How to Make Your Home Safe for Kids

June Just Ask Children's - Home Safety 

Creating a home that's safe and sound

From first-aid and fire safety to first babysitters and leaving your child home alone, Children's Hospital Colorado's panel of experts answer it all for you.

What kind of first aid kit should I have on hand at home for my family?

Bumps and bruises happen with all kids so be ready with first aid supplies and knowledge.

  • A well-stocked first aid kit is essential for every family. The Red Cross has a checklist for a recommended first aid kit for a family of four. Kits come in all shapes and sizes so pick one up or build your own and add to it based on your specific needs, including extra prescriptions, contact lenses or eyeglasses. Also keep labeled doses of medications such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen and diphenhydramine in your kit.
  • Remember to include rescue medications like albuterol (asthmatics) or epinephrine auto-injectors (people with severe allergic reactions to foods or stings) if you or your family. And be sure to follow storage directions so the medicines don’t go bad.
  • First Aid is not just cuts and scrapes on the outside; it could also be taking care of a possible poisoning. Take steps to prevent poisoning at home, and program the poison control hotline number 800-222-1222 into all your phones in case of emergency. 
  • Learn CPR so you know how to quickly respond in an emergency. Find a nearby Red Cross class on CPR and First Aid.
  • Call 911 if a child is choking, having trouble breathing or having a seizure.

Joe Grubenhoff, MD, Emergency Medicine, Children’s Colorado

What do I need to know about safe storage of marijuana edibles and prescription medications?

Marijuana edibles and prescription medications must be stored up and out of reach, and locked away in a secure place – a locked box is ideal. If they are in your freezer, place them in hard-to-reach areas and in packaging that doesn’t allow a child to see that it looks like a treat. Be sure your child knows not to eat anything without asking first.

Marijuana is being infused in all kinds of foods that are tempting to kids like brownies, cookies, candy bars, peanut butter cups, granola bars and gummy bears. Make sure your children know not to eat these types of foods without asking an adult first – even at the homes of relatives or friends. Get the facts about marijuana.

Symptoms of marijuana ingestion in children include included decreased levels of consciousness, sleepiness, imbalance, and breathing trouble. Child-ingested marijuana can be dangerous, and can lead to invasive and expensive diagnostic tests if the exposure history is not disclosed.

Sam Wang, MD, assistant professor of Pediatric Emergency Medicine and Medical Toxicology at Children’s Hospital Colorado

How do I keep my child safe from poisonous household products?

Learn the toll-free nationwide poison control hotline number (1-800-222-1222). Program it into your phone and keep it near every landline. You can call them with any question, and they will help you decide if you need to seek medical attention.

Read labels! Unsafe household products include toilet cleaners, bleach, oven cleaners, windshield wiper fluid, and dishwasher and detergent products. Other potential hazards include medicines, pesticides/herbicides, fuels, incense, and alcohol (which can be found in hand sanitizer and various food seasonings such as vanilla extract).

Never leave poisonous products unattended while in use. Many incidents happen when adults are distracted for a moment on the phone or at the door.

Store poisonous products out of children’s reach and keep medicines in their original child-resistant containers. Never store poisonous products outside of their original container, and never in old beverage containers. Get suggestions on how to keep toxic substances out of little hands.

Keep button batteries and devices that use them out of reach of small children. Dispose of used button batteries properly and not in open trash cans where children can find them. Expired batteries can still cause damage. The symptoms of ingesting a battery can be tricky to recognize (they include coughing, drooling and discomfort), so if you have even the slightest concern, go to the hospital immediately or call 911. Don’t induce vomiting or have your child eat or drink anything until assessed by a medical professional.

Sam Wang, MD, assistant professor of Pediatric Emergency Medicine and Medical Toxicology at Children’s Hospital Colorado

What do I need to know about fire safety?

Home fires are the most common emergency in the United States and our children are at greatest risk for injury and fatality. But nearly all residential fires are preventable. Keep your family safe with these tips and tools.

Follow these guidelines on fire prevention and what to do if a fire does break out.

  • Test your smoke alarms each month! Make sure you have them installed correctly and use Daylight Savings Time as a reminder to change the batteries.
  • Creating a family plan gives your family the opportunity to talk about the importance of fire safety and what you will do if a fire does occur. There are many great tools available to make these discussions a little easier.
  • After you create a plan, have fire drills at home with different scenarios so your family can practice your escape plan.
  • In Colorado, wildfire smoke can be a health hazard, even if fires are not burning nearby. Be prepared by learning the symptoms of distress.

Dwayne Smith, Injury Prevention Program Manager, Children’s Hospital Colorado

How can I prepare for natural disasters?

Although emergencies usually happen when we least expect them, there are steps we can take to be prepared and make sure they are well managed.

Jason Kotas, EMS Outreach and Education Manager, Children’s Hospital Colorado

What do I need to know about…Emergencies vs. Urgent Care?

Health crises don’t wait for office hours, so what do you do when you don’t know where to turn for care?

  • Children’s Hospital Colorado’s Alison Brent, MD, advises parents to first call their child’s primary care provider (PCP) if it’s not a life-threatening emergency but are unsure where to go. Your PCP should be able to advise you on the best course of action.
  • If it’s outside of office hours, it can be hard to know if it’s okay to wait until the doctor’s office opens. Use our online symptom checker or mobile app to help figure it out if you need to visit an urgent care facility.
  • Access expert pediatric care and peace of mind on our ParentSmart Healthline. Experienced pediatric nurses provide telephone triage, medical advice and in-depth information on nearly 300 pediatric topics, 24/7.
  • Whether it’s emergency care or urgent care your child needs, there is a Children’s Colorado location available. Find the location nearest you.
  • If you believe your child needs immediate attention, is choking or you have concerns for a life-threatening emergency, call 911.

Amy Sass, MD/DO, Children’s Hospital Colorado

What should I tell my child about gun safety?

Teach children to follow these rules if they come into contact with a gun, no matter where they are:

  • Stop what they're doing
  • Do not touch the gun
  • Leave the area where the gun is
  • Tell an adult right away
  • Discuss the differences between toy guns and real guns with your children, and the dangers real guns can cause.

If you own a firearm, be sure these rules are followed in your home (and, if applicable, the homes of relatives or friends your child visits):

  • Store guns in a securely locked case out of kids' reach. All firearms should be stored unloaded and in the uncocked position.
  • Store ammunition in a separate place and in a securely locked container out of kids' reach.
  • Keep keys and lock combinations where children can't find them.
  • Always use trigger locks or other childproof devices. Make revolvers childproof by attaching a padlock so that the cylinder can't be locked into place.
  • Always practice gun safety, and be sure to emphasize guns aren't toys and should never be played with.
  • For more information, visit the Asking Saves Kids website.

Dwayne Smith, manager of Injury Prevention, Children’s Hospital Colorado

How do I keep my family safe in and around water?

  • Actively supervise children in and around open bodies of water, giving them your undivided attention. Don’t drink alcohol if you’re swimming or supervising swimmers.
  • When there are several adults present and children are swimming, use the Water Watcher card strategy, which designates an adult as the Water Watcher for a certain amount of time (such as 15-minute periods) to prevent lapses in supervision.
  • Download a Water Watcher card.
  • Enroll children in swim lessons when you feel they are ready. Kids should learn to tread water, float, and stay near the shoreline.
  • Teach children to never go near or in water without an adult present. Older, more experienced swimmers should still swim with a partner every time.
  • Educate your children about the dangers of drain entanglement and entrapment and teach them not to play or swim near drains or suction outlets.
  • If using inflatable or portable pools, remember to empty them immediately after use. Store them upside down and out of children’s reach.
  • Remember that swim toys like water wings and pool noodles are fun for kids, but they should never be used in place of a U.S. Coast Guard-approved Personal Flotation Device (PFD).

Dwayne Smith, Injury Prevention Program Manager, Children’s Hospital Colorado

I’m leaving my child with a babysitter for the first time. What are the basics I should know? 

Leaving your child in the care of someone else can make a new parent uneasy. Help make it an anxiety-free experience for you and your child by checking off these essentials.

  • Download and fill out a Babysitter Basics form (.pdf) to review with anyone who cares for your child. It has space for information about what calms your baby and the plan for when the little one won’t stop crying.
  • Ask your babysitter to program the number for the poison control hotline (800-222-1222) into their phone so they are ready in the event of an emergency.
  • Many babysitters are teens who are learning as they go – have them check out our Babysitting Center with comprehensive information about everything from handling tantrums and emergencies to bath time safety and fun activity ideas. It’s a great resource for you and your sitter.
  • Ensure your babysitter knows how to put your baby to sleep safely by going through their sleep routine step-by-step.
  • If you know a teen who wants to babysit, suggest they learn all the basics, including infant/pediatric CPR, at Babysitting 101.
  • Toddlers can be a handful for any caregiver. Make sure your sitter knows how to assess any issues and understands how you’d like them to respond to your child’s needs.

Ayelet Talmi, Ph.D., IMH-E® (IV-C), Associate Professor, Departments of Psychiatry and Pediatrics’ Associate Director, Irving Harris Program in Child Development and Infant Mental Health at University of Colorado School of Medicine

What do I need to know about leaving my child at home alone?

There’s no specific age at which a child is ready to be home alone. Consider your child’s maturity level, demonstrated by ability to follow rules, communicate openly about important issues, and meet daily expectations or responsibilities. It’s also important for parents to talk to children about their comfort with being left home alone. In general, expect to begin considering this option around age 12, although some children may be ready sooner and some later.

Make a plan – set ground rules for when you’ll check in and rules about answering the door or the phone, television or internet usage, friends in the house or activities that are off limits (like using the stove or knives). Start with short practice runs before leaving a child home alone for an extended period. Discuss how things went, your child’s comfort level with the time alone, and problem-solve anything that did not go well. Gradually increase the length of time you’re gone to what feels comfortable for you and your child.

No matter the length of time, make sure that your home is well-prepared. Store potentially unsafe items like lighters/matches, firearms, medications, marijuana products and alcohol, in secure locations your child cannot access. Review rules and expectations for your child’s time alone and make sure you discuss a specific plan for handling emergency situations. Write down important telephone numbers and/or, if your child has a cellular phone, save the numbers there. Always make sure your child has a way to contact you, or another trusted adult.

Get more recommendations on leaving your child at home alone.

Philip C. O'Donnell, Ph.D., Clinical Director, Intensive Psychiatric Services, Pediatric Mental Health Institute, Children’s Hospital Colorado 

Listen to Slacker on Alice 105.9 and Dr. Wang talk about marijuana