When you take care of your grandkids - whether it's for a
few hours or a few days - you're probably anxious to put all of
your great parenting experience to good use.
But there are a few child care basics you may want to brush up
on. Though you raised healthy kids in a safe environment, in recent
years much research has been devoted to child safety. Government
agencies and medical experts - such as the American Academy of
Pediatrics (AAP) - have developed a slew of safety standards and
laws to keep kids healthy and out of harm's way. And as a
result, many new products are available that make it convenient and
economical for parents - and grandparents - to meet those new
Whether you're caring for grandkids at their house or in
your home, these tips can make the experience enjoyable - and
uneventful - for all of you!
Thorough handwashing - particularly after going to the bathroom
and before preparing or eating food - is now recognized as one of
the most important ways to prevent the spread of any illness, from
the flu to diarrhea.
To really get rid of germs: wet your hands with warm water, then
rub with soap for at least 15 seconds (long enough to sing a few
rounds of "Happy Birthday") before rinsing well. In a
public restroom, dry your hands on a disposable towel, and use that
towel to turn off the faucet. Teach your grandkids this important
habit to help the entire family stay healthy. If you have a tough
time getting them to make a stop at the sink, try soaps with bright
colors, fun shapes, or appealing smells. Or have them sing a
favorite song during the scrubbing.
Know what medications you can give your grandchild in the event
of illness. If you have any questions, call the child's doctor
before giving any over-the-counter medications. Also, kids who are
12 years old or younger should never be given aspirin, as it has
been linked to
, a serious illness that can cause nausea, vomiting, and behavioral
changes, and often requires treatment in a hospital. Also, never
give a child medications that have been prescribed to someone else,
whether it's an adult or child. Even if two people have the
same illness, they may require different drugs with different doses
Infants younger than 1 year old should be placed on their backs
to sleep to reduce the risk of
sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
. Infants should not be placed on their stomachs or their sides to
sleep. Babies should sleep in a crib or bassinet on a firm
mattress, without soft bedding, plush toys, or other soft objects.
Loose bedding, such as blankets and sheets, should be tucked under
the crib mattress to avoid covering the infant's face. (Read more
Other ways to lower the risk of SIDS include:
- Keep room temperature comfortable and avoid
- Give the infant a pacifier at naptime and bedtime, but do not
force it if the baby refuses it.
- Do not replace a pacifier that has fallen out during
- Do not expose the infant to cigarette smoke.
In addition, infants who sleep in the same room (though not the
same bed) as their mothers have a lower risk of SIDS. Consider
having a crib or bassinet in the room where you or the child's
TV, Computers, and Video Games
Kids under 2 years old should not have any time in front of a
screen, including TVs, DVDs or videos, and computers. After age 2,
kids should have no more than 1 to 2 hours of quality programming a
day. Offer your grandchild a variety of free-time activities to try
instead of TV or videos, video games, and the Internet. The TV
should be turned off during meals and homework, and you can set a
good example by limiting your own TV watching. To help you decide
what programs are appropriate for your grandchild, look for
age-group rating tools on some TV programs and video games
(they're usually listed onscreen).
Immunizations are one of the most important ways to keep kids -
and everyone around them - healthy. Find out if your grandchildren
are up-to-date on all their immunizations. In addition, it is
particularly important for grandparents to get their annual flu
shot. Anyone who has a chronic illness, such as diabetes or heart
disease, or is 65 or older is considered in the high-risk group and
should get flu shots every year. Flu shots are also recommended for
any adult between the ages of 50 and 64. Flu shots are usually
given between September and mid-November, though it is offered
throughout the flu season.
Babies and children should be in child safety seats that meet
current standards. All children younger than 12 years should ride
in the back seat with the appropriate safety restraint. Infants
should be placed in a rear-facing seat until they're 1 year old
and weigh 20 pounds (9 kilograms). Toddlers and preschool children
(between 1 and about 4 years of age, weighing between 20 and 40
pounds [9 and 18 kilograms]) should use a forward-facing seat.
Children between the ages of 4 and 8 years who are over 40 pounds
(18 kilograms) should use a belt-positioning booster seat until
they are 4 feet 9 inches tall.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have safety seat laws
and more than half have booster seat laws. Ask your local
government office or department of motor vehicles about child
safety restraint laws in your state. Even if your state does not
require booster seats for older children, put safety first when
traveling with your grandchild. Follow manufacturer recommendations
and instructions and do not exceed weight limits.
Use a firm crib mattress. To avoid suffocation hazards, keep
soft objects and loose bedding out of the crib, including pillows,
quilts, comforters, sheepskins, stuffed toys, etc. Cribs
manufactured after 1974 meet current safety standards, including
slats that are no more than 2 3/8 inches apart so that infants
can't get their heads stuck. A crib that has been in the family
for generations may not be suitable or safe - cribs made before
1974 may be covered in lead paint, have slats that are too far
apart, or pose other safety hazards. Before using a crib, check the
side rails for locking devices. Remove mobiles when the infant is 5
months old or can get on hands and knees and remove crib bumpers,
if using them, as soon as the infant can pull to stand.
Guidelines published by the Consumer Products Safety Commission
(CPSC) can help you determine which toys are age-appropriate for
your grandchild. You may think that because your grandchild seems
mature, he or she can handle a toy that was meant for an older
child. But that's not a good idea, as age guidelines for toys
are determined by developmental appropriateness as well as safety.
When you shop for your grandchild look for sturdy, well-made toys
that don't pose choking hazards. Cribs, toys, and equipment you
might have used with your kids may have sentimental value, but
often are not the safest option for your grandkids.
Doctors strongly discourage the use of walkers - devices that
have wheeled frames and suspended seats that allow babies to propel
themselves forward using their feet. Infant walkers don't
enable infants to walk any sooner than they would without one and
they pose a high risk of injury, particularly from falls down
stairs that may result in serious head injuries. Infant walkers
also allow access to hazards normally out of reach, and they
don't give infants the necessary pulling up, creeping, or
crawling experiences that are the foundation for later movement.
Stationary walkers are a safer alternative, but limit the amount of
time spent in them.
Helmets save lives and prevent serious head injuries so make
sure that your grandchild always wears a helmet when riding a
tricycle or bicycle. Many states and local municipalities have
passed laws in recent years that require kids to wear helmets every
time they ride their bikes. Fortunately, helmets are now being made
in colors and styles that appeal to kids, so they're not as
much of a hard sell as they once were. Make sure that your
grandchild's helmet fits well. Be a positive role model (and
protect your own head) by wearing your own helmet, too. Helmets
should also be used for skating sports such as skateboarding,
rollerskating, and in-line skating. The AAP recommends that kids
always wear helmets and wrist, elbow, and knee padding for those
Babies and toddlers can strangle or become entrapped in the most
unexpected ways - curtain cords, strings on clothing, and infant
furniture and accessories can be dangerous. Reduce the risk of
strangulation by not putting necklaces or headbands on your
grandchild, and not dressing him or her in clothing with
drawstrings, which can get caught on play equipment and furniture.
And while it may be handy, don't tie a pacifier around your
grandchild's neck or tether it clothing. Tie up all window
blind and drapery cords so that they aren't within reach of your
grandchild, and avoid having telephone cords that dangle to the
floor. While mobiles that dangle above the crib can offer babies
great visual stimulation, they should be removed by 5 months of age
or once your grandchild can get on his or her hands and knees. Be
sure to install safety gates, but don't use old accordion-style
ones, which can trap a child's head.
Putting things in their mouths is one of the ways that babies
and small children explore their worlds. But certain foods, toys,
and other small objects that we probably take for granted can
easily lodge in a child's little airway. Common choking hazards for
children under 4 years old include foods like peanuts, popcorn, raw
carrots and other raw vegetables, hard fruits, whole grapes or
cherries, or hard candies. Watch out for small plastic toys that
come from vending machines, or parts of older siblings' toys,
such as (Barbie) doll shoes or small construction pieces (like
Leggos). Be especially vigilant during adult parties, when nuts and
other foods might be easily accessible to small hands. Clean up
promptly and carefully, and check the floor for dropped foods that
can cause choking. Make sure small refrigerator magnets and other
small items are out of your grandchild's reach.
Childproofing the House
Supervision is always the best way to keep grandkids safe. But
it's also a good idea to childproof your home. Walk through
your house with an eye for anything that may be unsafe for small
children, including tools, knives, and choking hazards. For babies
and toddlers, put outlet covers on all of the outlet plates. And
don't forget safety latches and locks for cabinets and drawers
in the kitchen and bathroom. Look for products that adults can
easily install and use, but which are sturdy enough to withstand
pulls and tugs from children. Safety latches and child-resistant
packaging are not guarantees of protection, so be sure to keep
medicines, household cleaners, and other dangerous substances
locked away and out of reach. Consider doorknob covers and door
locks to help keep kids away from places with hazards, like
bathrooms and swimming pools. Child safety products are typically
sold at drugstores, big-box stores, and hardware stores.
It's important to do what you can to reduce your
grandchild's exposure to sources of lead, particularly if he or
she is younger than 3 years old. Lead, which is in paint, soil, and
other areas around the house, has been linked to physical and
behavioral problems. Though the government banned lead-based paint
and gasoline in the 1970s, many older homes, toys, cribs, and even
some furniture are covered in lead-based paint because they were
painted before the ban. If you live in an older house, chances are
that lead-based paint was used at some time. To minimize exposure
to lead-based paint chips, use a wet cloth to wipe windowsills and
walls, and watch for water damage that can make the paint peel. And
limit your grandchild's exposure if you have major renovations
done. Be sure that your grandchild washes his or her hands before
eating, after playing outside, and at bedtime. Your child's
doctor or local health department can provide more tips.
When grandkids comes over to stay with you, don't use old
cribs or baby furniture that your own children might have used many
years ago. Though these items may have served your kids just fine
and have undeniable nostalgic appeal, they may not meet current
safety standards, may be covered in lead paint, and may be worn
down. Equipment needs to be in good condition and up to current
The Internet can be a great resource, and your grandchild may
astound you with his or her ability to navigate a computer keyboard
or an Internet search engine. As technology has improved, it's
become an integral part of school and kids' lives. But it's
important to reduce risks that kids might be exposed to online.
Online tools can restrict access to adult material and protect
your grandchild from Internet predators. Many Internet service
providers (ISPs) provide parent-control options to block certain
material from coming into a computer. Software also can help block
access to certain sites based on a "bad site" list that
your ISP creates. Filtering programs can block sites from coming in
and restrict your grandchild's personal information from being
sent online. Also, it's wise to create a screen name that
protects a child's real identity. And consider adding house
rules for computer use, such as: never give your name or address on
the computer, and never click on pop-up ads or offers to purchase
Be prepared in case you need to take your grandchild to the
doctor or hospital. It's important to know the child's
medical history, including any allergies and any medication your
grandchild may be taking. Also have information about the
child's insurance coverage and written permission from the
parents authorizing you to seek medical care for the child.
Numbers to know:
- Poison Control: 1-800-222-1222. If you have a poisoning
emergency, call for the poison control center in your area.
- Police/Ambulance: If your grandchild has collapsed or is not
breathing, call 911 or local emergency numbers.
- Phone number for your grandchild's doctor.
- Parents' work and cell phone numbers.
After raising healthy, safe, kids, now is the time to enjoy your
role as a grandparent. Respecting your own child's role as a
parent, and the advice from the child's doctor, will make your
visits - and your grandparenting experience - a whole lot
Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: May 2006
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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