Question of the Week

May 13, 2009


With summer on its way, more teens will be responsible for watching siblings, and more teens will have babysitting jobs outside their homes. While some see babysitting as an easy way to make some money, it is important for babysitters (and future babysitters) to realize that it is not a job to be taken lightly.

"Whether it is your first job, or you are a seasoned 'veteran' caring for young children, babysitting is one of the biggest responsibilities you will ever have, and something that must always be taken seriously. Consider taking a child/infant first aid training class. Some employers will insist their babysitters be CPR certified."

Many days, nothing will go wrong, but the reason that a babysitter is there (rather than having the kids home alone) is because someone needs to watch them. Someone needs to be the responsible party who will watch the kids and be there to keep them out of potentially dangerous situations. Not all accidents can be avoided, but a responsible caregiver is more likely to see (and hopefully prevent) an "accident waiting to happen" than a young child. And a responsible caregiver needs to know what to do if a child is injured.

"In the specific categories, 14% of fall injuries to children and adolescents were due to falls from playground equipment, 13% were from furniture, 11% were from skates and skateboards, 3.5% from buildings, and 3.4% of falls were on or from stairs. ... 'Nearly 17,000 children were rushed to emergency rooms in 2007, the last year for which complete figures were available, after heavy or unstable furniture fell over on them, a new study reported this month. The study, published in the journal Clinical Pediatrics by researchers at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, found that the such injuries had risen 41 percent since 1990. The increase correlated with the popularity of ever-bigger flat-panel televisions that Americans have brought into their homes in that time, along with the entertainment centers and narrow, less-stable stands to hold them."

If babysitters are working in other people's homes, they can't be responsible for properly anchoring televisions and furniture, but they can walk through the house and observe where potential dangers might be.

"Three-quarters of the victims of falling furniture are younger than 6 years old, and children that age 'simply don't recognize the danger of climbing on furniture,' said Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital. That makes it imperative that parents take steps to secure flat-panel TVs, which have narrow centers of gravity, and other top-heavy pieces, said Yvonne Holguin-Duran, a child safety specialist with University Health System in San Antonio, Texas. 'If we just take one glance around our house, [parents can] see what safety dangers on their level these children can get into,' Holguin-Duran said."

While many parents go out of their way to latch cabinets and "childproof" their homes, not all parents are aware that furniture and televisions can be as unstable and dangerous as they are. If they are aware of the potential danger, parents may not always understand how to reduce the risk.

"Parents can minimize risks to children by placing televisions low to the ground and near the back of their stands and strapping televisions and furniture to the wall with safety straps or L-brackets. Purchasing furniture with wide legs or with solid bases, installing drawer stops on chests of drawers and placing heavy items close to the floor on shelves will also help prevent tip-overs. Additionally, parents can reduce a child's desire to climb furniture by not placing attractive items, such as toys or the remote control, high on top of furniture or the television.
'Pediatricians and child caregivers should be aware that furniture tip-overs are an important source of childhood injury,' said Dr. Smith, also a faculty member of The Ohio State University College of Medicine."

While not putting tempting objects in high places may seem like an easy fix, it is one that many don't think about. The caregiver is there because the child isn't ready to properly assess the risks and be trusted to make the safe choice.

"More than 80% of fall-related injuries among children four years or younger occur in the home. ... Many of the falls at home are the result of falling from furniture. Falls are the leading cause of nursery product-related injuries. For infants, these falls usually occur when the infant is placed on furniture, a bed or a changing table by an adult. The infant then rolls off the raised surface. For toddlers, falls frequently occur when the child climbs onto and then falls from furniture. ... Although fewer in number, falls out of buildings are responsible for the largest proportion of fall deaths and serious head injuries among children. ... Stairs present another in-home fall risk. ... Young children are at greatest risk for these falls and injuries are usually minor. However, infants being carried by caretakers who fall down stairways tend to sustain more serious injuries."

While babysitting may be fun, and it may seem like easy summer money, it is important to remember that it is an important job, a big responsibility, and something from which people shouldn't let themselves get distracted.

"Each year, at least one pediatric drowning in Phoenix can be attributed to a baby-sitter who answered the telephone or spoke with friends while a toddler slipped into the family swimming pool, toilet, bathtub, dog bowl, etc. Injuries may occur to children when the baby-sitter's attention is elsewhere. A toddler may fall or pull a hot pot off the stove when the baby-sitter isn't watching."

Questions of the Week:
Whether babysitting at someone else's house or watching younger siblings in your own home, what potential dangers should you look for? What can you do to reduce the risk of injury if you see a potentially dangerous situation? Even if you don't see any obvious dangers, what can you do (and not do) to help assure that the child in your care is safe while you are in charge? If you do see a potentially dangerous situation, what should you do (or say)?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

Request Question of the Week by email 
QoW Archives: 9/2002 - 8/2003 9/2003 - 8/2004 9/2004 - 8/2005 9/2005 - 8/2006 9/2006 - present

Custom Search on the AE Site