The holidays are a magical time for families, but it can be challenging to keep children healthy as to-do lists and festivities take over our normal schedules. There is shopping, preparing the home for guests and the eventual celebrations. Think of them as stages — preparation, celebration and recovery. Here are some tips to keep stress low and help your family stay happy, healthy and safe.
▪ Try to maintain your child’s normal daily routine. You will find that children will be more cooperative and happy if they stick to their usual sleep and meal schedule, and so will you. If you have to bring them on marathon shopping sprees, be sure to pack healthy snacks and plenty of water to stay hydrated.
▪ As you shop for kids’ gifts, keep in mind a child’s age and safety needs. Toys are designed for certain age ranges and tested for this purpose. Children will get the most enjoyment from age-appropriate toys. A toddler may love the idea of a scooter, but he or she will not yet have the motor skills to truly master such a toy.
For younger children, don’t underestimate the wonders of low tech toys like board books, blocks, clay, non-toxic art supplies and bath toys. They can provide limitless possibilities for imaginative play and problem solving skills.
▪ While you’re out running errands, don’t forget to wash your and your kids’ hands, or keep antibacterial gel handy. Germs pass from surfaces to hands with ease. Even a simple cold can put a damper on all the seasonal fun.
▪ One of the most exciting aspects about the holidays are the lights and decorations. As you deck the halls of your home, double check lighted decorations for loose or exposed, faulty wiring. Consider a timer device to automatically turn off lights. Never leave candles where children can reach them, and never let them burn unattended.
▪ Most winters in South Florida are pleasant and turning on the heat is often not necessary. But if it is unseasonably cold, use space heaters with caution, as they are often the source of fires. Now would also be a great time to check that your smoke detectors work and change faulty batteries. If you don’t have a carbon monoxide detector, consider buying one.
▪ When family and friends come to your home to celebrate, offer to store their purses or belongings in a safe place rather than leaving them on the floor or a low table or chair. Adults often carry medications in purses, and curious children will quickly find their way into an unattended pillbox. Keep the number for Poison Control handy, programming it into your cell phone right now. 1-800-222-1222.
▪ Choke hazards like small ornaments, toys and food abound during this time of year. If you’re setting up snacks for guests to enjoy, make sure little ones don’t get their hands on things like peanuts, grapes and olives. Anything small, smooth and round is a choke hazard. And don’t forget the toothpicks. Make sure they are thrown away to avoid puncture wounds.
▪ And lastly — often overlooked this time of year — remember pool safety. Yes, the backyard and pool look prettier without the pool fence, but keep it in place for the sake of your child and the others that will visit. When family and friends are over, make sure at least one adult is always watching to be sure the children are safe by the pool.
Ultimately, the festivities must end. That is when clean up and recovery begins. Everyone will be exhausted, and you will be tempted to clean up in the morning. But children are early risers. They will be up before you, so at least do these things before calling it a night.
Dispose of all alcohol and make sure there are no bottles or glasses within reach of children. The same goes for energy drinks and the small fuel containers used to keep food hot. Take one last look for small objects. A good rule of thumb is if it’s small enough to pass through the card board toilet paper roll, it’s too small for a young child.
Well, you made it! Blow out the candles and get some rest.
Nicole S. Torres, M.D., FAAP, is Assistant Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. For more information, visit UHealthSystem.com/patients/pediatrics.