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Safety tips for small children over the holidays

Colored lights are magical to a child, especially during the holiday season. Shiny ornaments and sparkling tinsel look good enough to eat. Glowing candles beckon little fingers. And there lies the dazzle that makes the holidays special and the danger those attractive symbolic ornaments and decorations pose to a small child.

Many parents forget to view holiday decorations through their own safety lenses. We are so used to associating happy memories with these items, that they forget to see them through the eyes of a child who cannot resist the temptation to touch, taste or smell. So, even when your child is right under your nose, you can't be too careful. Holiday cheer and friendly conversation can be just enough distraction for your toddler to get herself into trouble.

We all learn about the world through our senses. But children below the age of three are particularly focused on exploring the world through their sense of touch and taste. Colored electrical lights on Christmas trees have tempted more than one child to touch them - even lick them -- which can land a child in the emergency room. Flames from beautiful menorahs can easily burn tiny, curious fingers. Young children easily perceive shiny glass ornaments as toys, so protect your child from glass objects that could cut or shatter by substituting plastic for a few years.

Make the holidays safe for young children by:

---not leaving children unsupervised around any kind of electrical lighting or open flame.

---taking an inventory of potential hazards you have in your home after decorating, and pay special attention to electrical decorations. Christmas lights hung or strung across a wall or window are no exception. These may be low enough for a small child to grab before you can notice.

---When visiting friends and relatives, check the environment for these same types of safety hazards.

Don't forget to talk with your older children about safety, too:

---Identify lights as pretty to watch, but dangerous to put in your mouth or grab.

---Tell your toddlers and preschoolers what is safe to touch and what is likely to shatter or break.

---place candles and breakable items out of the reach of children until they fully understand the risks involved.

Above all, use your common sense. Look around your home and other environments where your child will spend time this holiday season to identify potential hazards. A little caution can go a long way to ensure that your holiday season is safe and merry!

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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