Children will stumble, fall and crash. It’s an inevitable side effect of their curious nature and growing independence. But alongside all of the growing pains are preventable injuries that only take a few mindful steps to get ahead of. Just as you would childproof your home, there are common safeguards to think about when it comes to all aspects of child safety, at every age and every stage. Child safety encompasses everything from car seat safety to food safety, water safety to street safety and everything in between.

Injuries are the leading cause of death in children under 4 years old in the US. It’s important for parents to be aware of what their child is capable of at every stage so that they can take steps to ensure their safety. That’s why we tapped a few experts for child safety tips. Here’s their advice on how to keep your child safe inside the home and out.

Car seat safety tips

From the moment you drive off with your newborn in the carseat for the first time to the time you strap your toddler into their brand-new booster seat, there are plenty of car safety tips to keep in mind. Joseph Colella, a Director of Child Passenger Safety for the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, advises the following child safety tips for car seats and booster seats.

  • Car seats aren’t one-size-fits all. It’s imperative to find a seat that fits your child and your car.
  • Shop and purchase from stores that allow you to test the models in your own car before the purchase is complete.
  • The biggest car seat installation mistake parents make is not tightening the seat securely enough. You should not be able to move the seat more than one inch side to side or forward at the seat belt path.
  • Riding rear-facing provides support for the child’s head, neck and back throughout a crash event and cradles the head for less chance of an injury.
  • When it comes to straps, you should not be able to pinch any of the webbing between your thumb and index finger. If you can pinch webbing, the harness is too loose. The chest clip should be at the child’s armpits.
  • The same car seat rules apply for trips “just around the block,” as studies have shown a large proportion of vehicle accidents happen less than one mile from home.

Read more: A parent’s guide to car seat safety: Tips, rules & product picks

Booster seat safety tips

  • When kids eventually exceed the maximum weight limit for their car seat, it’s time for a booster. AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) guidelines suggest children are ready for a booster seat when their height and weight exceeds that of the forward-facing limit for their car seat.
  • “All children younger than 13 years should ride in the back seat,” the AAP advises.
  • Without a booster, a child in a crash is more likely to have abdominal and internal organ injuries since adult belts don’t fit correctly. A booster positions vehicle seat belts on the strongest parts of the body and away from the vulnerable abdomen.

Read more: Before you continue using your booster seat, read this

Car seat safety for NICU babies

child safety

Leah A. Roman, a nationally certified Child Passenger Safety Technician, offers these tips for consideration.

  • Some NICU babies are discharged when they are in the 4-5 pound range. Be sure to research any potential car seat and confirm that it is safe for babies in this lower weight range.
  • When you have a premature baby that gets cold easily, your first instinct is to bundle them up—at home and definitely on the road where they may be exposed to cold weather. But resist the urge: bulky coats shouldn’t be warn in car seats. Make sure the car seat harness can be fitted as close to your child as possible.
  • If you’re traveling with medical equipment such as oxygen tanks and apnea monitors, be sure to research how best to stow medical equipment (or other potential projectiles). Identify all storage compartments, cargo spaces and strategies for securing items.
  • Don’t use non-regulated aftermarket products, like shoulder strap pads. Many of these products interfere with the safe functioning of your seat, and some can actually put your baby into an unsafe breathing position.
  • Make an appointment to have your car seat checked by a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST). Be sure to mention any special needs your child has (low weight, medical equipment, etc.), and they can offer additional resources.
  • If you don’t have access to a CPST, ask about child safety in the NICU—your hospital may have local referrals.

Read more: Bringing baby home from the NICU? A NICU nurse shares what you need to know

At home safety

Here’s what The International Association for Child Safety has to say on at home safety guidelines:

  • If something is small enough to fit inside a toilet paper roll, it is a choking hazard.
  • Never leave bathroom trash cans out; make sure they are secured in a locked cabinet. There could be razors, small choking hazards, old medicines, and other dangerous items.
  • The dishwasher contains sharp utensils, and sometimes detergent pods. Detergent pods look like something yummy to eat to little ones and are extremely dangerous.
  • Make sure you have a secure, hard-to-reach place to store your cleaning products and any toxic solutions.
  • The same goes for any alcohol you may keep in the house.
  • Make sure bookcases, bureaus—anything capable of tipping over onto your child—are securely fastened to the wall.
  • Never put furniture, large toys (anything your child is able to climb) near bannisters, railings—anything that your child could climb up and over.
  • To prevent strangulation or any electricity mishaps, make sure all chargers are unplugged when not in use, and out of reach of your children.

Read more: 14 bath safety tips for babies and kids of all ages

Body safety

Jayneen Sanders is a mother and author of Let’s Talk About Body Boundaries, Consent and Respect. Here are her tips for teaching children about body safety.

  • Teach your children the proper names of their body parts. As soon as your child begins to talk, name each body part correctly including the genitals, i.e., penis, vagina, vulva, buttocks, breasts and nipples.
  • Explain the terms ‘private’ and ‘public’—i.e.; ‘private’ means just for you. Talk about a toilet as being a private place but the kitchen, for example, is a public space because it is shared.
  • Teach your child that if someone (i.e., the perpetrator) asks them to touch their own private parts, shows their private parts to the child or shows them images of private parts that this is wrong also.
  • As your child becomes older, help them to identify three to five trusted adults they could tell anything to and they would be believed. These people are part of their safety network. Note: at least one person should not be a family member.
  • Explain that if someone does touch their private parts (without you there) that they have the right to say, ‘No!’ or ‘Stop!’ and outstretch their arm and hand.

Read more: 10 ways to talk to your kids about body safety and consent

Street safety

Gay Cioffi is an early childhood specialist and educator who has presented papers at Oxford University, NAEYC Conferences and at the Museum of Play in Rochester, NY. Here are her tips for teaching children about street safety.

  • Modeling actions and saying the words out loud, “Stop, look (left, right and left again) and listen,” should be part of every stroll when young children are out walking. As well as learning to recognize a crosswalk.
  • No matter how you do it, holding hands is an absolute imperative.
  • Children are impulsive. Even those children who run ahead and seem to always stop when they get to the corner, cannot be trusted to not dash out for a ball or shiny coin or some other distraction.
  • Model good street safe behavior, including not walking and texting or looking at your phone.

Read more: The street safety rules every child—and parent—need to know

Food safety

Amy Palanjin is a writer, mother and creator of Yummy Toddler Foods. Here are her recommendations for food safety.

  • Try a new food at home before sending it to daycare. You want to make sure they do OK with it first while you can pay close attention to them.
  • Almonds, peanut, cashews, and more are hard to chew and can have sharp edges. Avoid them and opt for safer versions like nut or seed butter spread on lightly toasted bread or incorporated into a smoothie or oatmeal.
  • Slice whole grapes vertically in half or quarters (do quarters for very large ones) so that the pieces are long and skinny and easy to chew.
  • Kernels of popcorn can be difficult to chew completely and it’s very dry, both of which make it hard to chew and swallow effectively. Rice cakes or puffed popcorn cakes can be better options for older toddlers who enjoy crunch.
  • Gummy candy, some gummy vitamins, taffy, gum and the like are really hard to chew and should be avoided.
  • Foods like carrot sticks, celery sticks, apple slices, cucumber slices, and other raw and harder produce can be really hard for little kids to chew. Try shredding them (try shredded carrots closer to 18 months or 2 years old) or choose softer varieties of apples (like Gala) and slice them super thin.
  • Until a child is over 1 year old and often until they’re closer to 2 years old, cubes or sticks of bread are easy to get stuck on the roof of their mouths. Try bread lightly toasted and in very small pieces.

Read more: Toddler food safety: 9 choking hazards every parent should be aware of

Water safety

dad buckling daughter into life jacket child safety

The AAP offers the following advice when it comes to water safety:

  • Whenever inexperienced swimmers are in or around water, an adult—preferably one who knows how to swim and perform CPR—should be within arm’s length, providing “touch supervision.”
  • Install a fence at least four feet high around all four sides of the pool. The fence should not have openings or protrusions that a young child could use to get over, under, or through.
  • Make sure pool gates open out from the pool, and self-close and self-latch at a height children can’t reach. Consider alarms on the gate to alert you when someone opens the gate. Consider surface wave or underwater alarms as an added layer of protection.
  • Avoid inflatable swimming aids such as “floaties.” They are not a substitute for approved life jackets and can give children and parents a false sense of security.
  • The decision to enroll a child over age one in swimming lessons should be made by the parent based on the child’s developmental readiness and exposure to water, but swim programs should never be seen as “drown proofing” a child of any age.
  • Children should wear Coast Guard-approved life jackets at all times when on boats, docks or near bodies of water.
  • At the beach, stay within the designated swimming area and ideally within the visibility of a lifeguard.
  • Be aware of rip currents. If you should get caught in one, don’t try to swim against it. Swim parallel to shore until clear of the current.

Read more: 5 water safety tips to share with all your kids’ caregivers this summer

Playground safety

The AAP offers the following considerations when it comes to playground safety:

  • The playground should have safety-tested mats or loose-fill materials (shredded rubber, sand, wood chips, or bark) maintained to a depth of at least 9 inches (6 inches for shredded rubber).
  • Equipment should be carefully maintained. Open “S” hooks or protruding bolt ends can be hazardous.
  • Never attach—or allow children to attach—ropes, jump ropes, leashes, or similar items to play equipment; children can strangle on these. If you see something tied to the playground, remove it or call the playground operator to remove it.

A version of this story was published July 9, 2021. It has been updated.

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