The winter holidays are an exciting time for families, especially children, and that means more cooking, decorating, and entertaining, with a higher incidence of fire and accidents. Following some simple guidelines will help make your holiday season safe and enjoyable.

Trees *Artificial trees should be labeled "Fire Resistant."

*Live trees should be fresh (green color, needles do not break when bent between your fingers, and the tree should not lose many needles when tapped on the ground).

*Place trees away from fireplaces, radiators or heaters. Do not block doorways.

*Keep the tree stand filled with water; heated rooms dry live trees very quickly.

Lights *Check all lights before hanging on the tree for frayed wires, broken sockets or loose connections.

*Never use electric lights on a metallic tree. The tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights and a person touching a branch could be electrocuted.

Decorations

*Avoid decorations that are sharp or breakable if there are small children in the house. Keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children to prevent them from swallowing or inhaling small pieces.

*Avoid trimmings that look like food or candy that may tempt a child to eat them.

Toy Safety *Read instructions carefully before buying a toy or allowing your child to play with a toy he/she has received as a gift.

*Purchase age-appropriate toys. Some toys designed for older children might be dangerous for young children.


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*Button batteries and magnets can cause serious stomach and intestinal problems-including death- if swallowed. In addition to toys, button batteries are often found in musical greeting cards, remote controls, and other small electronics. Call your health care provider immediately if your child swallows one.

*Do not give children under age 10 a toy that must be plugged into an electrical outlet to avoid burns and electrical shocks.

*Toys with sharp points or edges, strings, cords, and parts small enough to be swallowed should not be given to small children. Government regulations specify that toys for children under age three cannot have parts less than 1 1 4 inches in diameter and 2 1 4 inches in length.

After the celebrations *Clean up immediately after a holiday party. A small child could wake up early and choke on leftover food or come in contact with tobacco or alcohol.

*Homes you visit may not be childproofed. Keep an eye out for potential dangers.

*While traveling for the holidays, try to keep to your child's regular schedule as much as possible. Regular naps and sleep schedules can help reduce stress and enable your child to enjoy the holidays.

By observing these simple precautions, you and your family can have a safe and memorable holiday season. Check out our Facebook page to find out more health and safety tips for the holidays.

Dr. Lynn Mann is a pediatrician with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Putnam Physicians and cares for patients at SVMC Pediatrics in Bennington and Northshire Medical Center in Manchester. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Mann, call 362-4440. To learn more about how SVMC and Dartmouth-Hitchcock are working together for a healthier community, visit www.svhealthcare.org. "Health Matters" is a weekly column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public matters and public policy as it affects health care.