Beautiful strings of light are part and parcel of festive holiday decorations. And while they brighten up your home and get your family in the spirit, they can pose a significant hazard to babies and toddlers, who will try to put just about anything in their mouth.
The bulbs on Christmas lights get warm and are usually made of glass, so most parents know to keep the actual lights out of baby’s reach. But according to a study from the University of Missouri, the electrical cords and extension cords they’re attached to can be just as problematic. That’s because they’re plugged in long hours and can cause serious burns if a child chews through the insulation and gets to the live wire.
Between 1997 and 2012, researchers say emergency rooms reported more than 1,000 oral electrical burns in kids, many caused by electrical cords left within a child’s reach around the holidays. About half of the injuries were in kids younger than 3, and three-quarters were in kids younger than 5. Boys were more likely to get injured than girls, making up almost 60 percent of the ER visits.
These types of injuries are uncommon (only about 65 happen the whole year, not just around the holidays), and they’re not usually life-threatening. But they can still have long-term effects, researchers say.
How to babyproof Christmas lights and electrical cords
If you have a baby at home this holiday season, you should consider babyproofing your decorations even if your baby isn’t crawling yet. You never know when a 4 to 6 month-old will hit those movement milestones, and it’s always best to be prepared.
To babyproof strings of lights and other electric decorations, you should:
- Check all the lights to make sure there are no frayed or exposed wires, broken bulbs, cracked sockets or loose connectors.
- Make sure any exposed strings of light are out of your child’s reach and securely fastened to the wall or floor with electrical tape or a protective cover that hides the wires.
- Whenever possible, hide electrical cords, extension cords and outlets behind furniture. When it isn’t, use protective covers that hide the wires or outlet.
- Don’t run cords under carpets where they can overheat.
- Get a timer to turn off holiday decorations so they don’t stay on all night.
- Don’t overload outlets.
- Be vigilant when your child is near an electrical cord or outlet.
How to keep your home safe for kids over the holidays
Researchers also advise parents to keep ornaments and certain toys out of kids’ reach because of they often pose dual choking and burning hazards. You also should be especially cautious of decorations and toys requiring button batteries, which, if ingested, can cause life-threatening injuries.
A few other holiday safety tips for parents to keep in mind:
- Keep candles out of reach of young children and away from trees and fabric; consider switching to battery-powered ones.
- Anchor your Christmas tree to the wall.
- Keep electronic devices, decorations and toys using batteries away from babies and toddlers.
- Don’t use sharp or breakable decorations and ornaments that look like candy or with removable pieces, especially not at the bottom of your tree.
- Keep poinsettias out of sight and reach of small children, or out of your home altogether. (Program Poison Control in your phone, as well, 800-222-1222.)
- Keep babies and toddlers away from potentially dangerous gifts intended for older kids, like scooters.
- Keep guests’ bags out of reach of babies and toddlers.
- Be vigilant when bringing your child into another person’s decorated home.
- By taking just a few precautions, you can make your holiday a lot less stressful.