Injury prevention is a vital part of good parenting. Injuries are the leading cause of death for children from 1 to 19 years old, and are a major cause of death in the first year of life as well. By knowing some of the most common hazards, you will be better able to keep your child safe.
Car accidents are a leading cause of injury and death at all ages. State law requires that infants under 1 year old be in a rear-facing car seat. It is recommended that children remain rear-facing until 2 years old. From 2 years old until a child is 4-feet 9-inches tall (usually between 8 to 10 years old) they should ride in a car seat or booster seat. Older children will adopt a healthy habit of consistently buckling up in the car if they see parents doing the same. If you don't already ALWAYS wear your seatbelt, start now. Your teenager will be safer because of the changes you make now.
Drowning is a risk for kids from birth through young adulthood. Young kids should never be unsupervised near water, not even momentarily. Water is an unforgiving hazard that can devastate a child's future in a very short amount of time. Starting at about 3 years old, children should take swimming lessons but still require vigilant supervision around water. Educate older kids about the risks of drowning. Teach them to never swim alone. Set a good example for your up-and-coming teenager by avoiding alcohol consumption while swimming, floating and boating as this is highly associated with teen drowning events.
Falls are common at all ages. An infant may fall off of the bed, changing table, or out of his or her parent's arms. Avoid leaving the baby unattended and exercise caution when walking on ice or stairs. Closely supervise toddlers on stairs and preschoolers on playground equipment. Insist that your child wear a helmet when riding a bike, skiing, rock climbing and other appropriate activities. If a child at any age suffers a fall, watch for vomiting, irritability, decreased responsiveness or poor balance. Call if any of these concerning symptoms develop. Falls that result in a child being "knocked out" are more likely to be associated with symptoms of concern.
Poisoning is another risk for young children who may eat or drink medications, cleaners, and other household products. These preventable events can be serious and life-threatening. Store medications on a high shelf. Move cleaners out from under the sink to a high cupboard and store food containers or pots and pans in the low cabinets. Use cupboard and drawer locks to prevent access as well. The phone number for Poison Control (800-222-1222) should be on your phone at home or stored in your cell phone so if you suspect that your child has consumed something poisonous, you can call immediately for directions on what to do next.
Burns are another injury that can be prevented. Infants are commonly scalded by pulling containers of hot liquid onto themselves. These injuries are not usually life-threatening but are intensely painful and often require hospitalization. Keep cups of coffee and other hot liquids out of your baby's reach. Toddlers are commonly burned by touching wood stoves or fireplace grates or screens, or by touching the hot steam from warm mist humidifiers. Create barriers to your toddler touching these items, or avoid the use of them. Many severe burns are associated with outdoor fire pits. Carefully monitor your child around this hazard as these burns almost universally require medical transport outside the state of Montana and are often life-threatening. School-aged and preteen children are most at risk for playing with matches. Talk to your child about the extreme danger in this. House fires, caused by playing with fire or from other sources, are extremely hazardous. Be sure that you have working smoke detectors on every level of your house located near the bedrooms. Test these life-saving devices every month (on the first or on another easy-to-remember day of the month) and change the batteries twice a year (when daylight savings time starts and stops). Once your child is 3 years old, take the time to run a fire drill twice a year. Young children are very frightened by fire and often hide. Teach them what they need to do to survive (crawl on hands and knees to the door if possible, call for help, do not try to rescue pets, never hide, and agree in advance on a place to meet outside). This exercise saves young lives.
Exposure to second hand smoke increases the risk of ear infections, asthma, sinusitis and other infections, and also increases the likelihood that a child will become a smoker when he or she is older. This exposes a child to a wider range of health problems like life-long asthma, lung and throat cancer, emphysema, and heart disease. If you are a smoker, ask your child's healthcare provider for information about quitting or call the Montana Quit Line at 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669). The Quit Line provides support for quitting including nicotine replacement and newer medications at reduced cost that increase the odds of successful quitting.
Guns are a part of many Montana households and can be kept in a way that minimizes the risk of injury to kids and teens. Be sure to lock all guns and store ammunition in a separate locked location. Gun locks are an additional safety measure. Teaching older children to use guns safely is also important, but knowing that teens with guns in the home are at higher risk of successful suicide makes the point that even as adolescents become capable of safe gun use, parents need to be in control of a child's access to weapons and ammunition. If you own guns, store them safely starting now.
Physical, emotional and sexual abuse can affect children of all ages. If you feel unsafe at home, or if you suspect someone may be abusing your child, ask your child's healthcare provider for help.
Choking is a common injury in young children. Reduce this risk for your child by carefully following your pediatrician's feeding guidelines and baby-proofing your home so your child cannot reach small objects.