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By Lisa Lombardi
"I haven't really safety-proofed the kitchen and it scares me," says Sharlene Breakey, mom of 5-year-old Zeke and 3-year-old Edie in New York City. "But I have basic rules I follow: I only use the back burners, unless I'm standing by the stove, and I never leave knives on the counter." Breakey also lays down the law for her little ones: They know not to touch the stove, because it's hot, and other kitchen basics. "I believe in the value of teaching kids to be safe themselves," she says. "They really do seem to understand that when I'm cooking, it's dangerous."
They're smart kids. Each year, more than 67,000 children are injured in the kitchen -- 43,000 of them four years old and under. "The only way to truly prevent kitchen accidents is to closely supervise your child and enforce rules, like no sitting on the counters," says Andy Spooner, M.D., director of general pediatrics at the University of Tennessee in Memphis. "Gizmos sold to improve kitchen safety are nice, but they can't take the place of adult supervision." What else can you do to prevent accidents? Here are Dr. Spooner's top recommendations:
Turn pot handles in "The biggest injuries in the kitchen are scald burns" -- kids pulling down boiling-hot liquid on top of themselves, says Dr. Spooner. To prevent these, use only the back burners, as Breakey does. No matter what flame you use, though, make it a habit to always turn pot handles toward the back of stove.
Beware electrical cords "I've seen horrible grease burns from kids pulling at cords and yanking deep fryers on top of themselves," says Dr. Spooner. Never run extension cords in the kitchen (call an electrician if you need another outlet -- it's worth spending the extra money). And keep the coffee pot, fryer, crock pot and other cords at the back of your countertops, out of your child's reach.
Don't microwave baby's bottles Why? Microwaves don't heat liquids evenly, so microwaving that bottle can result in hot spots that can burn your baby's mouth. Instead, heat bottles in a bottle warmer or place them in a pot of hot (but not boiling) water for five minutes.
Don't rely solely on safety latches Do you keep our cleaning products in a locked cabinet under the sink? Move them today, to a high shelf well out of your tyke's reach. "It doesn't take much ingenuity to open safety latches," says Dr. Spooner. "They're meant to slow down a child, not prohibit access." And it's absolutely essential to keep your curious child away from cleaning aids: Most commercial products contain hydrocarbon compounds that are highly toxic "even if a child just has just the slightest amount," says Dr. Spooner. Another no-no Dr. Spooner sees surprisingly often: Storing cleaning products in soda bottles, which sends a deadly mixed message.
If you don't have a high shelf that's positively child-proof, you may have to add one. That's what New York mom Breakey did. Her one safety-proofing measure was a crucial one: She built a shelf high above her broom cabinet to keep her cleaning products out of Zeke and Edie's reach.
With a few precautionary measures, you can create a kitchen that is safe for kids and a central place for the family to spend time together.
Lisa Lombardi is an editor, writer, and mom in New York City.
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