Dubai: Something as simple as a button can become a choking hazard, a pen can lead to an injured eye.
A confined environment, children with seemingly endless energy and stressed out parents can become a recipe for disaster, unless parents step up and make sure homes are as safe for children as possible.
Anna White, an occupational therapist with Dubai-based The LightHouse Arabia Center for Wellbeing said that quarantine conditions posed unique challenges for parents as well as children.
“With elevated emotions and deprivation of physical and social outings, keeping our children not only happy, but safe has become a common concern among parents. From the kitchen to the living room to the bathroom and garden, potential safety risks seem limitless,” White said.
With elevated emotions and deprivation of physical and social outings, keeping our children not only happy, but safe has become a common concern among parents. From the kitchen to the living room to the bathroom and garden, potential safety risks seem limitless.
Rebecca Smith, a former paediatric nurse who is the founder of Safe Hands, a UAE-based first aid training company, said that with healthcare facilities facing unprecedented pressure during the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals needed to take additional precautions to avoid injuries and stay away from hospitals as much as possible.
“Everyone is developing their own coping mechanism for the current pandemic. For children, their outlet could be to climb on things they should not be climbing on, to do somersaults on the living room furniture or… to throw a dangerous object at their sibling’s head,” Smith said.
“Household injuries are one of the top reasons that children under three visit the emergency room each year but based on the fact that children are spending more time at home, the number of these accidents and incidents are expected to rise,” she added.
Household injuries are one of the top reasons that children under three visit the emergency room each year but based on the fact that children are spending more time at home, the number of these accidents and incidents are expected to rise.
Why you need to child-proof your home
Injuries, in general, are the leading cause of death in children ages 19 and younger. But most child injuries can be prevented.
According to information provided by Latifa Hospital in 2018, accidents at home are one of the most common causes of child injury, with children under the age of four at the highest risk.
Across the world more than two million children under the age of 15 experience accidents in and around the house every year, for which they are taken to accident and emergency units.
10 most common causes of injuries to children at home
According the UK’s National Health Service, these are the most common ways in which children hurt themselves at home:
1. Falling objects
2. Trips and falls
9. Glass-related injuries
However, you do not need to feel overwhelmed by the task of child-proofing your home. By taking a systematic approach to the challenge, you can make sure you have all bases covered when it comes to securing your child’s movements at home.
Step 1: Think like a baby
Before you start canvassing your home for potential dangers, it is important to understand how a child’s mind works and what fuels their curiosity.
“The only way you will understand how your child views the world is to step down into their world. Yes, this might involve getting down on all fours and exploring each room just like they would. Put your detective cap on and be 10 steps ahead of your little explorer. Consider what your child could climb, pull down, fall down, eat and so on. Don’t stop there; investigate toys and look for possible hazards that could pose potential risks,” White said.
Identify the obvious dangers
Smith recommends the parents start their child-proofing efforts by looking at the big picture.
“A great starting point is to look at how generally safe your home is. Try and envisage your home through your child’s eyes and make sure to regularly reassess – that once harmless armchair has the potential to provide a platform to higher ground once your little one begins to climb! Do a recurrent check of fire alarms and smoke detectors and make sure you have strategically placed fire extinguishers throughout the house,” Smith said.
Secure the windows and balconies
Along the same lines, it is important to secure windows, balcony doors and any internal stairways.
“Windows should have locks or guards and a safety gate should be placed at the top and bottom of the stairs. Ensure any blind or curtain cords are tied and out of reach to avoid the risk of strangulation,” Smith added.
In the UAE, children falling from high-rises is a common concern among parents. From August 2011 to September 2018, Gulf News recorded at least 27 children — aged between three and 16 — falling to death; a grim reminder of the lurking dangers of residing in a tower and the dire need to keep children safe.
Another big danger to children is heavy furniture that has the potential to tip over, according to Smith.
“Any [such] heavy furniture should be anchored to the wall and doors can be fitted with stoppers or jammers to avoid any damage to little fingers,” she said.
Tools that can help
• Window guards
• Window latches
• Electrical outlet covers
• Stair gates
• Furniture anchors
• First aid kit
• Essential emergency numbers list
• Cord ties for window blinds
Bathrooms can be one of the most dangerous places for an unattended child, with access to water, soaps and shampoos and even cleaning supplies. Smith advised parents and caregivers to never leave a child alone in a bathroom, even for a few seconds.
“Little ones have the potential to drown in even a small amount of water and wandering hands may also just be able to reach that hot water tap,” she said.
“As a general rule at bath time always fill the tub with cold water first, then add the hot. Use just enough water to cover your baby’s legs but no more. Use your elbow or a thermometer to check the temperature of the water before placing your child in,” she added.
If you do have cleaning supplies or medicines, they should be stored out of the reach of your child, preferably in a high, locked cabinet.
“Younger children and infants have a tendency to put anything and everything in their mouth, even if it doesn’t taste good! Non slip mats in the tub are great for preventing those slips and falls,” Smith added.
Tools that can help
• Soft cover for bath spout.
• Locks for bath taps.
• Bath seat for your baby to sit in (not a substitute for supervision).
• Toilet lock.
• Radiator covers.
• Non slip mats.
• A thermometer to ensure baby's bathwater is a safe temperature.
• Latches for the medicine cabinet.
Kitchens are perhaps most filled with activities, with children curious to find out what you are cooking, how the water dispenser works or playing with pots and pans.
The first step Smith suggested is to move any cleaning products that you may be storing under the sikn to a higher ground, out of the reach of your child.
“Ensure that drawers or cabinets containing sharp or dangerous items are secured with a lock or latch. Those fridge magnets and decorations may look nice but are they child friendly? Keep any magnets up high and ensure they don’t pose a risk to choking,” she added.
Another big danger is in the form of a hot water dispenser.
“An oven guard is a useful purchase to help prevent burns and it is important to always ensure that pan handles face towards the back of the stove when cooking. Vitamins or supplements can be mistaken for candy in the eyes of a child. Keep them out of reach and always put them back after use,” Smith said.
Tools that can help
• Locks on rubbish bins.
• Rubbish bin with childproof lids.
• Locks on cupboards drawers or cabinets containing sharp cutlery or utensils.
• Hot water tap locks.
If you have a nursery room at home, this is perhaps the safest place for your child, as it gives you the freedom to customise every aspect of the room, from the furniture to the door handles and cupboards depending on your child’s needs. However, despite the child-friendly appearances, there are some precautions you should always take.
“Although cuddly toys and soft, fluffy blankets provide great decoration, it’s important that these are removed from baby’s crib whilst sleeping to avoid suffocation. Mobiles and hanging toys should be removed once baby is able to pull themselves up on to their hands and knees and all toys should be age appropriate to reduce the risks of choking,” Smith said.
“If using a second hand crib ensure that the sides are safe and secure and always keep crib sides up and locked when not in the room. If you have pets - particularly cats - a pet net can prove to be an invaluable purchase when it comes to peace of mind at nap time,” she said.
Any cleaning supplies, diapers, wipes and creams should be kept out of the reach of your child.
Tools that can help
• A thick piece of carpet or a rug at the side of a crib to cushion falls.
• A safe toy box - ideally an open bin (avoid boxes with heavy lids).
• UL-listed night-lights and replacement bulbs.
• Window guards and locks
• Pet nets
The first thing to consider in your living room is your furniture – corners need to be covered and the layout should be reassessed with your baby starts climbing, Smith suggested.
“Ensure that all furniture is placed away from window ledges or windows,” she said.
Ideally, television sets should be mounted to the wall or a unit to ensure that it cannot be pulled over. Remote controls, batteries and any decorative items should be kept out of the reach of children.
“Get down to your child’s level and scan the room, is there anything that they could get their hands on that could be ingested or potentially choke on? If so remove it and store it in a safe place,” Smith said.
Tools that can help
• Corner cushions/ protectors
• Cord ties
• Furniture anchors
• Heavy-weight picture hooks to prevent pictures from falling.
• Electrical tape to secure any loose electrical cords.
Whether it is a garden or a spacious balcony, spending time outdoors has become ever more important. However, children are also highly likely to hurt themselves because of the free space.
Any balcony should have a safety rail installed. If you have a pool in your garden, install a pool safety gate, hard pool covering or pool alarm.
“As a general rule, keep all doors to outdoor spaces locked when not in use,” Smith said.
Tools that can help
• Self-locking mechanism for doors leading to outdoor spaces.
• Pool gates, covers or alarms.
• Locks for outdoor gates, sheds or garage areas.
• Balcony guards.
Train your child for the real world
While it is important to protect your child from the obvious dangers he or she can face, it is also essential to train him or her to stay safe in spaces that have not necessarily been baby-proofed.
“Start education from a young age. Instead of saying ‘no’, explain your rational. Children need to hear - maybe several times - why things may be dangerous. For example, ‘always remember to keep the doors closed or your little sister might get hurt',” White said.
She also recommended that parents take a first-aid course to be prepared for any possible emergencies.
“You may never have to use those skills but knowing that you are trained and ready to step in if anything went wrong is empowering for parents,” she added.
Provide a ‘no’-free zone
Exploring through their sensory abilities is one of the primary ways in which children learn and grow. While keeping them safe is of prime importance, it is also necessary to provide them with a space that they can explore without hearing the dreaded two-letter word – ‘no’.
“Providing your child a safe space to explore and learn will support their emotional, social, and physical development. Depending on your child’s developmental age and stage, this may involve full physical support or close supervision. Provide opportunities for your child to explore your home and if you have a garden, let the magic happen as they explore this multisensory outdoor world. Sensory exploration is important for any child to build the cognitive skills needed for life. Through exploring the world with their senses, children begin to observe and draw conclusions as they experiment and predict the outcomes of those experiments,” White said.
So, even as you shop for child-proofing tools to keep your young one safe, look at ways you can also let the little explorer free.