Parents are juggling more than ever right now. Amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak, nearly every facet of everyday life has changed. Schools and day cares are closed, so kids are home. Parents are either working from home and trying to home-school or still having to go to work in these frightening times.
All this stress—we haven’t even mentioned health and finances—could lead to a rise in injuries among children, pediatric trauma prevention experts say.
“It’s difficult for us to really have a good picture because it’s so early into this, but anecdotally we’ve seen an increase in the number of injuries we would typically expect to see this time of year,” says UNC Health pediatric trauma program coordinator Paul Zarick. “We’re concerned this setting can put kids at risk and lead to them getting injured or hurt.”
So what can parents do to help minimize their children’s risk of injury? Zarick and UNC Health injury prevention coordinator Lindsay Bailey offer these tips.
1. Prioritize supervision.
Nothing is as effective as supervision. Try to make sure someone is always watching your children. If you live in a two-parent household where both parents are working from home, take turns.
“Try to arrange for you and your partner to be on ‘supervision duty’ on alternating shifts. That person should have an eye on the children at all times,” Bailey says.
If you are a single parent or your partner can’t or won’t help, try to find a quiet activity for your children to do that is within your line of vision while you work.
“Sending them outside or to different room if you’re not able to see them is not a good idea, especially with small children,” Bailey says. “For small children, falls, stairs and climbing are the biggest threats, and make sure to never leave a small child with a dog unsupervised, even if it’s your own dog.”
2. Lock up medications and household cleaners.
Accidental poisonings from household cleaning products and medications can be fatal. Household cleaners and sanitizers are often placed at children’s eye level on counters or tables and sometimes under sinks.
“Put them high up and away from children’s reach and sight,” Bailey says. “The same goes for medicine. Many medicines can look like candy to kids. If you can, lock your meds in a lockbox or cabinet.”
3. Lock firearms safely and out of sight.
Firearms should be stored properly. Hiding them and separating them from their ammunition—hide that, too—is just the first step.
“There has been an uptick across the nation in the amount of ammunition for firearms people have purchased. It is not only your responsibility but the law to lock firearms using—at a bare minimum—a cable lock,” Bailey says.
Like medicines and household cleaners, firearms should be stored out of sight.
“Children often know a lot more and are a lot smarter than you think they are, and they can find those things easily when they get bored and go exploring,” Bailey says.
Many law enforcement agencies offer free cable locks to the community.
4. Take a timeout.
It is understandable to lose your patience during these trying times.
“We know that this is a stressful time for everyone,” Zarick says. “This is a period of uncertainty. And that makes everybody’s normal baseline level of stress amplified.”
However, overstressed parents can lead to an unhealthy family environment. Be kind to yourself, and commit to parenting without turning to violence, Bailey says.
If you feel you might lose control of your emotions, give your child to your partner (if calm) or put the child in a safe place, such as a crib. Step away to take a few deep breaths and refocus, Zarick says.
For crisis intervention and emergency counseling, parents can call (800) 4-A-CHILD, which is the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline. If you are experiencing abuse from a partner, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE.
“Be cognizant of when you feel yourself hitting your limit,” Zarick says. “Right now, everyone is going to be subjected to more than what they’re used to, and everybody has their own limit to how much they can tolerate.”
5. Don’t forget non-coronavirus safety concerns.
Practice the same level of precaution you normally would when it comes to your child’s safety. “Just because we’re in the middle of a pandemic doesn’t mean that all of our other safety guidance for families goes out the window,” Zarick says.
Children riding bicycles, skateboards or scooters should wear a helmet and follow outdoor safety precautions, he says. For example, teach your children to always try to make eye contact with car drivers when they are preparing to cross an intersection to ensure the driver sees them. Also, teach your children traffic laws and the hand signals to use when riding bikes.
And practice extra caution while driving.
“Recognize that people are very stressed and might not be driving as well as they should,” Bailey says. “Slow down and be cautious on the roads. If you have to go out and bring the kids, make sure they are buckled and using their car seat as they normally would.”
Make sure to lock cars when empty and keep the keys out of reach.
“Small children have been known to climb into unlocked cars and get stuck, which results in heatstroke that can be fatal,” Bailey says.
For more safety tips and prevention education, visit tarheeltrauma.org.
If your child has a life-threatening injury, call 911. If your child is hurt and may need medical attention, call your doctor. If you don’t have one, find a doctor near you.