The number one cause of death for children ages 1-9 in the United States is accidental death. Outside of the situations we hear of frequently in the news and in parental advice columns - accidental poisoning, falls, vehicle injuries - there are many dangers that invade our everyday lives that are seemingly innocent, yet can be just as deadly.
On my way home from work last week, I noticed a man with a balloon in the car. My first thought was, "How sweet - must be his wife's birthday." But I noticed that instead of allowing the balloon to go to the back seat where it so wanted to drift, he kept pulling it into the front passenger seat. A glance in my rearview mirror at a stop light showed me the man, talking to something or someone too small to be seen above the dashboard, as he waved the balloon presumable above their head. As the light turned green, he released the balloon and two tiny hands reached above the dashboard, trying to keep it from floating to the ceiling. In the passenger seat was a small child in a rear-facing car seat. The balloon - which was the helium-filled, latex variety - was meant to entertain the child while the man drove. My admiration for the man who remembered his wife's birthday turned to horror at the danger to which he had exposed his child.
Latex balloons - with their bright, happy colors, usually tied to shiny ribbons - are enticing to any child. But for small children, who explore the world with thier mouths, laxtex balloons can be a death sentence. If a latex balloon should pop when a child has it in or near the mouth, and a piece or pieces of the balloon are swallowed, they can "coat" the throat, blocking the airway and causing suffocation. Pieces of a latex balloon, once adhered to the throat, cannot be expelled by coughing. It adheres to the throat with a hold stronger than plastic static cling emblems for windows. Short of reaching in to peel it from the throat wall, there is no way to remove it. Needless to say, peeling it from the throat wall is not an easy task and can be dangerous in and of itself. Obviously a strong motivator for not allowing children to play with laxtex balloons.
However, these colorful, happy floating wonders are not the only items that can cause this type of suffocation. The packaging that encases some of the toys in children's fast food meals, the thin plastic that covers the front of some toy packaging in stores, and even some food packaging can have the same effect. Have you ever noticed how the thin, plastic cover on microwavable entrees clings to itself when you remove it from the container? A small piece of this substance, swallow by a child, can stick to the throat and block the airway just as effectively as a balloon. If you need to prove this for yourself, wipe down a kitchen counter, leaving it slightly wet (like your child's throat). Now, dampen the food film or toy wrapper (or latex balloon fragment) and lay it on the counter. Apply a small amount of pressure against it, like that of a child swallowing. Now, without using a fingernail, try to remove it from the counter. You can slide it to the edge of the counter and pull it off that way, but a child (nor you) can do that when it is in a child's throat.
Likewise, when we consider child-proofing our homes, we place covers over electrical outlets and place breakable items and items with small components that cause choking hazards in high places where they cannot be reached. But this does not mean that a child will not still be attracted by them and make the effort to attain them. Climbing in one way by which a child quickly learns he can obtain items out of their reach. An obvious concern in regards to climbing is injury from a fall. But parents must also consider crushing deaths. A shiny, attractive object on a high shelf that catches your child's eye will beckon your child with amazing powers of temptation. If that book case, entertainment center or amoire is not sturdy, balanced and securely anchored, your child's weight can tip it over as he climbs, causing him to be crushed underneath. Even if the book case is one of the lightweight pressboard models (which are easier to tip over during a climb) the items on the shelves may be the danger for your child.
We all love to have beautiful possessions in our homes, but during your child's formative years where he learns through exploration, these things are best housed in rooms to which he does not have access or safely stored in the garage or attic until the child is of an age that he understands the phrase "look but don't touch." A material object can be replaced and no matter how "priceless" it may be, it's worth is much less than that of a child's life.
Those parents who complain about the need to child-proof their homes because it detracts from the "look" of their home, in my opinion, were not ready for children. Children are a precious gift and should be protected regardless of the "price." Anyone who cannot understand the need for outlet covers, cabinet door locks, and bumper guards on the corners of sharp furniture when a child is in the house is not someone whom I would care to have in my home.
Protect your child - they are your most valuable asset.