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Little ones at home? Celebrate safely

November 29, 2002|by MEG H. PARTINGTON

megp@herald-mail.com

Safety during the holidays is a big deal for families with small children.

Though it's easy to get consumed in the grandeur of this celebratory season, try to scale back while your children are very young, advised Susan Sheetz, president of Be Safe Inc. in Stephens City, Va., a business that provides personal safety services and information.

"Less is definitely more when it comes to kids at the holidays," Sheetz said.

The BabyCenter Web site

(www.babycenter.com) suggests that parents not send their little ones into sensory overload by going to too many concerts or parties. A walk around the neighborhood to see the holiday lights or attending the public lighting of a menorah or Christmas tree may be exciting enough, according to BabyCenter. Keep in mind that babies are oblivious to the meaning of the holidays and young children are easily delighted, the Web site says.

Uh-oh, Christmas tree

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While the holidays often inspire the inner decorator in you to come out of hiding, let safety and common sense be your guides.

If your house seems colorless without the dramatic hues of poinsettias, put them on high tables or hang them, said Dennis Dodson, a florist who owns Dennis L. Dodson Designs in Martinsburg, W.Va. Skip the mistletoe and holly, since their berries can be plucked, posing a choking hazard, he said.

Pinecones in baskets are festive decorations, Dodson said, and their prickly exterior deters most children.

By far the largest plant to be wary of is the beloved Christmas tree.

Make sure trees are mounted in high-quality tree stands that are level, Sheetz said.

With babies and toddlers underfoot, it's a good idea to anchor Christmas trees to a wall. If possible, place trees in corners, then thread heavy wire through them and secure them to walls with hooks or screws, Sheetz said.

"Those Christmas trees can come down so easily," she said.

If a tree is in the middle of a floor, children must be watched whenever they are in its vicinity, Dodson said.

You don't have to deny yourself the sparkle of lights on your tree, but put them closer to its center to keep them out of reach of exploring fingers. Children who try to reach for the lights near the tree's core will likely lose interest once they get poked by a few pine needles, said Dodson, father of 18-month-old AnnaMarie Dodson.

Before hanging lights, make sure there are no empty sockets in which children can insert things that could shock them, Sheetz said.

Avoid the liquid bubbling lights that are readily available in stores, Sheetz said. They contain a chemical called methylene blue, which breaks down in the body like carbon monoxide. Kids may think the lights contain fruit juice and try to drink it if one breaks, she said.

Put all glass ornaments near the top of the tree or opt to use only plastic or solid ones, Dodson said. Avoid hanging baubles that look like candy, Sheetz added.

Speaking of candy, only put the real stuff out right before company arrives, and keep it out of children's reach, Dodson said.

Also keep nuts, pretzels and peanuts - all choking hazards - far from kids' grasp, Sheetz said.

Toys galore

The toys that fill the brightly colored packages under the tree are a great source of joy but need to be used with caution.

Make sure gifts to youngsters are age-appropriate and don't pose choking or electrical hazards, Sheetz said.

Keep batteries, which are toxic, out of children's reach, Sheetz said, and make sure the compartments that contain them are securely closed.

Take time to teach children how to properly operate electric toys, Sheetz said.

Kids often are enticed by the "toys" grown-ups in the house receive, such as dartboards, and sporting and exercise equipment. Many are dangerous to children, she said.

While caution is extremely important, it shouldn't cast a cloud over the joy of the holidays.

Just keep everything in perspective.

"We do have a tendency to get caught up in it all," Sheetz said. "You just need to be diligent, you need to be aware. You have the responsibility of another life here."

Holiday activities for tiny tots to enjoy

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