Ages 0-5: Travel With Care

With due diligence you have made your home a veritable fortress of safety for your children, plugging electrical outlets, installing childproof cabinet locks, and making sure all medications and vitamins are stored out of reach.

Now your family is going to visit Grandma, who knows as much about childproof locks as she does about the new iPhone. So how do you keep your child safe while visiting non-childproof venues?

Before you even leave home to visit friends or relatives, the top priority is to do a car seat safety check before heading down your driveway.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, motor vehicle accidents top the charts for cause of death in people of all ages except infants less than 1 year of age, who are more likely to suffer from unintentional suffocation.

In fact, accidents of all types, not just traffic accidents, are the leading cause of death for all people under the age of 45. Given that statistic, local experts have some safety ideas for families who are visiting homes that may not be as child-friendly as their own.

“Typically, parents at our workshops will say things like, ‘I’m going to visit my mother and she leaves her medicine on the kitchen counter. What do I do?’” says Karen Ingram, a parent educator at Welcome Baby in Durham, an agency that provides resources for parents of children up to age 5.

Voice Your Concerns

If your family, or your child, is visiting others who do not have young children, it’s important to be proactive and ask questions, Ingram says. It may not be comfortable to ask your mother-in-law to keep her medications out of reach, or to ask neighbors whether they have guns in the home, but it’s necessary to have those conversations to protect your child, she says.

Some top safety concerns when visiting homes that may not be childproof:

• Medications that may not be stored properly or are not in childproof containers.
• Pools or hot tubs without child safety locks.
• Household chemicals stored in reach of children.
• Stairs without gates.
• Electrical outlets.
• Guns.

Ingram suggests that parents of small children talk with their host about concerns they may have. “One nice way to approach this topic is to ask if you can rearrange a few things in a home when you first arrive and explain that it will help you have a nice visit and not worry that items will get broken,” she says.

Also be sure to ask if there are pets in the house and whether or not the pets are accustomed to children. Show your children what a gentle touch is, Ingram says, but even if a pet of a relative or friend is used to children, do not leave children alone with the pet.

Watch Children Closely

Accidental drowning is a close second to motor vehicle accidents for children ages 1 to 4, so check for childproof safety locks around pools and hot tubs. Ingram says it’s important to designate a person to watch a child when there is water nearby, rather than just assuming that having a group of adults around is safe enough.

Genny McDermott, injury prevention coordinator at Duke University Medical Center, agrees. “Small children drown very quickly in a very small amount of water. If there is no way to secure access to that water, you have to keep your eye on your child at all times,” she says.

Falls cause the most nonfatal injuries in toddlers and children under the age of 15, says McDermott. “Parents need to look at what they have done to childproof their own home and adapt that to wherever they are going,” she says. Take gates along with you if you know a vacation home has stairs. Some cities have equipment rental businesses for items like gates and high chairs.

Put Toys Away

Age-inappropriate toys are another potential hazard when visiting homes with older children, McDermott notes. Recent warnings have mentioned, for example, the small round magnets that come with some toys. If small children swallow two of the magnets, they can attract each other in the child’s digestive system.

McDermott suggests enlisting the help of older children in cases where toys are not appropriate for younger children, since the older children often don’t want their toys damaged by little hands anyway.

Above all, remember that a toddler is hard-wired to explore the world, and since a young child is not yet able to understand the dangers of that world, it helps if parents practice some prevention.

Carol McGarrahan is a Cary-based contributing writer.
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More Tips for Toddler Safety When Traveling

• Take along or rent safety gates if a home has stairs.
• Pack electrical outlet plugs.
• Bring toys for your child that are age-appropriate.
• Be sure your child’s car seat is properly installed if traveling by car.
• Ask if you can move household cleaners out of reach.
• Ask that medicines be kept out of reach during the visit.
• Ask whether there are guns in the house and how they are stored.
• Be sure hot tubs and pools have childproof locks or alarms.
• Never leave a young child alone in a hotel room.

For more safety tips and checklists, visit www.babychatter.com/childproof.html or www.kidshealth.org.