The Number One Child Killer

Right now, if we use the same statistics that applied to 1999, according to the National Safety Council, more than 56,000 American people are getting hurt and more than 250 killed in traffic accidents, falls, fires, drowning, or poisonings. If you have three children, chances are that you’ll be escorting at least one of them to the doctor this year as a result of an accident. Within a two-week period, three of my four sons were injured. One experienced a dislocated thumb, one a dislocated shoulder, and one a broken arm. You can only hope that if your child is involved in an accident that results in an injury, the accident isn’t one of the many that has made such incidents the number one killer of children in the United States.

There is hope. Parents can and should be playing a major role in reducing these frightening statistics. But there is also a problem. Many of us parents don’t realize the dangers that are constantly facing our children. Not realizing the dangers, we take unnecessary risks that place our children in harm’s way.

The main reason our children are involved in so many accidents is because they are unsupervised. They are left alone at a very young age, and are placed in situations that result in them being injured.

Every time a parent walks out of a room and leave a one-, two- or three-year-old alone, he or she takes a chance. Mom is willing to say, “If I leave my child alone for a few minutes while I answer the door, answer the telephone, or go downstairs to put a load of clothes in the washer, I am willing to take the chance that my child will be safe.” Yes, the odds are in Mom’s favor. In most cases the child will be just fine. For some of us, however, that isn’t good enough. It isn’t good enough because it only takes one incident — one incident to change our lives and the life of our child.

Over the years, because of my frequent trips to the hospital with my children, I have talked to many of the nurses working in the emergency room, and have seen many children being brought to the hospital for treatment. I am saddened to hear stories and witness first hand the results of parents who have returned from a trip as quick as one to the bathroom to find that their child has overturned a skillet of hot grease from the stove onto him/herself or fallen down a set of stairs. Some have returned from going to the basement to do laundry to find that their toddler has tumbled into a bucket of wash water and drowned, electrocuted themselves, choked to death on a crayon, or swallowed some drain cleaner.

Sad indeed, but these accidents are all preventable. Small children get injured, in most cases, because we as parents weren’t afraid — afraid of taking the chance. We were willing to leave them alone.

Why would we as a parent take such chances? Are we lazy? Are we just doing it because it is easier, knowing that most parents do the same thing? Remember, the more chances you take, the greater the chance your child will be hurt.

Saturday mornings, for example, tempt so many parents to enjoy a few hard-earned extra hours of sleep, even though our children are up. I know I was tempted to stay in bed, but remembering the many stories of children being injured, I forced myself to get up whenever my children were up. Unfortunately for me, they never seemed to want to sleep late when I was exhausted.

If parents do stay in bed, they tell their children to go play with their toys. But this can mean waking up to the sound of a screaming child who is badly burned from playing with a space heater, or who was able to start the “childproof” lighter.

I realize it is almost impossible to keep an eye constantly on your little one, so during those times, make the surroundings as safe as possible:

1. Don’t leave handles on the stove where your small child can reach them.

2. Keep basement doors closed.

3. Keep bathroom doors closed.

4. Secure bookcases so that if a small child pulls himself up, he can’t pull the bookcase over onto himself.

5. Keep small items (such as pennies or other items that children can choke on) out of the small child’s reach.

Toddlers require the most constant vigilance. When your small child is just beginning to walk, don’t let them learn in areas where there are sharp edges to cut them if they fall, such as the edge of coffee table. Follow the guidelines for childproofing your home. Pay close attention to the small issues such as the storage of medicines; house cleaning materials, guns, plastic bags, and other potential dangers. Be concerned with lamps that can be pulled off the end table. If in doubt, get down on your hands and knees and crawl around and see what could be a danger.

Many parents who let their small child run around unsupervised say, “Let your child go. Don’t be overprotective: they need to learn, they need to fall, they need to be tough.” My response is, “Why?”

There is plenty of time for them to be tough. We need to hold their hand until they get it down, master their coordination and confidence. Don’t we put training wheels on our small child’s bike until they learn to balance themselves? When we feel they are ready, don’t we walk/run behind them the first few times when the training wheels are removed?

If you have been to the emergency room of any major children’s hospital, I am sure your heart will cry for the small children you see. The stories continue to be, “I just left them alone for just a few minutes.” Please don’t let that be your story.

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