Your preschooler and safety: How to prevent injuries at home
Safety begins at home. You probably spent a lot of time and effort making your home safe for your baby. Did you know there are still more things you can do as your child grows older?
Here are some basics to keep in mind:
- Be prepared for new skills: Your child’s risk of injury depends, in part, on his physical development and thinking and remembering skills. For example, does he enjoy climbing? Can he pull a chair over to a counter or stove? Can he open the door by himself to go outside or into the bathroom? Think ahead and prepare before a situation becomes dangerous.
- Actively supervise: Be aware of where your child is and what he is doing.
- Monitor the spaces your child lives and plays in: What aspects of your home might pose a risk to your child? Look at your living spaces from your child’s perspective. This will help you take steps to make her safer.
- Keep cords wound up and put away, electrical outlets covered with safety caps and drawers closed and latched when you aren’t using them.
- Prevent access to certain areas that are more dangerous—such as a backyard pool or a home workshop that has tools in it—until your child is old enough to use them safely.
- Keep hot liquids away from the edge of the counter, and off tables with a tablecloth or runner so your child can’t accidentally pull them down.
- Sharp objects such as knives and razors should always be stored out of reach.
- Magnets, even magnets that are toys, can be extremely dangerous if they are small enough to be swallowed. If your child swallows two or more magnets they can attract to one another even through your child’s intestinal walls and become trapped in her body, causing serious injury. Jewelry magnets should be kept in a locked drawer.
Your preschooler is becoming more coordinated and independent. She’s also gaining a better understanding of her own safety. You can talk to her about things that are safe or unsafe, and about family rules that she can understand and see everyone following.
When it comes to safety, your preschooler can:
- learn basic rules and recognize when they aren’t being followed.
- learn safe or unsafe behaviours from other children.
- use “imaginative logic.” That means he might *not* look both ways before crossing the street at a crosswalk if he’s heard that a crosswalk is “safe.”
- tell you when he’s afraid for himself or others.
But he still cannot:
- understand or recognize a new or unknown risk.
- always remember rules when excited, or in a situation that requires him to process many pieces of information, or caught up in active play.
- judge the distance or speed of objects. These skills develop later.
- always control himself when he hears “no” or is asked to slow down.
- always make the connection between action and result.
Learning rules is important
Introducing basic rules for safety, following them yourself, and helping your children understand them is important.
A good safety rule:
- is simple, clear and age-appropriate, so that your child understands.
- is consistent. If a rule isn’t applied in the same way over and over, your child will think it has no meaning and will be less likely to follow it.
- is reasonable. A random rule—which cannot be easily explained or doesn’t seem to have a cause or effect/consequence—is easy to forget and may not matter much.
- is reinforced. When your child behaves safely without prompting, offer praise (“Great job picking up these toys,” or “Thanks for looking out for your little sister by picking up your toys.”).
- is shared. Everyone in the family knows the rule, follows it and helps others follow it too.
- is positive. Say, “We walk when we’re at the wading pool,” rather than “No running.” If a child hears “no” more than “yes” when you set safety rules, she’ll be more tempted to test them. Also, it’s helpful to tell children what they should do, rather than just what they should not do.
- is not scary. A child shouldn’t be discouraged or scared into behaving safely.
- has consequences if it isn’t followed. If restating a safety rule with a gentle warning doesn’t work, remove your child from the activity. Be sure to follow through on consequences.
Teach your preschooler to follow these basic safety rules:
- “Stop, look and listen” when her name is called out loud. Listening and following your instructions are important first steps. “No” means “Stop and look at me.” “Okay” means “Go.” This rule is especially important around traffic, in the playground, on outings or during water play.
- Don’t cross the street without an adult.
- Hazard symbols mean “Danger. Stay away.” Ask your child to come and get you if he finds a product marked this way. Store poisons like candy coloured laundry pods, cleaning products and medications in a locked cabinet.
- Prevent trips and falls by picking up toys after play and keep the stairs and hallway floor clear of toys, clothing and shoes.
- Hold the handrail and turn on a light before going up or down stairs.
- Turn the cold water faucet on first when washing hands at the sink.
- Ask an adult before opening bottles or containers.
- Keep small objects and toys (anything small enough to fit inside an empty toilet roll) away from a younger child.
- Always wear a helmet when riding a bicycle, but take it off before playing on a playground.
- Don’t ever go into water (for example a pool, lake or river) without an adult.
- Avoid climbing or pulling on big pieces of furniture.
- An adult needs to be present to use the oven or the stove.
- Ask for help if you need to plug something in.
Your preschooler loves to learn. She will be very open to basic safety routines if they are part of a family activity: talked about, practiced and shared.
More information from the CPS:
Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
- Injury Prevention Committee
- Public Education Advisory Committee
Last Updated: July 2017