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Preventing Childhood Injuries

Accidental falls are a leading cause of injury-related emergency room visits. To reduce the chances of your child falling at home, make sure that you supervise your children’s play, do not keep furniture near windows, bar or securely latch all windows and screens, block all stairways from younger children, keep stairs and halls free of toys and other items, and don’t use baby walkers.

Not all falls occur at home, however. In order to minimize the risk of injury from falls away from home, visit only playgrounds with safe surfaces like wood chips, pebbles, or rubberized pathways and closely monitor your child’s play; use safety restraints in shopping carts and stay close to the cart at all times; hold your child’s hand on stairways and escalators; make wearing helmets, pads, guards, and other protective gear mandatory when biking, in-line skating, and engaging in other activities likely to result in falls; and select age-appropriate activities for your children.

For children under age fifteen, automobile accidents are the leading cause of unintentional injury-related death. To minimize the risk of death and injury from motor vehicle crashes, infants should always ride in rear-facing car seats, older babies and toddlers should be restrained in a forward-facing car seat, older preschoolers and younger school-age children should be in booster seats with adequate restraint systems, and older children should be restrained by the vehicle’s safety belts. In addition, children should never ride in the front seat, especially in cars with air bags.

Although most parents are attentive when their children are swimming in lakes and pools, accidental drownings can occur in even a few inches of water in seemingly harmless containers, like cleaning buckets. To avoid the risk of drowning, supervise your children whenever they are in or near the water, don’t leave your children alone in the bathtub, keep gates around back-yard pools locked, empty containers like buckets and wading pools when not in use, keep bathroom doors closed and use child-proof door knobs (a toddler can even drown in the toilet), and make sure your children (as well as you) wear life jackets when boating and engaging in other water sports.

Poisoning is another common cause of childhood injury. To avoid the risk of injury from poisoning, keep all medicines, cleaning supplies, and chemicals out of children’s reach; use child-proof door knobs and cabinet latches as necessary; avoid transferring potentially harmful substances to different receptacles, like soda bottles or food-storage containers, which could confuse a child and encourage ingestion; make sure that none of the plants in your home or garden are poisonous; don’t call medicine “candy,” which could encourage overdosing; post the telephone number for the local poison control center and other emergency numbers by every phone in the house; and keep syrup of ipecac handy to induce vomiting in case of accidental poisoning, but don’t administer it without first checking with your local poison control center.

Children have much more sensitive skin than adults and can easily get burned. Just three seconds’ contact with tap water of 140*F can cause third-degree burns to a young child. In order to avoid burn injuries, set the thermostat on your home water heater to less than 120* Fahrenheit, and test the temperature of bath water on your wrist or elbow before placing your child in the bath. Don’t attempt to carry a child and a hot liquid like a cup of coffee at the same time; use the back burners on your stove and keep all pot handles pointed away from the front edge of the stove; keep all lighters and matches out of children’s reach; install smoke detectors in your home and change the batteries regularly; and don’t allow children to play with dangerous objects like Fourth of July sparklers.

Children under three years old are especially vulnerable to choking on small objects. One way to determine whether an object is capable of causing a child to choke is to see if it fits through an empty toilet paper tube. If it does, keep it out of a young child’s reach. In addition, you can minimize the risk of childhood choking accidents. Do not feed toddlers round foods like grapes, nuts, hotdogs, and popcorn; store small items like coins, pins, jewelry, buttons, and beads out of the reach of small children; verify that toys have no removable small parts, like teddy bear eyes; don’t allow children to wear clothing with drawstrings, which can cause strangulation; keep all window-treatment cords out of children’s reach; and, in case your child does choke despite your best efforts, keep your CPR and Heimlich maneuver skills up to date.

Guns can be found in about half of all American homes. Whether you own a gun or not, it is imperative that you teach your kids about gun safety. If you do own a firearm, in order to prevent accidental shootings you must store all guns, unloaded, in a locked compartment; employ trigger locks and other safety devices; store ammunition in a separate, locked compartment; and keep the keys in a place that only adults know about and that cannot be discovered by children.

Even when all of these safety precautions are followed, accidents can still happen. If your child is injured, your first step must be to seek medical attention or call 911.

If your child was injured as a result of someone else’s negligence or intentional act, you may be entitled to recover money damages. A personal injury attorney can review the facts of your case to determine whether another individual or company should be held accountable and made to pay for your and your child’s losses. If, for example, another driver’s carelessness resulted in an accident that injured your child, or a defective toy caused your child to choke, you may be able to sue the responsible party. Seek the advice and counsel of an experienced personal injury lawyer to ensure that you and your child get the legal representation you deserve.