Health & Medicine

When it comes to kids, many dangers lurk in your home

Tisha Hughes remembered the "defining moment" when she knew it was time to step up childproofing her home to protect her 10-month-old son, Cameron.

Cameron, a proficient crawler who's mastered the art of pulling himself up to stand while holding onto furniture, was puttering around the dining room one day when he decided to use a chair to help him stand.

"When he pulled up on the chair, it fell backward and hit him on the forehead," she recalled. Fortunately, Cameron wasn't injured. But his mother was "pretty freaked out" by the incident.

Soon after, the Hugheses had a big garage sale.

Many of the decorative items in their Modesto home -- including tablecloths, sconces, candles, floor lamps and a curio cabinet filled with commemorate shot glasses -- were now seen as potential hazards for Cameron, so out they went.

The Hugheses went on a babyproofing product shopping spree. They bought cabinet latches, door locks and covers for electrical outlets. They also got a gate to keep Cameron out of the kitchen, and a cushioned pad for their fireplace's brick hearth.

Each year, more than 2.5 million children are hurt or killed by hazards in the home, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Safety Council.

It's natural for toddlers and crawling babies to be curious as they busily explore the world around them. And young children do experience a fair share of bumps and bruises as they become more mobile.

But with that increased mobility comes a greater chance of getting hurt. Or worse.

According to the National Safety Council, mechanical suffocation (think plastic bags) and suffocation by ingested objects cause the most home fatalities to children age 4 and younger. Other hazards include:

- Falls from high places

- Drowning

- Fire

- Poisoning from household products

Many parents think about -- or start -- childproofing their homes just before or right after their children start crawling. And many quickly realize that their precious little ones often find things to get into that the parents hadn't realized was a hazard.

Jerilynn Shaker, a child-safety expert, remembers when her son Sharif, now 9, learned to walk.

"We called him `Danger Boy,'" Shaker said. "He wanted to climb up bookshelves and rails. If it was elevated, he wanted to be there."

Shaker also remembers putting a lock on the toilet early on because of Sharif's affinity of tossing stuff into it -- like his books and a piece of his mom's jewelry.

After childproofing her own home, Shaker started helping her friends do the same. She got so proficient that she and her husband, Moustafa, started their own childproofing business, Kids Assured, in Castro Valley.

Shaker handles the consultations and installation. She goes to potential clients' homes and walks them through each room, pointing out the dangers and offering suggestions on how to fix or eliminate hazards.

"I walk them through and get an idea of (the family's) daily schedule," she said. She asks what rooms the child will spend time in, and what rooms are off-limits. During the walk-through, which typically takes 45 minutes to an hour, she makes suggestions. "It can be anything from moving furniture to covering outlets to removing certain furniture such as floor lamps and glass tables," she said.

When parents balk at having to remove furnishings and other pieces, she tells them the changes are temporary.

"And I tell them that (childproofing) won't prevent children from getting bumps and bruises, but it will help prevent trips to the emergency room."

One of the hardest things for parents trying to childproof their home is figuring out what products to use. Stores such as Target and Babies R Us have whole sections devoted to childproofing products.

That's when hiring a professional can be helpful, Shaker said. When she first childproofed the toilet in her bathroom, it took her two tries because the first lock didn't work properly.

Parents should keep in mind that childproofing isn't a one-time task.

"It is an evolving process," Shaker said. "What may have worked in the beginning may have to change as your baby grows. Babies learn to figure things out."

She adds a parting piece of advice:

"Childproofing cannot replace adult supervision to keep kids safe, but it can give adults some piece of mind."

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WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Jerilynn Shaker, a child-safety expert, provides clients with a booklet of tips. Here are some of her suggestions:

KITCHEN

- Remove hazardous products from underneath the sink and lower cabinets. To keep remaining objects out of reach, use a safety latch to secure the doors.

- Use a latch on higher cabinets when children are old enough to realize they can use a chair to get to out-of-reach temptations.

- Put locks on liquor cabinets. Alcohol can be poisonous to babies.

- Make sure cords from small appliances are out of reach. When not in use, make sure appliance cords are unplugged and wrapped so a child can't pull them down.

- Consider installing latches to keep children from opening the oven, refrigerator and dishwasher doors. Do not hang dish towels on oven doors, as a child can grab it and use it to pull the door open.

BATHROOM

With their hard surfaces, medicines and an abundance of water, bathrooms can be extremely hazardous to children.

- Turn the water heater's thermostat down to 120 to 130 degrees. Water at 156 degrees can cause third-degree burns in one second.

- Never leave a young child unattended in the bathtub. A child can drown in water as shallow as 2 to 3 inches.

- Place locks on toilets to keep lids closed.

- Install latches on drawers and medicine cabinets.

LIVING ROOM

- Remove furnishings with sharp edges or protrusions. Keep furniture that kids can climb on away from windows to prevent dangerous falls.

- Anchor any unstable furniture to the wall to prevent it from toppling.

- For television sets, use an entertainment center designed to hold a TV and that can't be pulled over by a climbing child. A falling TV can kill a child.

- Outfit the fireplace with a screen or doors that close. Use a padding or a cushion on the hearth in case of falls.

- Decorative mirrors should have taped backs and a safety film to avoid shards in case it falls and breaks.

OTHER AREAS

- Use door locks, latches or childproof knob covers to keep children from opening doors.

- Keep all plastic bags out of reach. Banish dry-cleaning bags from closets.

- Swimming pools should have a gate at least 5 feet tall to keep children out. In California, state law requires that pools to have a 5-foot-tall fence with a self-closing, self-latching gate that has an alarm when opened.

- Do not allow children any access to the garage.

- Use wall-mounted safety gates for stair landings so the gate cannot be pushed out of place.

- For outlet covers: Shaker prefers using covers that slide over the outlet rather than the plastic covers. The reason: as they get older and if they work at it long enough, children can remove the plastic covers from the outlet; then the piece becomes a chocking hazard. And, sometimes parents forget to replace a cover when they take it out to vacuum.

- Use one-piece doorstops. Stops with a removable rubber tip on the end pose a choking hazard.

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