When you think about all of the dangers that lurk around the house during the holidays and winter time, it’s amazing that children can make it through this time of year unscathed.

Not that these opportunities for mischief don’t exist the other 364 days in the year. Rather, during the season of merry and snow, so many more opportunities exist.

The more obvious dangers, and the root of many double-dog-dares, may challenge children to taste mistletoe, munch on poinsettia leaves or see how tightly they can squeeze the plier-like contraption for the fancy mixed nuts on their finger. A curious child can find so many opportunities to flirt with danger, but not when a wary parent is a step ahead of them.

With a little effort (and these tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics), you can keep your children safe this holiday season and perhaps avoid a trip to the emergency room.

TREE SAFETY

If you have an artificial tree, check for the “Fire Resistant” label. If you have a live tree, keep it hydrated with water in the stand. If you have a metallic tree, do not decorate it with electric lights. Be sure that when in its stand, the tree is strong enough to maintain its upright position in the event that a precocious toddler or pet attempts to crawl up it.

LIGHT SAFETY

Check your lights before you display them on the tree. If any cords are frayed or exposed, don’t cover them with duct tape. Instead, throw out old cords. Don’t plug in more cords to your outlet than is recommended by the manufacturer, and keep any furniture or rugs away from the cords so they don’t get pinched. If you hang lights outside, be sure they are certified for outdoor use.

CANDLE SAFETY

Keep lit candles away from your tree and out of reach of a curious or daring hand. Be sure that all candles are blown out before you leave your home or go to bed.

DECORATION SAFETY

Throw away plastic bags and ribbons as soon as gifts are opened. These items can be a suffocation or choking hazard, not just to children but to pets, too. I could tell you the true story of what happens when a cat tries to swallow a ribbon. Let’s just say that it’s an expensive trip to the vet.

FOOD AND DRINK SAFETY

Just like the billboard said during outdoor picnic season, “Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.” Don’t let vegetable dip sit unrefrigerated on your holiday table for eight hours and don’t drink the hot chocolate when it becomes cold milk. If hot plates or Sterno pots are on your dinner table, or cookie sheets are cooling in your kitchen, be sure that they are not within reach of children. Eat only fully cooked foods. Unfortunately, this rules out cookie dough due to the raw eggs. When in doubt, throw it out.

Pour out any unattended alcoholic drinks. To an unknowing child, the pretty colors of drinks may look like a tasty fruit punch. Far beyond the fact that minors’ consumption of alcohol is illegal, it could make them very sick. Be sure to stow away all bottles of alcohol – out of view and out of reach.

If you’re drinking alcohol, be sure to have a designated driver who is not drinking. A 2013 study out of the University of Florida found that 35 percent of designated drivers are drinking, too.

HOME SAFETY

Check your furnace filter, smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector to make sure they’re in working order. Your local fire department is a good place to start if you are in need of a detector. With so many vehicles now having remote starts, if your vehicle is parked in the garage, be sure to lift up your garage door before remote starting your car. Carbon monoxide can travel from your garage into your house in a deadly way.

Keep the amaryllis, hyacinths and narcissus high on a shelf to enjoy and out of reach of little ones. Even if they’re not fatal to your child, they certainly could make him or her regret the decision to eat them.

With all of the holiday school programs, religious festivals and observances, parades, parties and gatherings, eating and sleep schedules oftentimes get out of whack. Do your best to follow the regular nap and nighttime sleep schedules. Help your children remember to brush their teeth, take care of their pets and wear their winter clothing when outdoors.

These tips are a good start to keep your children – and pets — happy, healthy and safe this holiday season.

Pamela Henderson is the director of development and communications at Dunebrook. To learn more about parenting and support programs at Dunebrook, call (800) 897-0007. Email Pam with parenting questions and comments at pam@dunebrook.org.

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