Tag Archives: safety

Earthquake Preparedness


When looking at websites about earthquake preparedness, I found multiple references to a “Rabbits in the Hole” story to use with preschoolers for earthquake drills. I couldn’t find an official version of the story, so I wrote a little book of my own, aimed at the preschool or kindergarten age child.* It tells the story of a bunny school where the teacher tells the bunnies how to stay safe if the ground shakes. It is intended to teach essential skills in a simple, manageable way, without creating fear.

You can download and print a copy of the story for schools or childcare settings here: rabbits-in-a-hole-earthquake-drill. Here is a version for parents to read at home: rabbits-in-the-hole-for-parents

For adult reference, here are current recommendations (source) on what to do indoors:

  • DROP down onto your hands and knees (before the earthquakes knocks you down). This position protects you from falling but allows you to still move if necessary.
  • COVER your head and neck (and entire body if possible) under a sturdy table or desk.
    • If there is no shelter nearby, crawl away from windows and things that could fall on you, covering your head and neck with your arms and hands.
  • HOLD ON to your shelter (or continue covering your head and neck) until the shaking stops. Be prepared to move with your shelter if the shaking shifts it around.

What to do outdoors: Move no more than a few steps, away from trees, buildings and power lines. Then drop and cover.

If you are driving: pull over, stay in your car with your seat-belt buckled (and your child buckled in their car seat) until the shaking stops.

What NOT to do:

  • Do NOT stand in doorways. In modern buildings, the doorways are no stronger than other parts of the house. You are safer under a table.
  • Do NOT try to run outside or run around inside the building. Although it is safer to be near an interior wall, away from windows, it’s not a big enough benefit to risk running to another room during an earthquake. It’s better to drop, crawl a few feet to the safest space, cover, and hold.
  • If in bed, stay there – put a pillow over your head for protection.

* Note: This book is for children age 2 – 6. If you have a baby or young toddler, we can’t rely on them to follow instructions. In the case of an earthquake, it’s the adults’ job to keep them safe. Pick up the child in your arms, tight against your chest as  you drop and find cover for both of you. If possible, cover the child’s body with your own. (source)

There’s a lot more information on earthquakes at the Earthquake Country website.

You may also be interested in my posts on:

Car Seats – ready for the next level?

Motor vehicle accidents are a major cause of child injury, and the second leading cause of child death in the U.S. Proper use of the proper car seat can hugely reduce the risks for your child. There are four stages of car safety restraints. To choose the right level for your child, it is more important to consider their height and weight than their age. To maximize safety, keep your child in each level of seat as long as possible, until they reach the maximum height and weight for that seat. Each stage provides less protection. Don’t move your child to the next stage until you have to.

Rear-Facing. (Birth to age 2 or beyond) Infant Seat: Weight up to 22 – 35 pounds and height up to 29 – 32 inches, depending on the seat. Convertible Seat: Weight up to 45 pounds, maximum height 40 inches for rear-facing or larger in some select seats. American Academy of Pediatrics says children should ride rear-facing until they are at least 2 years of age, and then until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by the manufacturer of their seat. Riding rear-facing reduces the risk of severe injury by 75%.

Forward-Facing Car Seat with a 5-point Harness. (Age 2 – 7 or beyond). Maximum weight 40 – 90 pounds. Maximum height up to 50 inches. When you install a seat forward facing, be sure to use the tether strap to secure the top as well as buckling in the base.

Booster Seat. (Age 4 – 10) Up to 100 – 120 pounds. From 34 – 63”. Children should be mature enough to sit properly in a booster and not play with the seat belt. Washington State requires kids to use a child safety seat until they are at least 8 years old or taller than 4’9”, whichever comes first.

Seat Belt. (Age 8 – 12) If your child is 8 – 12 years old and at least 4 feet 9 inches tall, AND you can answer yes to these questions, then they’re ready to move out of a booster seat.

  • When child is sitting back in seat, do his knees bend comfortably at the edge of vehicle seat?
  • Does the lap belt stay on the top of the child’s thighs, not up on their belly?
  • Is the shoulder belt center on the child’s chest and shoulder?
  • Can the child stay seated this way for the whole trip? (e.g they won’t put the shoulder part of their seat belt under their arm or behind their back?)

Front Seat. By Washington law, all children should ride in the back seat of the car until age 13. (Exceptions for: pickup trucks or sports cars with no back seat)

More info: www.800bucklup.org; www.safercar.gov/parentshttps://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/on-the-go/Pages/Car-Safety-Seats-Information-for-Families.aspx

Educator Resource: I have two handouts on this topic – a 1 page summary (the info on this page, plus illustrations) and a 2 page version with more details.

Car Seats – Don’t Hurry to the Next Stage

Motor vehicle accidents are the second leading cause of child death in the United States. Proper use of the proper car seat can hugely reduce the risks. There are four stages of car safety restraints. To maximize safety, keep your child in each level of seat as long as possible, until they reach the maximum height and weight for that seat. Each stage provides less protection. Don’t move your child to the next stage until you have to. This is NOT one of the places where we want to rush our kids along to the next developmental milestone!

Note: To choose the right level seat for your child, it is more important to consider their height and weight than their age. (So, if your child is small for their age, they may be in a seat longer than age recommendations say.)

Rear-Facing. (Birth to age 2 or beyond)rear-facing car seat
Infant Seat. Weight from 4 pounds to 22 – 35 pounds and height up to 29 – 32 inches, depending on the seat. Convertible Seat. Weight from 5 or 20 pounds minimum to 45 pounds maximum rear-facing, maximum height 40 inches.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says “All infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat (CSS) until they are 2 years of age or until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by the manufacturer of their CSS.” Riding rear-facing helps to protect a child’s fragile neck and spinal cord, and reduces the risk of severe injury by 75%.

Many parents notice that as their toddler grows, there is less room for their legs, and they have to bend their legs or sit cross-legged in order to fit. They wonder if they should turn the child forward. As a car seat technician told me: “yes, there’s a minor risk of broken legs in an accident. But, broken legs are much easier to heal from then a broken neck, which is more likely if they’re forward facing.”

forward-facing car seatForward-Facing Car Seat with a 5-point Harness. (Age 2 to 7)
Should never be used for a child less than 20 pounds or less than one year old.
Maximum weight 35 – 70 pounds. Max height up to 50 inches.

These seats are equipped with a 5 point harness. In a crash, that harness keeps the child in the seat and helps distribute the force of the crash to the strongest parts of the child’s body. Use for as long as possible, as they provide more support and protection than a booster seat. Your child is ready for a booster when he reaches the top weight and height allowed for his car seat (shoulders are above the top harness slots and his ears have reached the top of the seat.)

You may find as your child gets older that they are riding in other people’s cars more often (for field trips, playdates, and so on). Make sure the person who is transporting your child knows how to install the seat or booster properly.  Some parents choose to use an easy-to-install booster for these occasional trips once their child hits the minimum size, while continuing to use a forward-facing car seat with a 5-point harness in their own car for the majority of car rides.

boostBooster Seat. (Age 4 – 8 or beyond)
Up to 100 – 120 pounds. Maximum heights from 34 – 63”.

Washington requires that children use a safety seat until they’re at least 8 years old or taller than 4’9” (57”) whichever comes first. (Note: Less than 5% of kids are taller than 4’9” at 8 years old. 25% don’t reach 4’9” until they are almost 12 years old.)

Boosters properly position the adult lap and shoulder belt for a child, so it provides proper restraint in case of an accident.

Your car must have a lap and shoulder belt to use a booster. If your car only has lap belts, you can use a forward-facing car seat with a harness or see if shoulder belts can be installed in your car. There are backless booster seats, which are generally less expensive and easier to carry. There are high-back boosters, which should be used in cars without head rests or with low seat backs.

Seat Belt. (Age 8 or older)
If your child is 8 – 12 years old or at least 4 feet 9 inches tall, AND you can answer yes to these questions, then they’re ready to move out of a booster seat.

  • When the child is sitting all the way back against the vehicle seat, do the child’s knees Seat beltbend comfortably at the edge of the vehicle seat?
  • Does the lap belt stay on the top of the child’s thighs, not on their belly?
  • Is the shoulder belt centered on the child’s chest and shoulder (and not on the neck or throat)?

Can the child stay seated this way for the whole trip? Without putting the shoulder part of their seat belt under their arm or behind their back?

Front Seat. By Washington law, all children should ride in the back seat until age 13.
(Exceptions for: pickup trucks or sports cars with no back seat, or if the back seat is filled with younger children)

Air bags are very dangerous to children riding in rear-facing car seats. If your vehicle has a front passenger air bag, infants in rear-facing seats must ride in the back. If a young child must ride in the front seat of the car, check your vehicle owner’s manual to learn how to turn off the air bag.

Choosing a Car Seat: Choose a car seat that is easy for you to use, so that you will use it right every time. NHTSA offers ease of use ratings for all the car seats on the market: http://www.nhtsa.gov/nhtsa_eou/

If your child is likely to be tall or heavy for their age, choose a seat with higher maximum weight and height to allow your child to use that car seat as long as possible.

Install the Car Seat Properly. For a car seat to work correctly, it must be installed correctly. Check the web resources below for information on car seat installation, and read your car seat manual and your vehicle manual for tips. Once you’ve installed a seat, you can have it checked for free. See www.800bucklup.org/carseat/inspections.asp for a list of inspectors.

Clothing. If a child is dressed in bulky clothing, the car seat may not properly restrain them in case of a crash. In the winter time, buckle your child into the seat without a coat on, and then place the coat or a blanket over the harness for warmth.

Other Objects. In case of an accident, loose objects in the car can fly around and strike passengers, and if your child is holding a hard object, it could hit them, causing injury. Keep this in mind as you do your best to keep your car tidy and consider what your child has access to in the car.

Be a Good Role Model. Always buckle up yourself. Always encourage all the other adults in the car to buckle up. Practice safe driving practices with minimal distractions. Your children will be driving themselves in just a few years, and they will have learned a lot about driving by watching you from the back seat. Make sure you are showing the behavior you want them to learn.

I think of motor vehicle safety as what I call a “red light” issue. When I teach safety skills to children, or talk to parents about safety skills, I think about “green light” situations with no risk of harm, “yellow lights” where we just let them know to be careful, “orange lights” where we only allow them to do something with very close adult supervision, and “red lights” which are absolute rules, set by the parents, and followed all the time in order to keep the child safe. Riding in the proper seat, properly buckled is mandatory. (To learn more about my thoughts on teaching safety skills, click here. And to learn about letting a child take reasonable risks as a learning experience, click here.)

More info: www.800bucklup.org; www.safercar.gov/parents; www.healthychildren.org

In this post, I reference Washington State laws. To learn the laws in your state, visit: http://www.ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/laws/childsafety_laws.html

For a printable handout of this information, click here.

Illustrations from healthychildren.org

Letting Your Child Take Risks

merryOn the one hand, it’s a parent’s job to protect a child from harm. On the other hand, children need to independently explore their world in order to understand their world. If we over-protect, we limit their ability to learn, we may teach them to be timid and fearful, and we may actually put them at greater risk. “If we round every corner, and eliminate every pokey bit, then the first time that kids come in contact with anything not made of round plastic, they’ll hurt themselves.”(Ted Talk by Gever Tulley)

If we allow them to take small, manageable risks with us there to supervise and coach them through, they learn more about life, they tend to feel bold and empowered, and they’ll have an internal sense of when a situation carries a potential risk and will know they need to be more cautious to stay safe.

Differentiating level of risk

When deciding about safety issues, what needs to be child-proofed, and what boundaries to set, think about the level of possible risk involved.

If the situation could turn from safe to life-threatening in one unsupervised moment (what I call “red light” issues), then you need to either remove the hazards (e.g. don’t leave poisonous items or guns out), block them off (e.g. fences around swimming pools, window locks that prevent the second-story window from opening all the way) or closely supervise the child at all times (e.g. if your child is playing with a ball in a park near a busy road). Rules about these sorts of situations should be clearly explained, non-negotiable and followed every time.

If the situation could cause a significant injury, that’s what I call an orange light. When a child is around these situations (like a campfire or the sharp knives in the kitchen), you model safe behavior for the child, you talk to them about the need for caution, and when the time is right, you teach them how to interact with those things safely. You do not leave your child unsupervised.

If a situation has some risk, but really the worst that can happen is minor damage to person (bump or bruise) or property (mess that needs to be cleaned up or non-valuable item broken), then consider whether this situation needs to be child-proofed or left as a low-risk learning experience.

Darel Hammond, CEO of KaBOOM! says “There’s a difference between an accident and an injury. Accidents happen – kids fall and skin their knees… And as tragic as it is in that moment, it’s through that experience that they’re learning perseverance, they’re learning determination. They dust themselves off and go try something again and they can overcome it.”

Or, as Tom Mullarkey, Chief Executive, Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents said “We must try to make life as safe as necessary. Not as safe as possible.”

Learn more about levels of safety / risk and how to teach safety skills to kids here.

Kid’s Favorite Risky Behaviors

No matter what we do to safety-proof, “Kids are always going to figure out how to do the most dangerous thing they can.” (Gever Tulley) Ellen Sandseter has developed these categories of risky play that seem to especially appeal to kids in play.

  • Great heights: Climbing trees, furniture, anything else to get that “king of the mountain” thrill.
  • Rapid speeds: Swings, merry-go-rounds, slides, bikes, roller coasters. Anything fast.
  • Dangerous tools and dangerous elements: Fire, hammers, knives, guns, power tools, chemicals.
  • Rough and tumble: Wrestling, play-fighting, chasing, pushing, pinching.
  • Disappearing / getting lost: Games like peek-a-boo, then hide and seek fulfill some of this desire, but there’s also little ones trying to wander outside their boundaries, older kids staying out past curfew.

For each, the child has a sense of possible risk, and feeling just barely in control, but managing to stay in control through that challenge. This gives a thrill, and also a sense of power and competence.

Children with a more passive temperament want these risks, but if they don’t have them, they may give up. For example, if the “safe” playgrounds in the neighborhood no longer offer a thrill to an eight year old, she may just choose to stay inside and play video games for a vicarious thrill. (Some people have argued that part of the American obesity epidemic in kids is due to their parents keeping them inside where it’s safe, and them not being physically challenged when they do leave the house.)

But other kids can’t resist their inner thrill seeker. If they don’t have approved opportunities in their environment that “push these buttons” then they will find a way to make them happen. Some of their inventions may be much riskier than we would wish. (A friend told a story from his teens of how he and his friends had filled a trash bag with some flammable gas, then lit it on fire. His line was “The first time we did it, it blew all the windows out of the garage.” The women who heard this story all said incredulously “the first time?? That means you did it more than once??” The men in the group all said “Well, yeah – the windows were already gone – nothing left to damage by doing it again.”)  You may want to start thinking now about how to offer options for positive risk-taking for your child…

As a parent of a young one, think about each of these categories of risks that kids seek, and consider whether you are offering your child access to these thrills in a safe, controlled environment where you can coach them as needed to learn new skills for how to do it well. Have you let your child climb to a “great height” this week – the big slide at the playground? A good climbing tree? A steep hill on a trail? Have they experienced great speeds – riding in a bike trailer? Being pushed high on a swing? Spinning in an office chair? “Dangerous tools” at this age is about using tools they see mommy or daddy using – a metal fork instead of a soft plastic spoon? A table knife to cut a banana with? The TV remote? For rough-and-tumble, toddlers love wrestling, or holding hands between parents and being swung up high in the air, or chase games. For “getting lost”, nothing beats hide and seek. They may also like getting a long distance away from you – when you’re outdoors in a place where it’s safe to do so, give them some space.

Benefits of Risky Play

It’s easy to look at risky play and think of it as “stupid.” Why do children do risky things, even when they “know better”? (One of my favorite lines was from a group of middle school boys after an accident led to a broken arm for one: the principal asked them why they did something – “didn’t you realize someone could get hurt??” They shuffled their feet a little, looked at the wall, and eventually said “well, yeah, of course. We just didn’t think anyone would get hurt that badly.”)

There’s clearly an evolutionary benefit to play, since young animals of every species learn by playing, and often by playing in rough and tumble ways that can lead to injury. What are the benefits?

  • Learning skills they’ll need as an adult: At some point, kids need to learn to use dangerous tools.
  • Persistence / overcoming challenges: “Risk teaches children how to fail and try again, test their limits and boundaries, become resilient and acquire coping skills” (Hammond)
  • Responsibility: “Childhood is the time when children take more responsibility for themselves, for their safety and for their actions. We actually do children a dis-service by trying to eliminate risk from their lives as they grow up. It’s a good thing for children to be exposed to the possibility that things might go wrong because that’s how they learn to cope with challenges.” Tom Gill, author of No Fear.
  • Emotion regulation: It helps children “regulate fear and anger… youngsters dose themselves with manageable quantities of fear and practice keeping their head while experiencing fear. In rough and tumble play, they may experience anger, but to continue the fun, they must overcome it.” (Gray)

Questions to Ask Yourself

If you have young children at home, you are, of course, going to safety-proof all the potentially life-threatening risks. You will, or course, teach your child safety skills that help reduce injuries.

But can you also view risk as a learning opportunity? Can you sit back and let your child experience a few bumps and bruises as they explore their world? Can you tolerate some messiness in your life, and occasional damage to your possessions if it allows your child to discover new ideas and new skills?


photo credit: xiaming via photopin cc

Recommended for more info:

Read: Risky Play – Why Children Love It and Need It, Peter Gray in Psychology Today. www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201404/risky-play-why-children-love-it-and-need-it

Read: The Overprotected Kid by Hanna Rosin. The Atlantic, March 2014.
(It’s a long article. If you’d prefer to listen to an interview with the author that covers the same ground, go to www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/parents-let-kids-take-risks/)

Read: Can a Playground be too safe? By John Tierney. www.nytimes.com/2011/07/19/science/19tierney.html

Watch: The Benefits of Risk in Children’s Play www.youtube.com/watch?v=XRn1a82tdHM and
Ted Talk by Gever Tulley: 5 Dangerous Things You should Let Your Kids Do. www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pn_awAPYlGc

Listen to: The Land by Erin Davis: www.prx.org/pieces/100288-of-kith-and-kids#description

On Facebook, like: Play Free Movie – they post lots of great links on these topics!