Avoiding Childhood Accidents

We all want to help our children stay safe and secure and live to their full potential. Here are some ways to prevent the leading causes of injury in children.

Suffocation Prevention

Infants are most at risk for suffocation while sleeping. Toddlers are more likely to suffocate from choking on food and other objects, like small toys.

Create a safe sleeping environment. Place infants on their backs on a firm surface every time they are laid down for sleep. The safest place for infants to sleep is in a crib or bassinet—not in the same bed as parents. Keep soft objects like stuffed animals, blankets and loose bedding out of cribs. Do not hang objects such as mobiles above cribs.

Stay safe during meal and play time. Cut or break age-appropriate food into small bite-size pieces. Always supervise infants or young children during mealtime. Encourage children to chew their food thoroughly and to swallow it before talking or laughing. Also, children should not eat while playing or running. Read the age recommendations and choking hazard labels on toy packaging to determine suitable toys for children.  

Learn basic first aid and CPR. Knowing how to safely remove food and small objects from the airway and how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can save a child’s life. Learn basic first aid and CPR and get recertified every two years.

Burn Prevention

Every day, two children die and more than 300 children ages 0 to 19 are treated in emergency rooms for burn-related injuries. Younger children are more likely to sustain injuries from scald burns caused by hot liquids or steam, while older children are more likely to sustain injuries from burns caused by direct contact with fire.

Be alarmed. Install and maintain smoke alarms in your home—on every floor and near all rooms family members sleep in. Test your smoke alarms once a month to make sure they are working properly.

Have an escape plan. Create and practice a family fire escape plan, and involve your kids in the planning. Make sure everyone knows at least two ways out of every room. Identify a central meeting place outside so that everyone can be accounted for.

Cook with care. Use safe cooking practices, such as never leaving food unattended on the stove. Also, supervise or restrict children’s use of stoves, ovens, or microwaves.

Prevent scalding. Check your water heater temperature. Set your water heater’s thermostat to 120 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Infants who aren’t walking yet can’t get out of water that may be too hot, and maintaining a constant thermostat setting can help control the water temperature throughout your home—preventing it from getting too high. 

Drowning Prevention

Drownings are the leading cause of death from injury for young children ages 1 to 4, and three children die every day as a result of drowning.

Learn life-saving skills. Everyone should know the basics of swimming (floating, moving through the water) and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Fence it off. Install a four–sided isolation fence, with self–closing and self–latching gates, around backyard swimming pools. Pool fences should completely separate the house and play area from the pool.

Make life jackets a "must." Make sure kids wear life jackets in and around natural bodies of water, such as lakes or the ocean, even if they know how to swim. Life jackets can be used in and around pools for weaker swimmers too.

Be on the look-out. When kids are in or near water (including bathtubs), closely supervise them at all times. Focus on the children and avoid distracting activities like phones, computers or books and using alcohol or drugs. 

Fall Prevention

Falls are the leading cause of non-fatal injuries for all children ages 0 to 19. Almost 2.8 million children are treated in US emergency rooms for fall-related injuries each year.

Play safely. Falls on the playground are a common cause of injury. Check to make sure that the surfaces under playground equipment are safe, soft, and well- maintained (such as wood chips or sand, not dirt or grass).

Make your home safer. Use home safety devices, such as guards on windows that are above ground level, stair gates, and guard rails. These devices can help keep a busy, active child from taking a dangerous tumble.

Keep sports safe. Make sure your child wears protective gear during sports and recreation. For example, when in-line skating,  use wrist guards, knee and elbow pads, and a helmet.

Supervision is key. Supervise young children at all times around fall hazards, such as stairs and playground equipment, whether you’re at home or out to play.

Poisoning Prevention

Every day in the US, two children die, and more than 300 children ages 0 to 19 are treated in an emergency department as a result of being poisoned. It’s not just chemicals in your home marked with clear warning labels that can be dangerous to children. Everyday items, such as household cleaners and medicines, can be poisonous to children as well. Active, curious children will often investigate—and sometimes try to eat or drink—anything that they can get into.

Lock them up. Keep medicines and toxic products, such cleaning solutions, in their original packaging where children can’t see or get them.

Know the number. Put the nationwide poison control center phone number, 1-800-222-1222, on or near every telephone in your home and program it into your cell phone. The center can be reached 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call the poison control center if you think a child has been poisoned whether he or she is awake and alert. Call 911 first if you have a poison emergency and your child has collapsed or is not breathing.

Read the label. Follow label directions and read all warnings when giving medicines to children.

Don’t keep it if you don’t need it. Safely dispose of unused, unneeded or expired prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs, vitamins and supplements. To dispose of medicines, mix them with coffee grounds or kitty litter and throw them away.

Traffic Injury Prevention

More children ages 5 to 19 die from crash-related injuries than from any other type of injury. Every hour, nearly 150 children between ages 0 and 19 are treated in emergency departments for injuries sustained in motor vehicle crashes. One of the best protective measures you can take is using seat belts, child safety seats and booster seats that are appropriate for your child’s age and weight.

Know the Stages

  • Birth - Age 2: For the best possible protection, infants and children should be kept in a rear-facing child safety seat, in the back seat buckled with the seat’s harness, until they reach the upper weight or height limits of their particular seat. The weight and height limits on rear-facing child safety seats can accommodate most children through age 2.
  • Ages 2-4/Until 40 lbs: When children outgrow their rear-facing seats they should ride in forward-facing child safety seats, in the back seat buckled with the seat’s harness, until they reach the upper weight or height limit of their particular seat (usually around age 4 and 40 pounds).
  • Ages 4-8 OR Until 4'9" Tall: Once children outgrow their forward-facing seats, they should ride in belt positioning booster seats. Remember to keep children in the back seat for the best possible protection.
  • After Age 8 AND/OR 4'9" Tall: Children should use booster seats until adult seat belts fit them properly; the lap belt lays across the upper thighs (not the stomach) and the shoulder belt fits across the chest (not the neck). For the best possible protection keep children in the back seat and use lap-and-shoulder belts.

Back seat is safest. All children younger than 13 years should ride in the back seat. Airbags can kill young children riding in the front seat. Never place a rear-facing car seat in the front seat or in front of an air bag. Place children in the middle of the back seat when possible, because it is the safest spot in the vehicle.

Sign a driving agreement. If you’re a parent of a teen who is learning to drive, sign an agreement with them to limit risky driving situations, such as having multiple teen passengers and driving at night.

Helmets can help. Children should wear an appropriate helmet any time they are on a motorcycle, bicycle, skateboard, scooter or skates.

Sports Injury Prevention

More than 2.6 million children 0-19 years old are treated in the emergency department each year for sports and recreation-related injuries.  

Gear up. When children are active in sports and recreation, make sure they use the right protective gear for their activity, such as helmets, wrist guards, knee or elbow pads.

Use the right stuff. Be sure that sports protective equipment is in good condition (buckles and padding in good condition) and worn correctly all the time. Poorly fitting equipment may be uncomfortable and may not offer the best protection.

Practice makes perfect. Have children learn and practice skills they need in their activity. For example, knowing how to tackle safely is important in preventing injuries in football and soccer. Have children practice proper form. Be sure to safely and slowly increase activities to improve physical fitness; being in good condition can protect kids from injury.

Pay attention to temperature. Allow time for child athletes to gradually adjust to hot or humid environments to prevent heat-related injuries or illness. Make sure that players are hydrated and appropriately dressed.

Be a good model. Communicate positive safety messages and serve as a model of safe behavior, including a wearing helmet and following the rules.

  • Last updated: 03/26/2013
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