Holiday Hazards

Despite the fun and excitement, the holidays can pose extra dangers to kids. Take these steps to ensure that your holidays are healthy and happy.

Many home fires occur during the holidays — and most of those can be prevented.

Never leave lit candles or a burning fireplace unattended. Don’t use gift wrap or packing materials to start fires; they burn too fast. Keep lit candles away from greenery and curtains. And never leave a child unsupervised in a room with lit candles, a burning fireplace, a wood-burning stove or a portable heater.

Make sure your electrical cords aren’t pinched by furniture and don’t run under carpet or coil around themselves; excess heat could cause sparks. Avoid using multiplug adapters, and don’t overload extension cords with more than two or three strings of lights. Seal off unused receptacles on electrical cords and outlets.

To ensure high quality and safety, look for the Underwriters Laboratories “UL” mark on the package of electronic equipment. Use the right lights for the right spot: indoor lights inside your home, and outdoor lights for external decorating. Check all strings of lights carefully. If you find loose connections, frayed wires, or signs of wear or fraying, throw out the old lights and buy new ones.

Always replace burned-out bulbs, as the remaining bulbs may overheat. Never use electric lights on metal trees. Don’t hang ornaments too close to the lights or they could ignite. Keep kids from grabbing lights or pulling on cords. Never leave the house or go to bed with the lights burning.

Give the gift of safety: Fire extinguishers and smoke or carbon monoxide detectors make thoughtful holiday presents. Annual chimney inspections and new wiring to handle increased electrical demands in your home could be the best gift you ever gave your family.

A dried-out, cut tree is an extreme fire hazard, so be sure your tree is fresh. At the tree lot, snap a small branch between your fingers. If it breaks too easily, the tree is too dry. Tap the trunk on the ground; if a lot of needles fall, it’s too dry. If the needles bend and are hard to pull off, the tree is probably fresh.

When you bring the tree home, saw two inches off the bottom of the trunk to expose fresh tissue. Plunge it into a bucket of water outside. Keep the tree indoors for only two weeks, and keep it well-watered. To avoid fast drying, place the tree in the coolest spot in the room, away from the fireplace, heat vents, radiators and the TV. To keep the tree stable, use a heavy stand or attach the tree to your walls with wire.

Poisoning is a real holiday danger, so take extra precautions. Keep toxic materials out of kids’ reach. If your child does swallow something poisonous, call the Drug and Poison Information Center toll-free at 1-800-222-1222. 

Fire salts that produce colored flames contain heavy metals. Candle-shaped bubbling lights contain a chemical that can cause liver and kidney damage if a bulb is broken and its contents ingested. 

Seasonal plants, such as poinsettia, ivy, holly, boxwood, mistletoe and Jerusalem cherry, also are poisonous. Needles from the tree can irritate the mouth and lodge in the windpipe. Christmas cactus, Christmas palms and Christmas orchids are all safe.

While not poisonous, other decorations can cause choking or respiratory problems. Artificial snow spray and flocking can irritate respiratory problems, such as asthma. Uninflated balloons can be swallowed — blocking the windpipe and suffocating a child — and inflated ones that burst can send tiny fragments that can be swallowed or inhaled. Ornaments can break or splinter, as well as be swallowed or chewed on. Avoid using decorations that look like food or candy.

Don’t leave bite-sized snacks, such as nuts, grapes, and hard candies, in the reach of children; they can cause choking. Dump ashtrays and unfinished drinks as soon as the party’s over. Otherwise, your child could wake up early and consume cigarette butts or become intoxicated on a leftover alcoholic beverage without your knowledge.

Toddlers may be tempted to swallow the tiny batteries used in calculators, watches and cameras, so keep an eye out for them. Don’t leave opened presents under the tree, where little ones may drink perfumes, aftershaves or gifts of liquor. If your child swallows something, contact the Drug and Poison Information Center.

Stress from the holiday whirl can take its toll on your kids, both physically and emotionally. If you’re so busy that you become distracted, you may leave hazards around the house that can cause injuries. If you wear out yourself and your child with shopping and parties, you both can be susceptible to illness. And if you’re stressed out, your children may begin to feel depressed or ignored.

One way to reduce your holiday stress is to call on your kids for help. Let them make their own wrapping paper by taping or pasting their crayon masterpieces you’ve saved onto colored paper. Use sequins, macaroni, buttons and other items to make cards or gift wrap. (Supervise this activity carefully to make sure nothing inedible is swallowed.)

The holiday season should be a family celebration, so don’t get so caught up in other preparations that you neglect spending time with your kids. Make family time a continuing gift: When grandparents and others ask for ideas for children’s presents, suggest games your family can play together year-round. 

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