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One of the greatest joys of parenthood is watching your child slowly acquire more and more motor skills as s/he grows from the infant to the toddler stage and beyond. But every good parent must also realize that these precious years also bring with them increasing numbers of household hazards that demand super-vigilance on the part of parents, sitters and everyone else involved with child care.

Almost everything in the house can become a potential danger to children as they become curious and set out to explore their everyday world. For example, data compiled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) shows that:

* Simple window cords used with Venetian-type blinds and other window coverings accounted for the strangulation deaths of 183 children between 1981-1996.

* Tap waters scalds account for an average 34 deaths and 3,800 burn injuries to children each year, says the CPSC.

* More than 300 children have drowned in bathtubs, showers and basins since 1973; more surprising, 49 have drowned in toilets during the same period.

Being watchful is of course the most important way to prevent one of these horrific accidents from occurring in your home. Yet even the most conscientious parents cannot keep their eyes glued to their children at every moment. A growing child will inevitably find ways to roam free around the house in satisfying its natural instinct to explore. This means every parent needs to take steps to "childproof" the home as much as possible.

Common sense tells you to put unsafe materials and substances out of reach. Additionally, here is a checklist of other things you can do to substantially reduce your risk of tragedy.

* Never, ever leave your child unattended while bathing or in the vicinity of a pool or any other accumulation of water. The CPSC has recorded more than 200 children drowning in 5-gallon buckets since 1984, and even 30 deaths in diaper pail drownings since 1977.

* Be sure your children are away from the vicinity if you use an exercise bike or other exercise apparatus with moving parts. Some 1,200 children suffered amputations, mainly of fingers, from getting them caught in exercise bicycles between 1985 and 1989, says the CPSC.

* Make sure the thermostat on your water heater is turned down to 120š F. If you are not absolutely sure how to do this, call a professional plumbing contractor. Also ask him to replace two-handle faucets with single-handle units and install automatic temperature and pressure balancing valves in conjunction with all baths and showers.

* Child gates are good tools for keeping toddlers away from trouble, but the gates themselves can present hazards. Avoid those "accordion" gates with diamond-shaped openings that are just about big enough for a small child to stick its head through. Your remaining choices are basically hardware gates that fasten to a wall or woodwork or pressure gates that wedge shut in the desired opening. Most pressure gates will give way to a persistent child, so limit their use to less hazardous locations. Once a child gets much beyond age two, they can usually climb over a permanent gate‹or at least try to, which will often lead to injury. In other words, child gates tend to be useful for only a brief window of time.

* Electrical outlet caps are one of the simplest and cheapest ways to protect your child yet with one of the biggest returns considering that some 50,000 children each year get injured or worse in electrical accidents, according to the CPSC. Make sure every open outlet is covered‹but be careful to use outlet covers that are not easily swallowed.

* You will probably never be able to completely prevent a child from gathering bumps and bruises, but corner and edge bumpers on hard surfaces can protect against the most severe injuries from sharp corners.

* Install window locks to prevent windows from being opened high enough for children to squeeze their heads through.

* Window cord wraps are another cheap and simple device with a potentially big payoff.

* Toilet lid latches generally cost less than $5 and will prevent toddlers up till about 2-1/2 to 3 years old from raising the lid.

* Bathtub spout and knob covers can be obtained for about the same price to prevent youngsters from turning on the water.

* Medicine cabinet latches are among the most basic but also most important tools for childproofing a home. The CPSC estimates that about 1 million children a year ingest medicines or other harmful substances.

* Also be sure to latch cabinets and drawers filled with tools, sharp objects and anything else that might prove harmful.

* Electrical cord holders and retractors are good devices to use with children around because they keep cords from laying around conspicuous and tempting.

* Electrical switch guards screw over a wall switch and cover plate to prevent a child from turning on garbage disposals or other hazardous appliances. An adult can use the switch by depressing a tab and sliding the cover.

Most of these devices can be purchased for under $10 and many for under $1 each. When combined with close supervision, they improve the odds enormously that your house will never be visited by one of the greatest tragedies anyone can suffer.





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