By Heather Bitzer
My 16-month-old rounded the Christmas tree and teetered precariously at the top of the basement staircase. I watched in horror as her thought process played plainly across her face. She was half a blink away from following the kitty (a.k.a. falling pretty little head over heels) all the way down to the concrete floor below.
Two questions occurred to me as with an animal-like cry and a lunge I brought the party to a screeching halt: Why didn’t Uncle Joe re-close the door after that last trip down for ice? And, why didn’t one of the six adults she passed on her way to sure doom stop her?
The simple answer? They just didn’t think of it. Whether they’ve forgotten what it’s like having kids around, or they’ve never known, friends and relatives may find themselves ill-equipped to host children this holiday season.
Be a courteous guest. Let your hostess know exactly what your child is capable of so she can prepare before you arrive. Using your own home as a checklist, communicate the obvious and hidden dangers of daily life with a toddler. Don’t expect a host to run out and buy baby-gates. But, it’s a good idea to tune her in to Mommy World where a delicious cup of coffee is really a steaming cup of second degree burns. Below are a few more landmines to avoid.
Holiday Hazard #1: Unattended Purses and Coats.
Remember the coat pile? During family parties, my cousins and I tunneled for hours on Grandma’s coat covered bed. Sounds like fun, but we didn’t wear bike helmets or seatbelts back then either! Medications, cigarettes, even weapons can lurk in the purses or pockets of guests who didn’t count on their coat doubling as a tent.
Ask your host to closet up those coats and designate a purse depot. Clear out a high cabinet or provide one of those large plastic containers where lady friends can drop their bags safely. While not technically “child proof,” that giant Tupperware is superior to the usual purse plop next to the couch.
Holiday Hazard #2: Inappropriate toys.
As a nurse who once helped remove a “Polly Pocket” shoe from a boy’s nose, please allow me to remind you about the importance of age restrictions on toys. When visiting for the holidays, your kids are bound to receive presents, some of which may have you running right back to the store with the gift receipt.
Having a hard time figuring out how to be both a gracious gift recipient and a good mommy? Establish a “no box opening” rule with your kids. Let them unwrap their presents to express thanks, but don’t allow them to take the new toy out of the box until you get home and inspect that sucker! Ostensibly, you’re saving your hostess a mess or lost parts, but in reality you’re avoiding a trip to the emergency room for a date with a pair of special tweezers.
“Always follow the age guidelines on toys,” warns a local pediatrician. “Also look out for beads, the candy dish, small vegetables like peas, stones and paper.” He also recommends that parents take along the number for Poison Control. “Poison Control is happy to help with non-drug ingestions too, for things like batteries and pennies.”
Holiday Hazard #3: Fire
You don’t need this article to tell you open flames and small children don’t mix. So if your hostess can’t give up candles or dreams of her guests caroling around a roaring fire skip the party and make another date for a visit with the kids.
You probably have a fire escape plan in place at home. Carry that good practice with you while spending the night away too. Fire causes panic and confusion. Add in unfamiliar surroundings, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster! Ask your hostess what fire escape measures are in place in the home. If you’re in a hotel, familiarize yourself with the fire evacuation plan, usually located on the back of the door. Chose your escape route and designate a meeting place. The US Fire Administration recommends taking a flashlight along and counting the number of doors between your room and the exits. Check out their website which also includes a section just for kids at www.usfa.dhs.gov
Holiday Hazard #4: Unfamiliar Pets
If you encounter a dog-child with a new Christmas sweater and a stocking full of presents, assume your hostess expects Fido to participate equally in the festivities. Unfortunately, even pets that love kids can snap under the incessant prodding of an overzealous toddler. Supervise and watch body language. To a dog, a simple hug around the neck can be interpreted as a threat.
Diplomatically suggest putting the dog away using my mom’s favorite face saving technique. Blame your kids. “My Jenny loves doggies a little too much. I’d sure feel terrible of she hurt Poochie.”
Here’s an informative page about kid-dog safety: http://www.avanimalrescue.org/dogskid.htm
Above all, communicate with your hostess. Then question your own expectations. If you find yourself walking too fine a line between being a good guest and a good mom, maybe you should scrap the travel plans this year, or at least stay at a hotel.
Stay tuned for more tips from Heather on how to avoid or mitigate hazardous hotspots!