For children, the holidays often are the most wonderful time of the year. Decorations, snowfalls, warming up by the fire after an afternoon of sledding, and spending time with family, all are the foundation for magical memories. To help ensure that your kids have a safe and healthy holiday season, follow these tips:
1. Keep Them Busy
While it is easy to lounge around during the holidays, it also is important to keep growing bodies active and engaged. Kids are easily bored after a few days at home, so be sure to plan activities that are both physically fun and that exercise their minds. Try ice skating, building a snowman, or even just taking a winter hike to get some fresh air. Indoor activities may include making a fort, doing science experiments, and playing board games as a family. Setting a specific time each day for a planned activity gives kids something to look forward to while they are out of their normal routine.
2. Get Plenty of Sleep
Getting enough rest is a good rule of thumb for any time during the year, but it is especially true for children during the holiday season. Maintain regular naps and bed times as much as possible, but do not let your kids sleep too much either. Waking up and going to bed at the same time every day reduces stress and promotes calmness. For your sanity, and theirs, be sure that everyone gets enough sleep.
Flying to grandma’s house in Sioux Falls this year? Traveling with kids over the holidays can be a parent’s worst nightmare. To make the trip go as smoothly as possible, make sure your child has their favorite stuffed animal, blanket, or toy to make them feel safe. For older kids, pack a new book, game, or movie to help make the trip more tolerable. Once there, maintain as much of their regular routine as possible. If bedtime is 8:30 at home, keep it 8:30 during your visit, even if you are in a different time zone. Eating and sleeping around the same time each day also significantly reduces stress.
4. Limit Screen Time
Over winter break, it is easy for some kids to spend too much time in front of the TV, on their tablet, or playing video games. Even if your kids tell you they are bored, it is a good idea to limit screen time to no more than two hours a day. Guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics1 are:
- Children younger than 18 months—avoid use of screen media other than video chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they are seeing.
- Children 2 to 5 years old—limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
- Children 6 and older—place consistent limits on the time spent using media, monitor the types of media being used, and make sure that screen time does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity, or other behaviors essential to good health.
Parental controls are available on many devices to help implement screen time limitations.
5. Get Ready for Back to School
As kids get ready to return to school, ease the transition by slowly adjusting back to normal any sleep times and meal times that may have shifted.
In addition to creating a healthy environment for your children over the holidays, there are several tips recommended by the AAP2 to keep them safe, as well:
1. Christmas Trees
- When purchasing an artificial tree, look for "Fire Resistant" on the label.
- When purchasing a live tree, check for freshness. A fresh tree is green, needles are hard to pull from branches, and needles do not break when bent between your fingers.
- When setting up a tree at home, place it away from fireplaces, radiators, or portable heaters. Keep it out of the way of traffic and do not block doorways.
- Cut a few inches off the trunk of your tree to expose fresh wood. This allows for better water absorption and helps keep your tree from drying out and becoming a fire hazard.
- Live trees dry out rapidly, so keep the stand filled with water every day.
- Check all tree lights (even new ones) to make sure that all the bulbs work and that there are no frayed wires, broken sockets or loose connections.
- Do not use the same extension cord for more than three strands of lights and turn off all lights before going to bed.
- Never use electric lights on a metallic tree. The tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights, and a person touching a branch could be electrocuted.
- Before using lights outdoors, check labels to be sure that they are certified for outdoor use. To hold lights in place, string them through hooks or insulated staples, not nails or tacks. Never pull or tug lights to remove them.
- Plug all outdoor electric decorations into circuits with ground fault circuit interrupters to avoid potential shocks.
- Lights and candles are fire hazards. Turn off all lights when you go to bed or leave the house. The lights could short out and start a fire.
- Space heaters are involved in 79% of fatal home heating fires. If space heaters are in use, there should be a minimum 3-foot open zone—make sure that heaters are not close to curtains, blankets, or potentially flammable materials. Always turn off and unplug them when unattended.
- Use only non-combustible or flame-resistant materials to trim a tree.
- In homes with small children, take special care to avoid decorations that are sharp or breakable. Keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children to prevent them from swallowing or inhaling small pieces. Avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food that may tempt a young child to eat them.
- After gifts are opened, remove all wrapping papers, bags, ribbons, and bows from the tree and fireplace areas. These items pose suffocation and choking hazards to small children or can cause a fire if near a flame.
- Keep potentially poisonous holiday plant decorations, including mistletoe berries, Jerusalem cherry, and holly berry, away from children.
- Before lighting any fire, remove all greens, boughs, papers, and other decorations from the fireplace area. Check to see that the flue is open.
- Use care with "fire salts," which produce colored flames when thrown on wood fires. They contain heavy metals that can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting if eaten. Keep them away from children.
- Do not burn gift wrap paper in the fireplace. A flash fire may result as wrappings ignite suddenly and burn intensely.
- If a glass-fronted gas fireplace is used, keep children and others well away from it with a screen or gate. The glass doors can get hot enough to cause serious burns and stay hot long after the fire is out.
5. Toy Safety
- Select toys that suit the age, abilities, skills, and interest level of the intended child. Toys too advanced may pose safety hazards for younger children.
- To prevent both burns and electrical shocks, do not give young children (under 10) a toy that must be plugged into an electrical outlet.
- Young children can choke on small parts contained in toys or games. Children can have serious stomach and intestinal problems—including death—after swallowing button-shaped batteries or magnets. Button batteries are often found in toys, musical greeting cards, remote controls, hearing aids, and other small electronics. Small, powerful magnets are present in many homes as part of building toy sets. Keep button batteries and magnets away from young children and call your health care provider immediately if your child swallows one.
- Children can choke or suffocate on uninflated or broken balloons. Do not allow children under age 8 to play with them.
- Remove tags, strings, and ribbons from toys before giving them to young children.
- Watch for pull toys with strings longer than 12 inches in length that could be a strangulation hazard for babies.
- Parents should store toys in a designated location, such as on a shelf or in a toy chest, and keep older kids’ toys away from young children.
6. Food Safety
- Bacteria often are present in raw foods. Fully cook meats and poultry, and thoroughly wash raw vegetables and fruits. Wash your hands frequently, and make sure your children do the same.
- Keep hot liquids and food away from the edges of counters and tables, where they can be easily knocked over by a young child’s exploring hands. Be sure that young children cannot access microwave ovens.
- Always keep raw foods and cooked foods separately, and use separate utensils when preparing them.
- Always thaw meat in the refrigerator, never on the countertop.
- Foods that require refrigeration should never be left at room temperature for more than two hours.
7. Happy Visiting
- Clean up immediately after a holiday party. A toddler may rise early and choke on leftover food or come in contact with alcohol or tobacco.
- Remember that the homes you visit may not be childproofed. Keep an eye out for danger spots like unlocked cabinets, unattended purses, accessible cleaning or laundry products, stairways, or hot radiators.
- Keep a list of all the important phone numbers that you or a babysitter are likely to need in case of an emergency. Include the police and fire department, your pediatrician and the national Poison Help Line, 1-800-222-1222.
- Always make sure your child rides in an appropriate car seat, booster seat, or seat belt. In cold weather, children in car seats should wear thin layers with a blanket over the top of the harness straps if needed, not a thick coat or snowsuit. Adults should buckle up too, and drivers should never be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Traveling, visiting family members, getting presents, and shopping can increase your child's stress levels. Trying to stick to your child's usual routines, including sleep can help you and your child enjoy the holidays and reduce stress.
Navigating the holidays with kids can be tricky. Dr. Elliot Freed is available to answer questions, for consultations, or to diagnose illnesses. To schedule an appointment, call the practice at (540) 626-4343 or click to book an appointment online below.