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The holidays are supposed to be the most joyous time of the year, a time for song, good meals, presents, parties, travel, family fun and above all, spoiling the children and grandchildren.

But, in the coming weeks, newspapers will prominently feature something quite different - the dark side of the holiday season: Tragic tales of deadly house fires, children plunging through the ice and drowning, families wiped out in car crashes and babies choking to death on toys.

Sadly, these horrors are utterly predictable.

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Reporters are steeling themselves for the heart-wrenching ritual of knocking on the doors of grieving families.

Yet these deaths - and the many more injuries we will not hear about - are largely preventable with a few precautions.

So here are some issues to keep in mind as you strive to keep children safe over the holidays, courtesy of Safe Kids Canada, the injury-prevention program based at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.


Many people inadvertently fill their homes with fire hazards at this time of year, making the Christmas/Hanukkah season one of the busiest times of the year for firefighters.

Holiday lights are not that expensive: Throw them out if they are in disrepair.

Buy flame-retardant decorations. And remember, bulbs can burn children.

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So can candles - which, by the way, should be kept away from curtains and decorations. Remember that real Christmas trees become more flammable as they dry out.

Burning a log on a grate seems like a nice holiday tradition, but it is one that nurses in pediatric burn units dread. Fireplaces and wood stoves should have safety gates.


In icy Canada, almost as many people drown in winter as in summer. Thin ice is a danger for skaters and snowmobilers. Already this year, a number of children have died wandering out onto partly frozen waterways.


While great efforts have been made in recent years to keep unsafe toys off the shelves, they are still out there.

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It is important, too, for gifts to be age-appropriate. Many toys and games feature small parts that pose a choking hazard for young children. In this era of electronics, button-type batteries are a particular concern; they are easily swallowed and cause chemical burns and poisoning, sometimes fatal. Toys with long strings or cords should be out of the question, because they can lead to strangulation.


Planning to buy a new television at one of those Boxing Day blowouts? In recent years, as TVs have become bigger, they have become a major hazard. Hundreds of children a year are seriously injured by tumbling TVs.

Stands and wall units need to be sturdy enough to withstand the weight of a climbing toddler, and plasma TVs should be well braced.

Kissy kissy

Mistletoe is a holiday tradition that elicits smooching. But the berries are poisonous. So are those on holly. Keep them away from children. (Poinsettias, contrary to popular belief, are not highly poisonous.)

When exchanging holidays kisses, don't forget food allergies. Kissing a child with a severe peanut allergy could trigger deadly anaphylaxis if you have eaten something containing the nut-like vegetable.

And get a flu shot -particularly if you are planning to visit relatives/friends in nursing homes.


Parents of young children should bear in mind that homes they visit during the holidays may not be as safe or familiar as their own. Stairs, hot ovens, cords on blinds, pets and cigarettes are all hazards at parties. Pay particular attention to alcohol: Drinks left lying around the house during and after a party lead to a lot of cases of alcohol poisoning in children.

Getting there

Holiday travel is a ritual for many families and the car ride is, by far, the greatest risk children and their families face during the holidays.

Children should be in car seats, even when they are in grandpa's car. Above all, slow down. All too many of these holiday tragedies take place at blinding speed and can be prevented by taking a minute to plan and prevent. Surely that is a gift all children deserve.

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