A couple years ago, I spent an hour frantically picking up hearing aid batteries from our carpet. My husband's grandfather has been visiting, which was wonderful. He also left four tiny little hearing aid batteries scattered around the floor, which was possibly life threatening for my 2-year-old, who could see them and think, "wow, candy." And it was only by chance that I knew this; I'd happened upon an article one day. Swallowing tiny button batteries like those in hearing aids or musical greeting cards can be deadly to children. Every year in the United States, more than 3,500 people of all ages swallow miniature disc or "button batteries", stated by the National Capital Poison Center. Who knew?
When I found out I was expecting my third child, the thing that worried me the most was safety. Not how would we pay for college or would I have time for all my kids' needs. I worried about managing a baby -- then a toddler -- with two busy little boys around. And when we moved to Los Angeles, where so many people have swimming pools, my anxiety escalated. I'd heard terrible stories about toddlers drowning in pools in a matter of minutes -- and I thought about the demands of juggling life with three kids and worried how I'd keep everyone safe.
Turns out, I'm not crazy to worry like this. Thousands of children (2200 to be exact) die each year from injuries at home, and drowning is the leading cause of death for children 1 to 4 years old, according to Safe Kids.
So even though it's not my usual beat, I was excited to talk to Kate Carr, President and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide.
Kate reminded me that "Whether it's your second or third child, the issue of distraction is important. Your 4-year-old is in that exploring stage while your baby will soon be crawling all over the place." As in so many circumstances, mindfulness is the thing. "A large number of parents report they leave their child alone in the bathtub for more than 5 minutes...to get a towel, attend to another child, cooking dinner." It's necessary and natural to accomplish many things at once to attend to the needs of all your kids, but you can put precautions and systems into place.
Here is more advice from Kate and Safe Kids:
1) For you SoCal moms like me: what to do about pools? Implement a water watcher program. Never leave a little kid unsupervised in a pool. If you must leave, designate one person as the water watcher and rotate that- everyone spends 15 minutes keeping their eyes on kids in the water. If you have a pool at your house, make sure you have a locked fence. You can get temporary fences if you're renting. A girlfriend of mine who is also a transported East Coaster said she put her toddlers in Coast Guard approved floaties every single morning and kept them on all day, just as if the flotation devices were part of their outfits.
2) Car safety. Safe Kids finds many parents let children ride unbuckled on car seats on a short drive, or close to home. Kate says, "It's a ridiculously high number. You think 'I'm close to home so it will be ok.' But the majority of accidents happen close to home." The same goes for bike helmets when the kids will only be riding for a little while; yes, they are a pain to put on. But you just must.
3) Safety around the house: the checklist includes watching out for items with those toxic button batteries (see a list here). Locking up chemicals a little kid could get into. A big one for me, new to California: securing items that could fall in an earthquake. Here's a quick guide on what to do in an earthquake.
Kate stresses it's about "understanding what you have to do and doing it every time: Putting a seat belt on every time, no matter where you're going. Not walking away from a child in water. Making sure your smoke detectors work, or you have a carbon monoxide detector." This requires a level of discipline for a stressed out, overwhelmed parent, but it's a muscle you have to build. I do think safe practices become like muscle memory.
Finally, I asked Kate about my own fear of raising scared kids. My boys are six and four and full of adventurous spirit. I want them to be safe but I want them to take on challenges and adventures, not be nervous nellies like their mother! Kate noted it's actually important to empower your kids, and to teach kids what they need to learn. It's great to have adventures with some measure of safety involved. Have them understand you don't run out into street, and have them learn to always buckle their seat belt. Then let them go be kids. And most crucially, know your child and know their limitations.
I have a bad habit of screaming at my boys when they do something dangerous, even if it's mostly by accident, because I am scared for them. But I find this only creates more anxiety. Kate suggests, "I try never to use the word don't." Instead a parent could suggest, 'here's something that could happen' if your kid does something risky.
My takeaway: For little kids, be vigilant. And once your children are old enough to understand risk and danger, educate them to have common sense, while knowing that they will need help and supervision in getting there.