Keeping Toddlers Safe in an Adult Only Home

Scarletti Confetti pencil and markers on paper 2011 by J.Paradisi

With the onset of late summer hot weather many local children are falling through the screens of open windows. (Another frequent danger to children during hot weather is drowning.  AJN editor-in-chief, Shawn Kennedy posted an excellent article on that subject for Off The Charts).

When I was a Pediatric nurse, the falling diagnosis was nicknamed failure to fly, but only if the child was admitted for nothing more serious than observation and a few bruises. Often the injuries are life threatening or worse, and in truth such an accident is no laughing matter. Perhaps this is why Sesame Street has never featured an episode titled Things That Don’t Fly, in which I imagine Elmo singing a list of things that don’t fly: rocks, books, and YOU!

Okay, that’s not funny either; it’s a poor attempt at humor stemming from recent anxiety while babysitting my favorite toddler, the sister of my favorite twelve year old. A decade has passed since I’ve babysat a toddler, and I worried over her potential for injury while in my care. I’m a nurse, and a former Pediatric Intensive Care nurse at that. It’s a lot of pressure. Of all the people in the world, she should be safe with me, but from the moment she entered my home I realized how dangerous the adult environment David and I share is for an active toddler, even after efforts of childproofing, which included taking all of our CDs out of their towering storage rack and laying it on its side so she couldn’t pull it down on herself, locking under the sink cabinets, installing socket covers, and removing from reach all small, swallowable objects. The balcony door was fastened the entire visit, and she was not allowed on the balcony, even with adult supervision. All windows were closed and locked. There would be no failure to fly on my shift.

Here’s some other tips gleaned from over fifteen years in pediatrics, the news, and personal experience. In no way is this list complete or infallible:

Grandma, What’s in Your Purse? I have no idea how many accidental poisonings occur because a small child finds prescription pills in an unattended handbag. It’s so common that I have removed my little bottle of ibuprofen, used for headaches at work, from my purse. It’s inconvenient; sometimes I have to mooch from my coworkers or walk over to the hospital pharmacy and purchase ibuprofen when a headache comes on at work, but that’s how it is.

 ABSOLUTELY KNOW WHERE THE CHILD IS BEFORE STARTING THE CAR’S ENGINE. This applies when there is more than one adult with the child. Too many children are run over by a car while it’s backed out of a garage or driveway. The driver of the car and the adult in the house each assumed the child was with the other. When I was fifteen years old in Drivers’ Ed, the instructor taught us to walk behind the car to see what might lurk there before getting into the driver’s seat. This is an especially good idea when small children are near.

Never Leave The Child Unattended With The Family Dog. Dogs that are not accustomed to children are unpredictable around them. Dogs that are accustomed to small children are unpredictable around them. I once heard a story of a loyal dog uncharacteristically attacking the family’s toddler. The family was so shocked that after the dog was put down, they had an autopsy performed and found the dog had a painful ear infection. When the toddler touched her ear, the dog attacked him in pain. A very sad story. Protect both the child and the pet by never leaving them together unattended.

Secure That Big Ass TV. Towers of CDs aren’t the only things children old enough to crawl can pull down on themselves. TV’s that are not secure on their bases or bases that are the least bit wobbly put children into ICU’s with crushing injuries every year.

Do Not Assume Any Device Installed For The Child’s Protection Will Work. I’ve seen children who got under impossibly heavy hot tub covers and drowned. Baby gates fail and lead to falls. Years ago, I put my daughter’s baby acetaminophen on top of our refrigerator, safely out of reach when she was small. When she became a teenager, she informed me that as a child, she had climbed the kitchen drawers onto the counter and ate one or two orange flavored acetaminophen at a time while I took a shower, demoralizing me the way only a teenager can demoralize a parent.

The Best Protection for Children is Your Presence. Let the housework and phone calls wait. You are not the kid’s parent, so you’ll have time to clean up after they leave. Getting to know these little people is one of life’s most satisfying experiences. This is your opportunity to influence a developing new life in a positive way. There is nothing in the world more important than their safety and your peace of mind. Enjoy it while it lasts. They grow up so fast.