid confusion.
- Know the right numbers: Vitale recommends storing the number for Poison Control (1-800-222-1222) in your phone and posting it somewhere in the house. That way, in case of emergency, the number will be accessible.
- Talk to your caregivers: If a babysitter, family member, or someone else is watching the children, talk to them beforehand about possible poisons. Ask them to make sure they keep those items up high or locked away.
For more information, visit the Pittsburgh Poison Center online.
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How to Protect Your Kids Against Choking Hazards
With children of all ages at home because of COVID-19, the mixing of ages at home can become a potential problem, Vitale says.
“If older siblings are playing with toys or projects that have small parts and their younger siblings are around, a lot of things become choking hazards,” Vitale says. “So, parents need to watch out for small objects.”
Vitale says items that can fit inside a toilet paper roll could be considered a choking hazard.
Another concern is button batteries – small, coin-shaped batteries found in watches, toys, remote controls, and more. Not only are button batteries a choking hazard, they also can cause burns if swallowed.
To prevent choking:
- Make sure toys are age-appropriate: Toys’ packages say what ages can play with them and if they have small parts that could be choking hazards.
- Talk to older children: If you have older and younger children playing in the same area, talk to the older kids to make sure the younger ones don’t play with any toys that could be harmful.
- Keep harmful items out of reach: If a battery-operated item has a back that doesn’t screw on, it can pose a danger. Put those items in places where young children can’t get to them.
- Dispose of old batteries: When batteries need changed, dispose of the old ones immediately so that young children can’t get to them.
More Home Hazards to Monitor
While choking and household poisons are major concerns for younger children, other safety hazards should be kept in mind.
- Fire safety: Children under 5 are twice as likely as people of other ages to die in a house fire, according to the American Red Cross. To keep kids safe:
- Keep items like lighters and matches out of children’s reach
- Use flameless candles
- Install smoke detectors on every level of your house, inside bedrooms, and outside sleeping areas
- Check your smoke detectors monthly
- Teach children and adults at least two ways to escape if the house is on fire
- Practice fire escape plans at least twice a year
- Teach kids to “stop, drop, and roll” if their clothes catch fire
- Gun safety: If you have a gun in your home, securing it from children and teenagers can prevent death by accidental shooting or suicide:
- Keep guns unloaded when in the house
- Lock guns away
- Lock ammunition away in a different location
- Make sure kids don’t know where the keys to gun or ammunition cabinets are located
- If your child is visiting a friend, ask the friend’s parents if they own a gun and make sure it’s locked away
- Heavy furniture: Heavy or tall items can potentially tip over onto children who climb onto them or pull on them, causing serious injury or death. This includes appliances, furniture, or televisions that aren’t mounted to the wall. The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that more than 27,000 injuries and more than 500 deaths result each year from tip-overs. Children 14 and under account for 46 percent of injuries and 83 percent of deaths. To prevent a tip-over:
- Anchor heavy or tall objects to the wall
- Don’t put anything heavy up high
- Don’t put toys, videos, books, and other items up high: Children might be tempted to climb onto a tall object if they see an item that they want but can’t reach, Vitale says.
- Monitor children as much as possible
For more information on how you can keep children safe at home during COVID-19 and all times, visit chp.edu/besafe.
From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh ranks consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital is a longtime national leader for women and their newborns. We aim to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond.