In everyday life there are often risks to young children, some of which you may not have considered. Here we explain many of these risks, how you can avoid accidents and injuries and supply you with further resources to help you keep your babies and young children safe.
Babies develop very quickly and accidents are often linked to these rapid developmental stages. As parents and carers, it's important to remember to adapt your behaviours and surroundings as they change and grow.
Babies and children under 5 are more likely to have an accident in the home or garden than anywhere else, as this is where they spend most of their time.
Key physical differences in a baby to an older child
- Baby skin is thinner
- Their bodies process poisons differently
- They may be able to pull something over them, but may not be able to get it off
- Their heads are proportionally bigger than their bodies which can unbalance them
Key cognitive differences in a baby to an older child
Your baby’s brain has a lot of developing to do before they understand danger and safety. As a parent or carer, they rely on your learned judgement, which you will pass onto them through telling, showing and explaining.
- Never leave your baby on the bed or a raised surface unattended. You’ll be surprised how quickly they learn to roll over and off. The safest place to change your baby’s nappy is on the floor.
- Keep nappy sacks out of reach of young babies. As a consequence of their grasp reflex (the same reflex which enables them to grip your finger) they can easily get hold of a nappy sack and, with their hand to mouth reflex, pull it to their mouth, where the flimsy plastic clings.
- Don’t use duvets, pillows or cot bumpers as they will increase the risk of suffocation.
- Only use 5cm of water in the bath and never leave your baby unattended.
- Always put the cold water into their bath first.
- Don’t prop your baby up to feed, hold them to avoid choking, plus this is an important part of bonding with them.
- If you’re having a hot drink, put your baby down before you pick up the drink.
- Make sure you have a working smoke detector.
As well as ensuring you keep the 0 – 6 month top tips in practice, there are a few more things to consider as your baby gets a little older.
- Make sure your baby is secured with a 5 point harness if in their pram/pushchair or high chair
- Start to use safety gates especially around stairs, you’ll be surprised how quickly babies can get up steps
- Move things so that your baby/toddler can’t climb up onto window sills
- Move toys out of the cot that they may be able to use to climb out of the cot
- Make sure blind and curtain cords are tied up and out of reach
- Keep small objects out of reach to avoid choking. Button batteries are especially dangerous if swallowed
- Cut food into small pieces to avoid choking
Keep all of the top tips from the first year in mind, but now your little one is on the move more there are a number of additional safety aspects you will need to consider.
- Toddlers and pre-schoolers are wonderfully inquisitive so it is worth checking each room to ensure furniture is secured to walls, small objects and dangerous household products are out of reach or locked away and that any items that could scald or burn your child are blocked off or out of reach.
- Make sure they can’t reach/access any cleaning products, medicines, vitamins, toiletries, razors, and other potentially dangerous items.
- Be aware of any electrical equipment you use, ensuring it’s turned off and hot objects such as straighteners and toasters are well out of reach.
- Unplug items where you can and use plug covers on any unused sockets.
- If your toddler tries to climb or jump out of their cot it might be time to consider moving them into a bed. Using a bed guard while they get used to the bed can help prevent them falling out.
- Children under 6 years old must not sleep in a raised bed such as a cabin or bunk bed due to the risk of falling.
- Make sure heavy furniture is secured to walls so it won’t topple over if your toddler tries to climb on it.
- Keep objects away from the edges of tables and worktops, children may try to reach up to grab things. Hot drinks/food, knives, crockery etc can all be a danger.
- If you have house plants check they’re not poisonous and keep them out of reach.
More ways to keep your little ones safe
The safest way for children to travel in cars is in a child car seat that’s suitable for their weight and size, and is correctly fitted.
UK law says that children must use a child car seat until they’re 12 years old or 135cm tall, whichever comes first.
New babies travel in rear-facing baby seats that are in group 0 or 0+. Most manufacturers are no longer making group 0 though. From the moment your new baby comes home from the hospital they need to be travelling in a rear-facing baby seat.
They’re safest in the back seat of your car. If they do travel in the front seat the airbag must be turned off as this could seriously injure your baby in a crash.
A properly fitted child car seat will help to prevent your child from being thrown about inside the vehicle, or ejected from it, if there is a crash. It will also absorb some of the impact and provide some protection from objects intruding into the passenger compartment.
What do I need to know about car seats?
There are very many different types of child car seats available, so take your time when choosing one for your baby/babies.
ROSPA provide some great advice and have a helpful checklist on their website to help you select the child seat most suitable for your child and your vehicle(s).
Car seats should only be used for transport and not as an alternative for cots or high chairs. It’s OK for your baby to fall asleep in a car seat when travelling, but they should be taken out as soon as you get home or to your destination, and placed onto a firm, flat surface to sleep.
Top tips and recommendations
- Babies shouldn’t be in a car seat for longer than 2 hours at a time and they should be taken out frequently.
- If your trip involves driving for long periods of time, you should stop for regular breaks. Not only will this allow you to stretch your own legs, but you can check on your baby, take them out of the car seat and let them stretch and move around.
- Ideally, a second adult should travel in the back of the car with your baby, or if travelling alone use a mirror to keep an eye on your baby.
- If your baby changes their position and slumps forward, you should stop immediately, take them out of the car seat and reposition them before continuing on your journey.
- Don’t buy a second-hand child seat. You can’t be certain of its history. It may have been involved in an accident and the damage may not be visible. Very often the instructions are missing from second-hand seats which makes it more difficult to be sure that you are fitting and using it correctly.
Many families have pets before the addition of a baby and those pets have usually had your undivided attention for some time. We understand that you may have concerns about how they will react to your new arrival.
Just as you are preparing for the arrival of your baby, you will need to think about preparing your pet.
- Ensure your pet is healthy and up to date with their vaccinations and checks.
- Try to get them ready for not being the centre of attention by gradually reducing the amount of attention you give them.
- Set boundaries. If you’re thinking of having ‘pet free’ rooms when your baby arrives, get them used to this now; close doors or put up stair gates.
- Set up items for your baby early so they can be curious before you bring your baby home and get used to smells etc.
- Your house will most likely be quiet if this is your first baby, play audio of crying babies to get them used to the sound.
- Use rewards and treats to praise calm behaviour, ignore unwanted behaviours.
When you bring your baby home it’s going to be confusing for your pet.
- When you arrive home let your pet meet your baby when they are calm and relaxed. It’s a good idea to let them smell baby’s clothes or a blanket and then gradually and gently show them your baby.
- Never leave your baby and pet unattended. Most accidents involving pets with young children happen when left together unattended.
- Exercise for dogs is really important. It not only keeps them fit, healthy and happy it also stops them from becoming bored and becoming destructive or showing unwanted behaviours. If family and friends offer to help out this is a great way to get them involved.
- Make sure your pet has a ‘safe place’ to go to retreat to if they’re overwhelmed.
Useful resources for keeping your children safe around pets
When summer arrives or you travel abroad, it’s important to keep your children safe in the sun. Sunlight is an important source of Vitamin D, however protecting skin with sunscreen is very important.
Too much exposure from the sun can be harmful to the skin, all the sun exposure you get during your life adds to your risk of getting melanoma which is the deadliest kind of skin cancer.
Only 25 per cent of children use sunscreen on a regular basis. We encourage you to apply sunscreen to your child’s skin regularly, especially in the summer and to take vitamin D supplements to make sure they’re get enough vitamin D.
The five S’s of sun safety
- SLIP on a t-shirt
- SLOP on SPF 30+ broad spectrum UVA sunscreen
- SLAP on a broad brimmed hat
- SLIDE on quality sunglasses
- SHADE from the sun whenever possible
And remember to keep hydrated.
Sunblock and sunscreen
Sunblock provides a physical barrier between your skin and the sun using a variety of ingredients that reflect the harmful UVB rays. Sunscreen, on the other hand, provides a chemical barrier that absorbs the UVA rays before they can damage your skin.
Always check that the sun cream used is for children’s skin as these may be less likely to have allergic reactions or be too potent. Before application ensure skin is clean and dry and check the sun cream is within the expiry date.
When purchasing sun cream, check its sun protection factor (SPF). The SPF determines the amount of ultraviolet B radiation (UVB) protection. You should see a star rating of up to 5 stars on UK sunscreens, the higher the star rating, the better the protection.
Broad-spectrum sunscreen guards against both UVA and UVB and is the safest way to protect children’s skin. Generously apply sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30 to all areas of skin exposed to the sun. A waterproof sunscreen is better, even if you’re not swimming, as it protects you better if you sweat.
A guide on using sunscreens: 10 Best Sunscreens for Babies and Kids (2021 reviews)
When and how often to apply sunscreen
Apply the sunscreen 20-30 minutes before going outside and at least every 2 hours. If you swim or sweat a lot, use it more often. Remember using a towel or lying back on a fabric sunbed/pushchair can rub the sunscreen off.
Young children have a higher proportion of body water than adults. They're also less heat tolerant and may be more likely to get dehydrated, especially when being physically active and in hot climates.
Encouraging children to drink fluids regularly is important as they may not remember to have a drink by themselves.
Children should consume 6-8 glasses of water or water-based fluid every day. On hotter days they’ll need to drink more. Younger children need relatively smaller drinks (e.g. 120–150 ml serving) and older children need larger drinks.
9 ideas to keep your children hydrated
1. Make ice lollies using well diluted squash. Don’t add sugar and avoid using blackcurrant squash which can irritate the bladder.
2. Jazz up their water with ice cubes, umbrellas, slices of fruit or funky reusable straws.
3. Let them choose their cup and fill it themselves.
4. Fill up a water dispenser with an easy tap. Add slices of citrus fruit and encourage them to use it throughout the day to get their own drink.
5. Holding a tea party using water or allowing your child to play with a toy tea pot and cups to make ‘cups of tea’ or play measuring games with cups and jugs.
6. Draw lines on drinks bottles to give a visual goal of how much they should drink, this can help when they’re at school and it’s hard to keep track of how much they’re drinking.
7. Talk to their teacher about encouraging pupils to drink during the day by drinking from their bottle of water during the day and having ‘carpet time sessions’ where they explain why water is good for health.
8. The healthiest drink is water throughout the day and milk in the evening, but you can try using sugar free squashes to encourage more fluids, just be mindful most squashes still contain sugar and can contribute to tooth decay or over stimulate the bladder causing toilet accidents.
9. Using a reward chart can be a positive way of encouraging your child to increase their fluid intake. Stickers, prizes and lots of praise will allow them to associate drinking as a positive activity. Drawing empty cups and asking your child to colour the cup after each drink is a good way of showing them how well they’re doing and makes it fun.
Remember that many foods have high water content and can also contribute to fluid intake, including, fruit, vegetables, soup and yoghurt.
How to teach your child about sun safety
Help your little ones understand how to keep safe in the sun will teach them skills they can use as they grow older.
Provide them with the narrative of why you're applying sun cream and asking them to sit in the shade or drink more.
Try watching child friendly videos to aid their understanding of sun safety, for example:
- How to look after your body in the sun with Dr Ranj
- CBeebies House - tips for staying safe in the sun
Most importantly, role model sun safety advice. Children develop learned behaviours from their parents and carers. Demonstrate wearing sun cream, drinking water and staying in the shade. This will hopefully lead them to copy your behaviour.
Keeping a toddler out of the sun can be challenging if they are eager to play, but choosing shaded areas, such as under a shelter, umbrella or trees can allow more fun outdoors.
Always keep babies and toddlers in the shade if you can.
Often pools are used to play outdoors in hot weather, always place them in shaded areas and never leave your child outdoors alone in a pool. Once play has finished, always drain the water away to avoid any risk of drowning.
What to dress children in in the sun
- Loose clothing to avoid children feeling sticky and hot. Whilst we don't encourage lots of layers, it's important to keep their sensitive skin covered with long-sleeved shirts and long trousers or skirts.
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat that covers the face, neck and ears as these are particularly common places that burn, pay attention to covering these up or using suncream.
- Wear sunglasses that protect against UVA and UVB rays.
- If playing outdoors in pools or water be sure to regularly reapply sun cream and use swimwear that covers up as much as the body as possible to avoid burns.
Keeping cool in the evening and at night time
- Close the blinds and curtains in their bedroom early to allow the room to keep the sun out and allow the room to cool down.
- Give your child a cooler bath than usual.
- Choose loose fitting, cool pyjamas or vests to wear at night.
- Have one thin blanket on their bed for comfort.
- Be careful leaving a window open in a child’s room, it's not likely to cool a room, but will increase the risk of a serious fall.
- If your child does get sunburn, get out of the sun as soon as possible – head indoors or into the shade.
How to ease sunburn
- Cool the skin with a cold bath or shower, sponge it with cold water, or hold a cold flannel to it.
- Use lotions containing aloe vera to soothe and moisturise.
- Give your child plenty of fluids to cool them down and prevent dehydration.
- Give child-friendly painkiller like ibuprofen or paracetamol to relieve pain.
If your child feels unwell or the skin swells badly or blisters get medical advice immediately. Stay well out of the sun until all signs of redness have gone.
Seek medical attention if:
- your child’s skin is blistered or swollen
- their temperature is very high or they feel very hot and shivery
- you notice they’re very tired, dizzy and sick
- they have a headache and muscle cramps
- your baby or young child has sunburn
Severe sunburn can lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which can be very serious.
Don’ts for sunburn or sun damage
- don’t use petroleum jelly on sunburnt skin
- don’t put ice or ice packs on sunburnt skin
- don’t pop any blisters
- don’t scratch or try to remove peeling skin
- don’t wear tight-fitting clothes over sunburnt skin
Further resources for keeping safe in the sun
A fear of water is a learnt behaviour, so showing your children how to be safe and enjoy being in the water from a young age can really help them throughout life. Finding local, age appropriate swimming lessons is a great way to start your journey into teaching your children about water safety, you can start from new born with places such as Water Babies.
Top tips for keeping your babies and children safe near water
- Make bath time fun with songs and toys and gentle splashing
- Start swimming lessons from a young age
- Never leave young children unattended in or near any water (bath, pond, paddling pool, swimming pools, rivers, lakes, beaches etc)
- Once you have finished with a bath or paddling pool drain it straight away
Useful resources for water safety
Why safe sleep is so important
Sudden infant death, or cot death as it was previously known, refers to the unexpected death of an apparently healthy infant which commonly occurs whilst they’re asleep. It can happen at any time of day irrespective of where babies sleep.
Although sudden infant death is rare there are still over 200 babies who die every year, therefore it’s important parents/carers are aware of their baby’s sleep environment in order to be able to reduce the risk.
Advice for safer sleep:
- Avoid smoking during your pregnancy
- Keep a smoke free environment around your baby
- Try to breastfeed if you can as it has been proven to be protective against sudden infant death
- Ensure your baby spends the first six months of their life sleeping in the same room as you, this includes their day time naps and night time sleep
- Place your baby on their back in a feet to foot sleeping position on a firm and flat mattress for every sleep they have
- Don’t let your baby sleep in a baby bouncer or baby swing
- Don’t use sleep pods, baby nests, hammocks, bean bags or cot & crib bumpers
- Don’t use pillows or quilts until after the age of 1 year
- Don’t put soft cuddly toys in their moses basket, crib or cot
- Don’t put folded blankets or quilts under your baby’s moses basket, crib or cot mattresses
- Don’t place your baby’s moses basket, crib or cot in direct sunlight or near to a radiator
- Ensure your baby doesn’t sleep with their head covered or sleep with a hat on
- Check your baby doesn’t become overheated
- If using baby sleeping bags make sure they’re the correct tog rating for the season and are appropriate for your baby’s age and weight
- Maintain the room temperature where your baby sleeps to 16-20 degrees celsius
- Don’t cover your baby’s pram or pushchair with blankets or covers as this prevents the air from circulating and can lead to your baby overheating
- Be aware of the length of time your baby spends in their car seat. If you have to go on a long journey, make sure you take regular breaks and remove your baby from their car seat during your break on travelling. Babies should be removed from their car seats when they’re not travelling
- Never sleep with your baby on a settee or armchair as this can increase the risk by 50 times
- Never sleep with your baby if you smoke, have been drinking alcohol, taking medication or drugs or if you’re feeling unusually tired
If you choose to co-sleep
The safest place for your baby to sleep is in a moses basket, crib or cot in the same room as you for the first 6 months of their life.
However, there are some parents who choose to sleep with their baby in their beds, this is called co-sleeping. If you do choose to co-sleep with your baby it’s important to do this safely:
- Ensure your mattress is firm and flat
- Keep pillows, sheets and blankets away from your baby to prevent them getting too hot
- Continue to follow the safe sleep advice
- Make sure your baby can’t fall out of bed, get trapped between the mattress and the wall or be rolled onto by yourselves
You must not co-sleep with your baby if either you or your partner:
- Smoke (even if you do not smoke in the bedroom)
- Have been drinking alcohol
- Have taken drugs, this includes medications that can make you drowsy
- Are excessively tired
You must not co-sleep if:
- Your baby was born early (37 weeks or less)
- Their birth weight was low (2.5kg or 5 1/2 lbs or less)
If you think that your baby is unwell it is important that you seek medical advice from your doctor.
Further resources for safer sleep