Follow these Tips for a Happy, Safe Holiday, Especially for Children

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U-M expert warns about holiday hazards, especially for children.

ANN ARBOR, MI -The holiday season is always a fun and festive time for friends and family. With all the parties and decorations, food, toys and icy roads, the holidays can also be a time of potential hazards, especially for children. So this holiday season, before you throw the party, buy the toy, decorate the house or run that last errand, be sure you know how to keep yourself, your family and your friends safe through all the hustle and bustle.

Knowing potential holiday hazards and planning around them is the first step to having a safe and joyful winter holiday, says Marie Lozon, M.D., director of children's emergency services at the University of Michigan Health System.

Plus, with all the excitement, the rapid pace, the curiosity about decorations and the many distractions for parents, kids can be in the most danger of becoming injured during the holidays.

"In my family we have something called 'hitting the fun wall," says Lozon. "And when you hit the fun wall, its means the fun has become stressful as well. Children, especially the younger ones, thrive on routine and when the routine is disrupted it can be exciting, but it can also be exhausting. When a child is both exhausted and excited, they perhaps become fussy, less obedient and accidents are more likely to happen."

Slow down for safety

The most devastating holiday injuries are the ones involving a motor vehicle accident. Winter weather and rushing around can makes driving even more dangerous during the holidays.

As you're hurrying off to do last minute shopping, or going off to a party that you're a little bit late for, be sure to slow down for safety. Children should be properly seated and belted in the car, with infants seated and belted in car seats, and the older kids properly belted, says Lozon.

Make a list and check it twice for safe decorating

During the holiday season people want to be festive and show their holiday spirit by decorating their home with candles, trees and ornaments. Hanging up stockings or lighting the fireplace also give the home a warm and cozy feel, but sometimes these decorations or warm fires can prove to be dangerous.

The fireplace with the cracking, the popping, the mesmerizing glow and mom or dad stoking the fire can be very exciting for the children. Often younger children don't understand that the glass doors or fireplace screen can be very hot and they can severely burn themselves.

Children are attracted to candles as well. That's why it's important to have the candles out of reach of children to prevent burns or scalds from the wax and the children potentially lighting anything from the table cloth to the house on fire.

People often have a decorative lamp, with scented oil that makes the house smell like cinnamon or clover or holly. What many parents don't realize is these oils, which are often colored, look very attractive to young children. Children may try to grab at the lamp and the oil, which could cause a fire or severely burn their skin. Children may also attempt to drink the oil and accidentally poison themselves, cautions Lozon.

When it comes to having a Christmas tree, people can never be too careful. From natural to artificial and ornaments to electrical lights and sockets, there are a number of safety steps to take before you plug in the lights and say "ta-da."

  • Buy an artificial tree that has a "fire resistant" label. Or if you are more inclined to go natural, check your tree for freshness. A fresh tree is green, the trunk bottom is sticky and when the tree is tapped on the ground it should not lose many needles.

  • Keep your tree stand full of water to maintain freshness.

  • Place your tree far away from the fireplace and radiators, keep it out of high traffic areas and do not block doorways.

  • Check lights, indoor and outdoor, old and new, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires and loose connections.

  • Use no more than three sets of lights per single extension cord.

Christmas ornaments also pose a hazard for children. Often ornaments are fragile, and if the children should shatter them in their hands they could cut their hands or walk on the glass. Toddlers have also tried to bite the ornaments and there is a risk that they could ingest glass, says Lozon. Tiny ornaments also pose a choking hazard.

"Sometimes people have to plan their tree decorations very strategically," says Lozon. "If you have small children, plan on having a very sturdy tree with ornaments that are fragile or dangerous way up at the top."

Rockin' around the Christmas tree

Parties are in full swing this time of the year, and while they are important for catching up and having fun, they can also be a dangerous place for the kids.

For some children, a holiday party means that normal safety rules do not apply. The kids may climb where it's not safe, eat what they shouldn't and parents are often too distracted by the party preparations or company to closely watch their children.

"While it's so much fun to get together with all the relatives and sit around and share holiday cheer, somebody still needs to be watching the kids," says Lozon. "This holiday season, try designating a 'child watcher' to look after the children."

Lozon also advises to make a scan of the home when you arrive for any potential hazards.

"People will put out small candies that may be very appropriate for older children and the adults in the room, but if they put them at a low level and there's just not enough supervision, a smaller child could get a hold of it and be choking before anybody could intervene," warns Lozon.

Also the food at holiday parties can present a danger, and not just because maybe kids can overeat and get a little tummy ache. There's the possibility of choking and food allergies from foods such as caramel corn, peanut brittle, candy canes and nuts that parents should be on the look-out for. Make sure you help your child make their food selections, and even try to sit down and eat with your child.

The best toys are the safest ones

In 2002, approximately 165,000 children, ages 14 and under, were brought into emergency rooms for toy related injuries. That's why when searching for toys for your little loved one, it's important to remember that the "coolest" toy should also be the safest.

Keep in mind the child's age, skill level and interests when buying toys, and know that children age four and under are at the greatest risk for choking on toys.

Choosing a safe toy:

  • Go large. Pick out toys that are larger than the child's mouth.

  • Read the label. Warning labels provide important age recommendations, information on how to use the toy and whether adult supervision is needed.

  • Match the toy to the child's ability. Buying a toy that is too advanced or too simple can lead to misuse and injury.

Other tips for the holiday season:

  • Check smoke detectors and batteries on each level of your home, especially outside each bedroom. Install or replace as needed.

  • Only use the fireplace or plug in your tree or outside lights when you are awake. Extinguish the fire and unplug everything before you go to bed.

  • Plugging lights directly into sockets and limiting the use of extension cords will cut down on the chances of a fire.

  • Clean up immediately after a holiday party to prevent children from getting into any food or alcohol left sitting out.

  • Do not burn papers in the fireplace. A flash fire may result as wrappings ignite suddenly and burn intensely.


The source of this article is University of Michigan Health System Women's Health Program, which can be visited at