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Hidden Holiday Hazards

Keep your Kids Safe During the Holidays


Updated December 29, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Parents often get into a good routine on a day-to-day basis and learn how to keep their kids safe in and around their home.

That routine can fall apart during the holidays though, as we travel to visit friends and family members, decorate our homes, and go to holiday parties. And that can put our kids at higher risk for injuries, especially from some of the hidden holiday hazards that we don't have to worry about the rest of the year.

Holiday Decoration Hazards

From the risk of fire from a dried-out, live Christmas tree and outdoor electric decorations to small decorations that can be a choking hazard, it should not be surprising that holiday decoration-related injuries are not rare.

Experts recommend that many of the thousands of injuries could be prevented by being aware of hidden holiday decoration hazards and following common safety tips, such as:

  • Make sure your live Christmas tree is fresh when you buy it, set it up away from a heat source that will help it to dry out quicker, and be sure to check your tree stand and keep it filled with water.
  • Keep lighted candles away from your Christmas tree and other flammable items and be sure to extinguish all candles when you go to bed or even just leave the room.
  • Double check all indoor and outdoor lights before using them, especially checking for frayed wires, broken light sockets, and loose connections.
  • Plug lights into circuits with GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlets, which can prevent some electrical fires and electrocutions, and only turn on lights when you are home and awake.
  • Be sure to remove bags, ribbons, wrapping paper, etc., and other potential choking hazards as soon as you open gifts if you have young kids in the home. Keep in mind that these can also be fire hazards near a fire place and can cause a flash fire if burned in a fireplace.

A decorated home can help add to the holiday cheer. Just don't let it become a safety hazard for your family.

Dangerous Toys

Parents are usually well aware that some toys are dangerous for their kids, which is why most of us give our kids age appropriate toys to reduce the risks.

You should still watch for hidden hazards from the toys that your kids may receive during the holidays or may already have, including that:

  • Many popular electronic devices, including the iPad, Sony Xbox, Nintendo Wii, etc., can provide your kids with access to the internet and should have parental controls enabled unless you want them to have unfiltered access to everything on the internet.
  • Button batteries and high-powered magnets can cause life-threatening injuries if swallowed.
  • A properly fit helmet should accompany a new bike, scooter, skateboard, or skates to ensure safe riding.
  • To avoid shocks and burns, chargers and adapters for battery-powered toys should only be used by adults.
  • You should be aware that there have been many recalls of children's toy jewelry over the years, which have been found to be contaminated with toxic metals.
  • Some loud toys can reach over 100 decibels if your child holds them to his ear, which can damage his hearing after just 15 minutes. Avoid loud toys or be sure to take them away if your child holds his toy to his ear while playing or plays with the same loud toys for long periods of time.
  • Many popular video games are rated 'M' (Mature), including those that younger school age children like to play, such as Call of Duty, Black Ops II and Halo: Reach.
  • While your kids might want headphones to go with his iPod or iPhone, many experts are warning about a rise in hearing loss in teens. Whether or not you get them headphones, be sure to limit the maximum volume on their device, so that they can't damage their hearing too quickly and avoid ear buds. Noise canceling, around-ear headphones are likely safer, as your child might not have to turn the sound up as loud to drown out the noise around him.

You should also remember to avoid unsafe toys and gifts that the American Academy of Pediatrics has long warned about, including home trampolines, ATVs, and nonpowder guns (BB guns, pellet guns, air rifles, etc.).

And perhaps most importantly, keep toys that are best suited for older kids away from your younger children. You might even store and let your kids play in designated places in the house, that way you don't end up with small pieces all over, which can be a choking hazard to younger kids.

Holiday Party Hazards

Perhaps the biggest problem when you go to a holiday party is that there may be many hidden hazards that your own home is well protected against. Does the home have an unfenced swimming pool in the backyard? Are there unlocked cabinets in the kitchen with poisonous chemicals and cleaning agents? Is there a loaded gun in a bedroom drawer or under the bed?

Unless you are convinced that the home is well childproofed, you will want to keep a close eye on your younger kids when visiting friends and family during the holidays.

Other holiday safety hazards can include snack foods that might be a choking hazard for infants and toddlers. Peanuts and hard candy in snack dishes will likely be easily accessible to your young child.

Peanuts might also be a hazard if your child has food allergies. Be sure to discuss your child's food allergies with the host of the holiday party, or bring your own food for your child if you aren't sure that safe alternatives won't be available.

If your child is missing at a holiday party, after calling for help, check the most dangerous areas first, especially nearby pools, ponds, lakes, etc. A car or car trunk or busy street are also high danger areas and should be checked before you start look inside closets or under beds, where you think he might be hiding.

Holiday Travel Hazards

In addition to hazards at holiday parties, young kids can be at risk when traveling during the holidays. Whether you are staying at the home of a friend or family member or have a room at a hotel or motel, it is important to make sure your kids will be safe.

Don't sacrifice safety for convenience. Continue to use a car seat or booster seat, bringing your own if you aren't sure that you can get one when you arrive at your destination.

You especially want to make sure that your kids are sleeping safely when you are away from home. While hotels and motels are supposed to provide cribs that meet the latest, 2011 crib safety standards by December 28, 2012, you should also double check that borrowed cribs or portable play yards meet these crib safety standards too.

Although many parents wouldn't necessarily consider it a hazard, getting out of normal routines, including when your child snacks, takes naps, and goes to bed, is sure to make your child more irritable and maybe even more impulsive. That can be a setup for accidents, so try to keep your kids on their usual routines.

To keep your kids safe and healthy when traveling during the holidays, it can also help to:

  • Know where to find a doctor, including the local Children's Hospital, near where you are visiting, just in case your child gets sick on your trip.
  • Bring a good supply of all of the medications that your child takes on a regular basis.
  • Pack a travel medicine kit, with a pain and fever reducer, antihistamine, and antibiotic ointment, etc., so that you aren't rushing to find a store to buy acetaminophen because your child has a fever or headache in the middle of the night.

Also make sure that your child's vaccines are up-to-date, including a flu vaccine if traveling during cold and flu season.

We often have a lot going on during the holidays. Don't forget to think about safety too.


Consumer Product Safety Commission News Release. CPSC, NFPA and the Maryland State Fire Marshal Team Up to Prevent Holiday Decoration Fires and Injuries. December 2012.

American Academy of Pediatrics. 2012 Holiday Safety Tips. http://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/news-features-and-safety-tips/Pages/Holiday-Safety-Tips.aspx Accessed December 2012.

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