9 Basic Safety Guidelines That Parents Can Stop Using

Parenting, it’s an art of perpetual vigilance – years spent on high alert with the baby monitor, taming the house for those toddling adventures, and ensuring every safety regulation is ticked off the list. But, brace yourself for a surprise: health experts do believe there’s a tipping point, a time when basic safety guidelines that parents can stop using can start to enter your parenting vernacular, allowing some rules to be dialed back, of course, always under the banner of careful discretion.

1. Grapes and hot dogs need to be cut up.

Small, round, or hard foods are a big choking risk for young children, so the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says to cut them into smaller pieces until kids are 5 years old. At that point, most people can grind their food when they chew.

Parents counselor Terri McFadden, M.D., professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine, says that when you give your child whole food for the first time, you should tell them that it’s a “big kid” food. During this chat, you can also talk about some of the rules that come with this big accomplishment: Sit down when you eat, don’t do anything else, and don’t eat too quickly.

But be aware that not all 5-year-olds may be ready for this very important step. “A child who is active and likes to move, jump, and talk while eating is not a good candidate for, say, eating whole grapes,” says pediatrician Laura Jana, M.D., an AAP spokesperson and author of The Toddler Brain.

What about some of the other popular foods on the list? Deborah Gilboa, M.D., a family doctor in Pittsburgh, says you can give your child whole nuts when they are 4. Dr. Gilboa says that your child can eat sticky or chewy foods like caramels, toffees, and marshmallows once he or she is 2 1/2 or “has their back teeth.”

2. Having your baby sleep on his or her back.

Because of the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) risk, kids should sleep and nap on their backs for their first year. Of course, a well-meaning grandma type has probably told you that that’s not how she used to do things. But it’s worth it to stick to the plan: Since the “Safe to Sleep” campaign began in 1994, SIDS-related deaths have decreased slowly. This shows that babies are safest when they sleep on their backs.

Most babies start to roll over independently between 4 and 6 months, which is nothing to worry about. Debra Holtzman, the author of The Safe Baby and a child safety expert, says that at that point, you don’t have to stay up all night to check on them and turn them back over. But even if your baby can sit up and roll over on their own, you should “always put them to sleep on their back and let them roll over on their own,” says Brenda. Anders Pring, M.D., is a pediatrician at Atrius Health in Boston. He is also a part of the Parents AAP Panel. “When I laid my own son down, he would try to flip over in midair because he liked to sleep on his stomach.”

3. Only using a small amount of fluoride toothpaste.

Fluorosis, which causes permanent white spots or streaks on the teeth, can happen if a child takes in too much fluoride at a young age. Taking in too much fluoride can also cause stomach problems like pain, sickness, vomiting, or diarrhea, which is why health experts recommend putting a “cap” on its use. The American Dental Association says that you can start giving your child fluoride toothpaste when they get their first tooth.

Just give it to them in small amounts: Don’t put more than a “smear” of toothpaste on your child’s toothbrush, about the size of a grain of rice, until they are 3 years old. After that, a 3-year-old can use a pea-sized amount as long as they have learned to spit out the toothpaste instead of eating it.

4. Keeping pillows, blankets, and other things that babies sleep on out of the crib.

Cozy nursery decorations are cute, but they aren’t safe for a baby’s crib. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that open bedding and soft things, like bumpers, blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals, should not be in the crib until your baby is at least 1 year old. Dr. Jana says that a baby might not be able to move things away from their face, which could cause them to suffocate.

If you’re worried that your baby might get cold without a blanket, especially during the warmer months, dress them in no more than one extra layer than you would wear and stick to approved infant sleep clothing, like a wearable blanket. Take care of the mattress as well: Choose a flat, firm surface that is the same on both sides. Many types have a soft side and a hard side. Dr. Jana says, “A firm mattress does not sink when a baby lies on it.” But after your child turns 2, you can add a small, hard pillow to the mix.

5. Covering up power outlets.

This is a good rule to follow when little kids are around, but you don’t have to keep it forever. “In general, think about covering outlets until children are 6 or 7 years old,” says Dr. Pring. By that age, kids are less rash and can tell you in a clear way that they know it’s dangerous to put things in the holes. Until then, if your younger child figures out how to get those little plastic safety disks out of the wall, just keep putting them back in. Put in the sliding-panel protectors, which work better and look better than the old plastic pieces.

Dr. Pring says, “Be firm and use simple words like “danger” to try to keep your child away. Also, keep covering up the outlets.” “If that doesn’t work, move some furniture in front of the outlet that’s giving you trouble.”

6. Putting the child lock on the doors and windows of the car.

Tammy Franks, senior program manager for mobility safety at the National Safety Council (NSC), says teaching your kids not to play with the window switches and door buttons in the car is a good idea. The age at which kids understand how important it is to keep their hands to themselves varies from child to child. So, for now, you may need to turn on the childproof locks on your car. When your child is older and more grown, you can decide if you’re ready to stop doing these things.

7. Putting things that can choke them out of reach.

Dr. Jana says, “Toddlers tend to put a lot of things in their mouths. Before age 3, they haven’t really started to develop executive function skills, which means they can’t control their impulses or think about the consequences. This is a dangerous combination, so you should keep all small and/or dangerous things away from them, like toys with small parts, coins, marbles, and latex balloons.”

But if your 3-year-old isn’t putting things in their mouths anymore, you can slowly start giving them smaller things, as long as they are still being closely watched and the things are put away when playing is over. Dr. Gilboa says that you should keep these things away from your kids if they still like to put things in their mouths.

8. Keeping gates with hardware at the top and bottom of the stairs.

“Safety gates are designed for children ages 6 to 24 months,” says Colleen Driscoll, executive director of the International Association for Child Safety, so you can get rid of them when your toddler turns 2. But if you have a tall or nimble child who can climb the gates before that time, it may be safer to take them down: Your child is more likely to get hurt by climbing a safety gate (especially one at the top of a set of stairs) than by falling down the steps. Holtzman says that if you have a younger kid who still needs the gate, choose one with vertical slats instead of horizontal ones and make sure the space between the slats is no more than 2 3/8 inches. She says that a gate made of fine mesh or plastic is even better.

At the top and bottom of the stairs, you must use a hardware-mounted or screw-fit gate to keep it in place; Never put a pressure-fit gate at the top. These gates are held in place by springs on each side that press outward against walls and banisters. If your child pulls on them, they can come loose and fall, taking your child with them. Only separate rooms on the same floor or in halls with pressure-fit gates.

9. Never leave a bathing child alone.

The NSC says that drowning is one of the top causes of death among children. Babies and young children shouldn’t be left alone in the tub for even a second because they don’t have the core stability to stay upright. (Bath seats and other similar supports are too likely to fall over for them to be a good replacement for supervision.) After a child is 3 years old, experts have different ideas Some people say you shouldn’t leave your child alone in the bathtub until they know how to swim, while others say it might be okay if you step away for a few minutes if your child can talk to you constantly. If you have to leave your toddler alone for a moment, have them tell you a story or sing a loud song. “That way, you’ll know they’re doing well, and if they go quiet all of a sudden, you can talk to them right away,” says Dr. Gilboa. But don’t stay away more than you have to.

When kids are old enough, they can switch to baths, which is another way to make them safer. “They’re much less likely to cause kids to drown, and it’s easier to teach kids to shower than to swim,” says Dr. Gilboa. (Just make sure that the water in your tub is drained properly. No matter how deep, water that stands still can be dangerous.) “I started letting my kids bathe alone when they were about 6 years old and could swim on their own. However, they had been taking showers alone since they were 4 or 5 years old when I knew they were mature enough and had enough impulse control not to fall,” says Dr. Pring.

Follow these safety rules at all times.

Some ways to keep safe never go out of date. Here are three that you should keep for a long time.

  1. Put corner guards on tables, hearths, and desks that have sharp edges. Colleen Driscoll, who works to keep kids safe, says that parents take them away when their kids can walk without falling and aren’t constantly pulling themselves up on furniture. “But after that, there is still a chance of getting hurt. A small child could still fall and hurt themselves on a sharp corner or a raised hearth.”
  1. To keep from getting burned, set your water heater to 120°F or less. Laura Jana, M.D., a doctor, says, “This is a good rule to follow from birth until the end of your life.” “There’s nothing to lose. At 140°F, it only takes about six seconds for the water to burn you, but it takes several minutes at 120°.”
  2. Anchor your furniture. If a young child pushes or climbs on big, heavy things like TVs, bookcases, dressers, and major tools, they could easily fall over and hurt themselves. An anchor kit can be bought online or at a hardware store to keep chairs in place.

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