How to keep your kids safe during the busy holiday season

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX -- A lot of people will be spending the holidays at their relatives' houses, which may not be kid friendly. And even families who are staying home may have holiday decorations and foods that could be dangerous for small children.

Tiffany Pankow with Scottsdale Healthcare has some safety tips for parents with young children:

1. We're out of our normal routines and get easily distracted. It's easy to overlook even simple things like making sure your children's seat belts are buckled as you dash out to pick up one more gift or head to another party. We're exposed to different environments. I always tell people to make a checklist.

2. Treat the house you are visiting as your own, and look at it from a child's level. Are the electrical outlets covered? Are candles burning on a low table? Are there "table-runner" tablecloths that are oh, so easy, for toddlers to grab and drag, upsetting everything? Is the fireplace blocked off from toddler access? What about the pool access? It's easy for a toddler to slip away and find a pool while everyone else is opening presents. Check all doors, including doggie doors. Be vigilant.

Kids like brightly colored things - decorations, grandma's heart pills, etc. - and will put them in their mouths, noses and ears. If you suspect your baby or child has swallowed something, it's worth a trip to the emergency department. Many adult medications can be toxic for children. A single dose of heart medication can be fatal for a small child. If you think something is wrong, then get emergency medical care. I always tell people it's better to come 10 times too often than one time too few.

3. Clean up after parties so that children don't wander down and drink leftover cocktails while you're sleeping in the next day. We've seen toddlers come in drunk after sampling all the pretty, colored liquids. Even a small amount of alcohol can make children extremely drunk because of their size, and alcohol toxicity can be fatal in a child.

Make your own home holiday safe by not hanging glass ornaments or other decorations such as tinsel where small children and babies can reach them. (And remember that toddler arms have amazingly long reach!) You may also want to skip glass ornaments and tinsel altogether until your children are older.

Be aware of plants. Poinsettias can cause vomiting and diarrhea if eaten, and skin contact can cause a rash. Just three bright red berries from a holly plant can cause severe and prolonged nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Designate a secure place for visitors and their belongings. Children can easily mistake grandma's pills for candy.

Most importantly, if gifts require wheels (bike, tricycle, skateboard), then make a helmet part of the present. Don't rely on the person (or the parents) to provide a helmet. That's when we see incidents in the hospital.

4. It's often overlooked and it's hard to do this time of year, but getting enough sleep and eating well, in between the candy canes, makes a big difference. Your entire family will be exposed to more germs during the holidays, and when you don't sleep or eat well, you won't be able to fight off illnesses as effectively. Of course, you may feel safer tucked into bed, but you won't have nearly as much fun. And speaking of germs, the best defense is good and frequent hand washing. Teach the kids to sing the whole ABC song while they're washing.

Also, it's important to have a medical home where your primary care doctor knows you and knows your family.  Scottsdale Healthcare Primary Care Network has several primary care locations throughout the Valley.