Keeping preschool children safe

Children between the ages of 2 and 5 are often intensely curious. While they are beginning to understand cause and effect, they are more drawn to getting what they want (a ball in the street) than to the world around them (the car coming down the street). In addition, children of this age are prone to "magical thinking." Preschoolers sometimes think that their wishes and expectations actually affect what will happen. This kind of thinking is perfectly normal in children of this age, but it can lead to dangerous situations when children are unsupervised.

The following are general suggestions for keeping preschool children safe.

  • Safety in the home. The home is perhaps the most likely place for children to be hurt because they usually spend the most time there. Keep all dangerous substances (cleaning supplies, medications, guns, knives) stored out of sight, out of reach, or locked up. Set your water heater temperature no higher than 120°F (48.89°C) so that your child is not accidentally scalded when turning on the faucet.
  • Safety in the car. Children need to ride in the back seat, properly secured in an approved car seat or booster seat, every time they ride in the car.
    • Children may outgrow their car seats around age 4. At that point, a booster seat is recommended. By boosting the child's height on the seat, the lap-shoulder seat belt fits better, providing more protection in the case of an accident.
    • Make sure the car seat or booster seat is properly installed (many are not). See the manufacturer's instructions for proper installation and use. If you are not sure, have your car seat checked at a police station.
    • Always wear your own seat belt so that your child understands the importance of this safety measure.
  • Water safety. A preschool child may have opportunities to learn to swim or to take water safety classes. Even after such training, children should not be trusted to be in or near open water (pools, hot tubs, spas, lakes, streams, or rivers) without close adult supervision. Do not rely on inflatable toys to keep your child afloat. They may deflate or your child may slip off.
  • Safety on play equipment. Outdoor equipment in a backyard or at a playground is good for children to expand their motor skills. However, there are potential dangers, which attentive parents can minimize with proper precautions.
    • Inspect unfamiliar playground equipment before your child uses it. Does it have a soft surface in case your child falls (asphalt and concrete can be very dangerous)? Are wooden structures free from splinters? Is metal equipment free of rust, sharp edges, or loose bolts?
    • Closely supervise children younger than 5 when they are on climbing equipment.
    • Teach your child playground safety, such as not climbing up slides or walking in front of or behind a swing when another child is on it.
  • Tricycle safety. Tricycles are popular with preschool children and help them develop coordination. Most children learn to ride a bicycle after age 5, but some may start early. Keep in mind:
    • Tricycles and bicycles should be stable and sized correctly for your child. Low-riding tricycles should be avoided.
    • Allow tricycles and bicycles to be used only in safe, protected places. Driveways and sidewalks that intersect with driveways may not be safe for tricycles because motorists may not see the child.
    • Always make sure your child wears an approved safety helmet while riding a bicycle. Some experts advise wearing helmets when riding tricycles as well. Children who from the start associate wearing a helmet with riding a bike or trike are likely to adopt the habit permanently.

Last Updated: March 26, 2009

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