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Safety Tips For Parents
How to Protect Your Home and Family
(Part 1 of 2)

Kevin Nelson

Let's face it: Your kids are basically clueless when it comes to being safe. Your baby will stick almost anything in her mouth. Your toddler will grab a carving knife off the kitchen counter and run around the house with it. Even older children will cross the street in front of a moving car without thinking. It is enough to drive you nuts.

The big problem is that kids don't understand the consequences of reckless or dangerous behavior. And even if they do, they still might do something crazy anyway. Always testing their limits is how they grow and

it's your job as a parent to give your kids room to develop while making sure they don't break their little necks in the process.

Based on the premise that the best way to treat an accident or injury is to prevent it, here are some household safety guidelines, divided into three sections: General, Newborns, and Toddlers.


First Aid
Every home should have a self-contained first aid kit separate from the Band-Aids and other stuff you in the bathroom. Store the kit in the garage or some other safe place in the house. The rationale is that in an emergency, you won't have time to hunt around for supplies. You may be alone with the children and need to act fast.

You can purchase a fully-stocked first-aid kit or make one yourself. Either way, be sure it includes a good, basic book on first-aid, assorted bandages and Band-Aids, sterile gauze, adhesive tape, an ice pack or two, matches, Syrup of Ipecac (to induce vomiting, but only on the advice of your physician), scissors, aspirin, a Swiss Army knife, bee sting kit, rubbing alcohol, soap, tweezers, cotton balls and swabs, and anything else you can think of.

Fire prevention
Fire is a major killer, often striking families at their most vulnerable time: when they are asleep.
  • Put together an emergency evacuation plan with your wife (and your children, if they are old enough) in the event a fire breaks out in your home.

  • Know two ways out of every room in case fire or smoke blocks one of the exits.

  • Establish a meeting place outside the house. Once your family is safe, no one can go back inside for any reason.

  • If you live in a two-story house, buy a portable suspension ladder and store it in the upstairs children's bedroom with the easiest access to the outside. Fire authorities recommend the children's room because you can grab the kids and the ladder and go out the window quickly, rather than having to bring everyone back to your room to exit.

  • Test smoke alarms monthly and change the batteries at least once a year. Put a smoke alarm in every bedroom, and in hallways or other areas where fire and smoke are likely to travel.

  • The kitchen is an obvious place where fires start so keep a fire extinguisher on the wall or some other accessible place.

  • Simple carelessness is the cause of many fires. Check for loose cords and frayed wires on appliances and lamps, throw out worn-out extension cords, place space heaters at least three feet away from walls and draperies.

  • If you or your wife smoke, use large deep ashtrays and don't light up in bed or on couches where ashes accidentally dropped into the cushions might smolder and catch fire. Of course, keep ashtrays, matches and lighters well out of reach of children.

  • Keep close watch on Christmas tree lights, and remember to unplug the tree when you leave the house. * Dress infants and babies in flame-retardant sleepwear.

  • Know where you neighborhood fire station is. Firefighters can be very helpful in giving advice on fire safety and many fire stations also give away free batteries for smoke alarms during the annual Fire Prevention Week.

Many burns are caused not by fire but by scalding--and children are the most frequent victims. Keep kids out of the kitchen while you're cooking. If this isn't possible, use the back burners of a stove and turn the pot handles inward to keep them out of reach of busy, grabbing hands. Boiling water on the stove, hot grease or oil, even a hot cup of coffee or soup are all potential hazards. Be careful with the microwave as well. Never heat baby food in a jar inside a microwave oven. The outside of the jar may feel cool to the touch but the contents can be boiling. This is true for other items heated in a microwave such as jelly donuts, pop tarts and popcorn.

The bathroom is another other common household area where burns occur. Babies can get scalded by bath water that's too hot-tap water scald burns can be just as serious as hot liquid spills from a stove. Test the water with your hand before putting your baby in or letting your toddler climb in. The old adage rings true: Never leave a small child unattended in the bath. A two-year-old is big enough to turn the hot water faucet and hurt himself. One important preventive measure you should take is to turn down the thermostat on your water heater to between 120 to 130 degrees. If a burn occurs, put burned skin under cool water for twenty minutes or more. Do not use butter, grease or ice on a burn as they can further damage the tissue. Aloe vera gel helps soothe mild burns after water treatment.

Poison Control
The Poison Control Hotline number is
1-800-876-4766. Post it on your refrigerator door or some other easy-to-remember place. The front pages of your phone book also have emergency phone numbers, hospital, and first aid information.

Garage and Yard
A variety of potential hazards lurk in the garage. Keeping the kids out is one approach but they'll manage to get in somehow, some day. Make sure that sharp tools are kept in high places and if possible, out of sight in locked cupboards. Paint, household cleaners, and other toxic substances should be stored safely. Houses built before 1980 use paint that may contain lead, a serious toxin that may affect children. Contact your local lead abatement program if you're doing any remodeling work that might stir up dust inside the house.

The yard is another area for a safety check. Inspect for any unsafe climbing areas. Splintering or cracked tree limbs may need to be cut down. Certain house plants can be toxic too. Heavy pots and planters should be safely anchored. If a garden hose is left out in the sunlight during the hottest days of summer, the water inside may be scalding when a child turns it on.

Disaster Planning
To borrow from Mark Twain, disaster planning is like the weather. Everybody talks about it but very few people actually do anything about it. If a major earthquake, fire, hurricane, or winter storm hits your area, you and your family could be cut off from such basic services as water, gas, phone and electricity for a period of hours or days. Emergency services may be overwhelmed, forcing you to fend for yourself in the interim.

  • That first-aid kit you stored in your garage is only the first step. Other things to store in your disaster planning kit are: flashlight, battery-powered or wind-up radio, extra batteries, water (a three-day supply is recommended for the whole family), food, blankets, toiletries, prescription medications, a change of clothing for each member of the family, extra car keys, credit card, and cash. If you have a baby, remember to pack for her too: diapers, wipes, stuffed animals, and other supplies.

  • Locate the electric fuse- or breaker box, water service main, and natural gas main in your house. You and your wife should learn how to turn these off. Remember, though, if you've turned your gas off, don't try to turn it back on yourself-leave that to the folks at the gas company. If you lose electrical power, turn off all appliances and lights except one light that will tell you when the power is restored.

  • Do a walk-through inspection of your house looking for possible hazards. Bolt heavy bookshelves and strap your hot water heater to the wall.

  • One frequently overlooked aspect of disaster planning is insurance. Review your homeowner's coverage to make sure you are adequately protected in case of a major loss.

Kevin Nelson is the author of thirteen books, including four on baseball history and humor. He also wrote "The Daddy Guide," a guide for new and expectant fathers. The father of two children, he lives in the Bay Area.

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