Keeping Your Child Safe From Accidents

HCA image for child injuries Injuries from accidents are the leading cause of death in North American children. Even if accidents do not cause death, they can lead to lasting damage. Many children have brain damage from head injuries. Others have lasting scars from burns, or organ damage from poisoning. Accidents also lead to medical treatment and days home from school.

In children, the main cause of injuries are:

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Drowning
  • Burns
  • Poisoning
  • Falls
  • Choking, suffocation (air supply cut off)
  • Firearms

Motor Vehicle Accidents

Different types of motor vehicle accidents injure children. The child may be riding in a vehicle that crashes. Or the child may be hit by a vehicle when walking or riding a bike.

To help keep your children safe:

  • Use a properly secured car seat. Make sure the seat is right for your child's age, height, and weight. Carefully read the manufacturer's information.
  • Know how to adjust and secure the seat. Contact your local police, fire station or a car seat clinic. They can teach you to use the seat properly.
  • Travel safely with your child. In general:
    • A rear-facing seat —should be used for a baby until age 2—or until they meet the highest height and weight limits for the rear-facing seat.
    • A front-facing seat with harness —should be used for a child over age 2 or a child who has outgrown a rear-facing seat. . When the child exceeds the height/weight limits for the seat, use a booster seat .
    • A booster seat —should be used until the child can fit correctly into an adult seat belt. This is usually when a child is about 4 feet 9 inches (1.45 meters) tall and is 8 to 12 years old.
    • All children younger than 13 years should ride in the back seat of the vehicle.
    • If you have to use the front seat, do not use a rear-facing car seat. Also, if a child under 13 has to sit in the front seat, turn off the airbag. Airbags often inflate during a crash. This can injure or even kill a child in the front seat.
  • Always use your seat belt. Be a good role model for the children.
  • Teach your children how to carefully cross a street.
  • Make sure your child always wears a bike helmet when riding a bike, scooter or skateboard, or roller skating/blading.

Drowning

Babies and toddlers often drown when not being watched. They can drown even in small amounts of water. Examples are bathtubs, cleaning buckets, toilets, and children's wading pools. Preschoolers are most at risk for drowning in swimming pools or ponds. Older children are at risk if they cannot swim, dive in shallow water, or do not understand water currents or water safety.

To help keep children safe:

  • Never leave children alone with any body of water. And do not let anyone of any age swim alone. A supervising adult should be within an arm's length of swimming children. The adult should be able to rescue the child and should know CPR.
  • Have your child take swimming lessons. Remember that children who know how to swim can still drown. Children should always be watched while swimming.
  • Enclose a pool or spa completely. All gates or doors to the pool area should be self-closing and self-latching. Latches should be above the reach of toddlers and young children. Also consider getting a pool alarm or stiff pool cover.
  • Beware of lightweight, floating pool covers. These covers do not keep people from falling in. No one should ever crawl or walk on them.
  • Remove anything that blocks a full view of the pool or spa from the house.
  • Body parts and hair can be trapped in the pool drains. Be sure that the pool has drain covers or a filter system to release the suction.
  • Empty wading pools and buckets when you are done using them. Also, keep the lid on your toilet down and your bathroom door closed.
  • When swimming in open water, choose an area where there is a lifeguard. Also be aware of currents and undertow.
  • If you do not know how deep the water is, teach your children to go into the water feet first. Jumping or diving can lead to injury.
  • Have your child wear a life jacket when at the beach or boating. Inflatable toys or arm bands are not lifesaving devices.

Burns

Younger children have a high risk of burns from hot water. Burns also happen often when a child’ clothing catches fire.

To help keep your children safe:

  • Make sure that your children sleep in fire-retardant sleepwear.
  • Keep your hot water temperature no higher than 120°F (49ºC).
  • Always check the bathwater. Make sure it is not too hot before you put your baby or child in.
  • Have approved smoke alarms in your house. Have one on every level in a main hall and in every bedroom. Check the batteries every month.
  • Contact your local fire department to attend a fire safety course.
  • Plan an escape route for your family.
  • Teach your kids to “stop, drop, and roll” if their clothing should ever catch fire.
  • Teach your children to never play with matches, candles, or other sources of flame.
  • Check playground equipment in hot weather—before children use it. Make sure it is not so hot that it could cause burns.
  • Keep hot foods and liquids away from the edge of counters or tables where small children could reach them.
  • Gate off your cooking area so children cannot get near the stove.
  • Be sure that your electrical outlets have child-proof plugs. Make sure that toddlers do not chew on electrical cords.

Poisoning

Children are at risk of poisoning from cleaning products, medicines, supplements, plants, and makeup. Toddlers and preschoolers like to out things in their mouths.

To help keep your children safe:

  • Keep the poison prevention center’s number in or near your phone.
  • Use a high, locked cabinet for:
    • Medicines and supplements
    • Cleaning products
    • Skin creams and ointments
    • Personal care products and makeup
  • Buy medicines and cleaning supplies with child-resistant caps.
  • Before you bring a plant home, check to see if it is poisonous if eaten. Holly, poinsettia, foxglove, and many common plants are toxic.
  • Keep kerosene, gasoline, and oil-containing furniture polishes out of your home—if possible. They are very dangerous for children..

Choking and Suffocation

Children can be at risk for choking from foods and other items.

To help prevent children from choking

  • Do not feed toddlers grapes, hot dogs, hard candy, popcorn, nuts, or raw vegetables.
  • Make sure your children stay seated while eating.
  • Always supervise your child while he or she is eating.
  • Learn the Heimlich maneuver and CPR for your children’s ages.
  • Purchase a "choke tube." It is used to test the size of small toys, objects, or pieces of food before you let your baby or toddler use them.
  • Never let your child chew on or mouth a balloon or medical gloves. Never leave your child unsupervised with a balloon.
  • Have older children keep toys with small parts away from younger children. Keep these toys in a room that your younger children cannot access.
  • Do not dress your children in clothing with drawstrings at the neck, or hoods that tie.
  • Use a cord safety kit on all window blinds and curtains.

Falls

Falls are a common cause of injury in children. Babies often fall from furniture, down stairs, or when using baby walkers. Toddlers and preschoolers are at risk for falling from windows and shopping carts. Older children tend to fall from playground equipment, bikes, or scooters.

To help keep children safe:

  • Do not use a baby walker.
  • Keep your child seated in the grocery cart’s safety seat and stroller. Always buckle the waist straps.
  • Do not let children to play unattended. They should not stand on furniture close to windows.
  • Make sure playgrounds have enough padded surfaces to cushion falls. Playgrounds should have 9 inches [23 centimeters] deep of loose fill or a rubber resilient surface. The padded surface should be under all play structures.
  • Supervise your children closely at the playground.
  • Have children use playground equipment that is right for their development. .
  • Make sure your child always wears a bike helmet when riding a bike, scooter or skateboard, or roller skating/blading.

Accidents Involving Firearms

Firearms can cause death and severe injury. Firearms can discharge accidentally and be used for murder or suicide.

To help keep your children safe:

  • Do not store firearms in your home.
  • If you must keep firearms in your home, store them unloaded. Keep them in a locked location. Store the ammunition in a separate, locked location. Also use gunlocks.
  • Take a gun safety course.
  • Teach your children to call you right away if they are at a friend’s home and there are firearms.
  • Teach your children never to touch or play with a gun. If they see any other child touching or playing with a gun, they should call an adult right away.

Supervise, Supervise, Supervise

There are many possible unsafe situations for children. Safety rules can help. But the most important safety measure is careful, consistent adult supervision.

RESOURCES:

American Red Cross
http://www.redcross.org

Child Injury Prevention Alliance
https://www.childinjurypreventionalliance.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Red Cross
http://www.redcross.ca

Child Safe Canada
https://childsafecanada.com

REFERENCES:

Car seats: information for families. Healthy Children.org—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/on-the-go/Pages/Car-Safety-Seats-Information-for-Families.aspx. Accessed November 4, 2021.

Child injury. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/childinjury/. Accessed November 4, 2021.

Foreign body aspiration. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/foreign-body-aspiration. Accessed November 4, 2021.

Preventing burn injuries. Stanford Children's Health website. Available at: https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=preventing-burn-injuries-90-P01750. Accessed November 4, 2021.

Safety for your child: birth to 6 months. HealthyChildren.org website. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/Pages/Safety-for-Your-Child-Birth-to-6-Months.aspx. Accessed November 4, 2021.

Water heating devices and temperatures allowed. Caring for Our Children website. Available at: https://nrckids.org/cfoc/database/5.2.1.14. Accessed November 4, 2021.

Last reviewed November 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board   Last Updated: 11/4/2021