Christmas is an exciting and magical time for children - holidays, family gatherings and Santa bringing presents.
While it's great fun, parents and carers are usually busier than ever at Christmas! Often this results in reduced supervision of children and this, along with changes in normal routines at home - children with new toys or equipment and more people than usual in the house - can often lead to unintentional injuries (accidents) to children.
Research shows children suffer more unintentional injuries at this festive time, so remember the key message where child safety is concerned is -
Watch your child at all times as children do not understand danger.
A little advice to help keep children safe this Christmas:
- Of course there will be new toys to play with - make sure toys are suitable to your child's developmental stage, have the CE safety mark on them and are in good condition. Learn more about Child Safety and Toys.
- The National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) warns consumers to always look for the CE Mark when buying toys and electrical products. NSAI spokesperson Pat Bracken explains why the symbol is so important: "The CE mark is the manufacturer's declaration that the product meets the health and safety and environmental standards applicable to that product. So when it is used as is intended, it is a safe product. By law all toys and electrical products placed on the market actually have to have the CE mark on the product". Make sure it it the genuine CE mark (as pictured here) - check out www.nsai.ie for more information on the CE mark, lots of useful tips to help choose safe toys and gifts and to view their how to shop safely video clip.
- The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission has really useful tips that will help you make sure any toys bought, or received, this Christmas are safe. You can find it at www.ccpc.ie.
- NSAI Announces the 12 Days of Christmas Safety - the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) has issued some last-minute safety advice for people ahead of the Christmas season - find out more at www.nsai.ie
Christmas trees and decorations:
- Buy your decorations and tree from a reputable/trustworthy source and check that the items have a relevant safety symbol.
- Make sure your decorations and artificial tree are fire resistant - this will help reduce the risk of them catching fire, but every care still needs to be taken.
- If your tree is real:
- be aware that some are sprayed with chemicals to prevent the needles from shedding. These chemicals could be flammable.
- remember the drier the tree the more of a fire hazard it is.
- Position your tree safely and securely and away from door ways, passage ways, fire, radiators and heaters.
- Keep all related packaging in a secure place out of reach and sight of children.
- Try to avoid decorations that are too easily broken - this will help prevent the risk of cuts to children should they reach them.
- Check your decorations don’t contain small parts that could be a choking risk to children should they get their hands on them.
- Buy decorations that are fire resistant.
- Do not hang decorations, even fire resistant ones, near or out of light fittings as this is a potential fire risk.
- Do not hang, attach or balance Christmas decorations, stockings or cards on the fireplace or the surrounding area. Sparks or heat from the fire could set them alight. They might also tempt children to go to the fireplace.
- If using heavy holders for Christmas stockings, be mindful that children could pull them down causing serious injury - so keep the stockings out of reach of children.
- Be careful of where you place Christmas lights - strands of lights can be a strangulation risk, while small lights or bits of lights can be a choking risk.
- Check that they are working properly before you use them.
- Only buy Christmas lights from a reputable source and make sure they have a relevant safety symbol.
- If putting lights outdoors, check first that they are suitable for outdoor use - only use outdoor lights in outdoor locations.
- Do not use lights that are faulty.
- Switch off Christmas lights when going to bed and when leaving the house.
- Make sure sockets are not overloaded.
- Keep flexes out of sight and reach of children.
Entertaining or visiting:
- Be careful of visitors' handbags and coat pockets - keep them out of reach of children. Remember children (both girls and boys) love going through handbags and many handbags and coat pockets contain injury risks such as medication, lighters, matches, sharp and/or small objects.
- Place alcoholic drinks out of reach of children.
- Keep peanuts, popcorn, small food items, marshmallows, chewing gum and boiled sweets out of reach of babies and young children.
- Extra supervision of your child is required when visiting as the venue/house may not be as child friendly as your own home.
- Blind and curtain cords are a serious strangulation risk to children - are they present in the house or venue you are visiting? If so, can you ask for them to be removed or made safer? Find out more here.
- If visiting over Christmas make sure that any cot or travel cot used is in good condition, properly assembled and the mattress is clean, firm, flat with no tears and fits the cot correctly.
- If out shopping be extra vigilant to ensure your child does not stray and get lost - Christmas can be a very busy time in shopping centres etc.
- Sitting devices - car seats, swings, infant seats, slings, carriers and similar devices - are not recommended for routine sleep.
- When travelling in a car, always securely strap your child into an appropriate child restraint suitable to their weight and height – no matter how short the journey:
- Remember, car seats should be used for every journey, however, they are designed to keep babies safe while travelling, they are not to be used as a main sleeping place.
- If travelling on long journeys take regular breaks (at least every two hours), park in a safe place and place your baby on his back for a short while.
- Once you have reached your destination, remove your baby from the car seat as soon as possible.
- Never ever drink and drive - drink drivers destroy lives, families and communities. See the RSA's "crashed lives" campaign - Ciarán Treacy was just four years old when the car he was travelling in with his mother Gillian and brother Seán was hit by a drunk-driver. Ciarán died as a result of the collision while Gillian was left with devastating injuries. Ciaran’s parents Gillian and Ronan have worked tirelessly over the past year on this campaign. They share their story and give us a glimpse of the weight this loss had has had on their lives.
- Look out – stand out; always wear hi-vis clothing when walking, cycling, running etc especially in the dark or when visibility is poor - be safe be seen with hi-glo silver (RSA). See our child safety on the road section for further advice.
Poisons and alcohol:
- Poisons come in many different forms.
- Gifts such as aftershave, perfumes, room scents, essence oils are poisonous - so remember when Santa has arrived to keep these gifts out of reach of children.
- As Christmas is a time for visiting our near and dear ones – be mindful of where visitors leave their handbags when they visit - remember children, both girls and boys, love looking through handbags. Be mindful of children visiting your home also.
- Mistletoe and holly are often used at Christmas for decorative displays. Remember to keep them out of reach of children at all times as they and some other plants and flowers are poisonous.
- Children can be fascinated by these products - things that adults would not give a second glace to! This advert from the Consumer Safety Institute Netherlands, shows this perfectly::
- So store all cleaning products safely out of sight and reach of children - remember, when visiting other people's homes to keep a close eye on your children as products may not be so securely stored.
- Store alcohol securely out of children’s reach. Be particularly mindful of children innocently taking a drink from a glass thinking it is a soft drink. Remember, even the smallest amount of alcohol can be very harmful to children.
- Never ever drink and drive.
- The Poisons Information Centre have a public poisons information line - (01) 809 2166 (each day from 8am -10pm) save this number to your phone now. At all other times contact your GP service or a hospital emergency department for advice.
- There is lots more information on our poison prevention page.
Click here for safefood tips on buying, storing, defrosting, preparing and cooking your turkey and for Christmas recipes, healthy options and tips on portion size.
Choking and strangulation:
- Children are at risk of choking and strangulation from anything placed around their necks or in their mouths. This includes cords, bibs, strings, jewellery and clothing with cords/strings attached.
- These items can get caught up in objects such as furniture, bedding etc.
- Always remove bibs after feeding.
- Children often get gifts of jewellery.
- Never allow babies or young children wear jewellery around their necks as it poses a choking and suffocation risk.
- Always remove any jewellery before children go to bed.
- Make sure all toys are suitable to the child’s age and developmental stage.
- Dispose of packaging and wrapping safely and securely as this is a huge choking and suffocation hazard to children.
- Balloons are not toys - only adults should inflate balloons and children should be supervised around balloons.
- As babies and young children have a natural tendency to place things in their mouths, choking is a big risk.
- Keep small items such as batteries of all kinds, peanuts, popcorn, hard sweets, coins, small toys etc out of reach of young children. Be mindful of older children sharing their toys or food with younger children.
- If your child swallows a battery of any sort, including button batteries, get immediate medical attention - even if your child does not seem to be in distress. Although a child may not choke, if undetected the batteries can do serious damage to the gastrointestinal system. When combined with saliva, the electrical current from the battery produces caustic soda that burns through the throat or stomach and can cause further damage to other internal organs.
- Children can choke on food at any age, but those under five are at higher risk – and especially children under three. The shapes and textures of some foods means they’re more likely to cause choking. The kinds of foods more commonly associated with choking incidents are described here, along with ways of reducing the risks.
- See our asphyxia (choking, strangulation, suffocation) pages for more information.
Falls, head and crush injuries:
- Research has shown that babies using baby walkers are at higher risk of head injury, falls, burns, scalds and poisonings. Therefore parents and carers should use safer alternatives to baby walkers such as stationary activity centres and play pens for appropriate periods of time.
- Be mindful of new equipment, furniture and TVs at Christmas - make sure they are positioned and secured properly to the wall or stand. Take the time to check existing equipment also to make sure it cannot be pulled over.
- Take care with outdoor play equipment:
- put it together properly,
- position it in a safe area of the garden not too near walls, trees or hard surfaces such as tarmac, decking or paths, or near places where children might try to jump on to or off of.
- Check that Santa has provided helmets and safety gear for bicycles, scooters etc to help prevent serious head injuries. Remember to Look out – stand out; always wear hi-vis clothing, especially in the dark or when visibility is poor.
Burns, scalds and fires:
- Hair straighteners are popular gifts at Christmas:
- Did you know that hair straighteners can reach temperatures of 200oC and higher – hot enough to fry an egg – and can take as long as 40 minutes to cool down?
- This makes them a huge injury risk to children - horrific burn injuries can occur very quickly. The average age of children admitted to hospital with hair straightener burns is 18 months.
- Prevent hair straightener burns by following these simple steps:
- Switch hair straighteners off and unplug them straight away
- Slide them into a heat resistant bag
- Store them out of the sight and reach of children.
- Place candles in a safe place - away from curtains, blinds and draughts - and out of reach of children.
- Never leave burning candles unattended.
- Always supervise children in a room where candles are lit.
- Never move a lit candle.
- Keep matches, cigarette lighters etc out of sight and reach of children.
- Remember, the points above apply to anything with a flame, including oil/fragrance burners, incense sticks etc.
- Check that cooker guards are in position, turn in handles when cooking, cook on back rings first.
- Check that your fire has a spark guard and fireguard in position.
- Secure the fireguard to the wall.
- Never place anything on top of the fire guard.
- Switch off and unplug unnecessary electrical equipment when going out or going to bed.
- Never leave mobile phones or other devices charging over night.
- Remember the 4 golden rules of fire safety:
- Fit working smoke alarms and test them regularly
- Make a fire escape plan and practice it often
- Check for fire dangers in your home and correct them
- Carry out a ‘last thing at night’ routine.
- Do not leave hot drinks unattended, remember children’s skin is particularly sensitive and hot drinks can burn up to 20 minutes after being poured.
- Should your child get a burn or scald injury - act quickly - cool the burned or scalded area immediately - run cool water over it for 20 minutes. This is so important - it will help with pain and can reduce the risk of scarring and need for surgery. Seek medical advice. Find out more in our first aid for burns and scalds section.
- Some families get pets for Christmas.
- As pets can be unpredictable, no child should be left unattended with a pet or indeed any other animal.
- Find out more in our child safety around pets section.
Keeping a routine:
For babies and young children, try to keep sleep routines as normal as possible, as children are likely to get clumsy when tired and are therefore more at risk of injury.
Follow the safe sleep guidance - always place your baby on their back to sleep, with feet to the foot of a clear cot and keep their head and face uncovered. Visit our safe sleep for your baby page to see the key points which help to reduce the risk of cot death/sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). It is important to follow this guidance every time your baby is put down for a sleep.
- The advice above is not intended to be complete or exhaustive - it is a prompt to raise consciousness of child safety at Christmas.
- The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission have good safety tips for Christmas.
- See www.dublincity.ie for advice on fire safety this Christmas.
- Lots more detail on the above topics and other child safety issues is available on the main website.
Wishing you and your children a happy and safe Christmas !
Most unintentional injuries (often called accidents) can be prevented:
Remember the key message where child safety is concerned -
Watch your child at all times, as children do not understand danger
Images - Santareindeer © Ian Scott - www.dreamstime.com; Christmas paint by Cassie Bedfordgolf - Flickr Creative Commons; Holly by camknows - Flickr Creative Commons; Cosmetics © Djenver www.dreamstime.com; Wine glass by keybuk - Flickr Creative Commons; Hair Straightener © Claudiobravo - www.dreamstime.com; Happy Pets Collection © Klara Viskova - www.dreamstime.com; all other images from CSAP materials - HSE (Midlands)