Topic Overview

This topic suggests ways to help
prevent illness and accidental injuries in young children. It does not cover
every risk that a child faces, but it does cover many of the most common
hazards and situations that can be dangerous to children ages 2 to 5

What can you expect from your child at this age?

Children in this age range are gaining many new skills, and they feel
more and more independent. They may be curious, want to explore the world
around them, and act without thinking.

At this age, children see everything that happens as it relates to themselves. And they believe that what they wish for or expect to happen can affect what really happens. They overestimate what is
in their control, which contributes to their vulnerability. They are often
unaware of the consequences of their actions. This can lead to dangerous

You can help decrease any dangers by accepting that your child will go through active and
curious phases. Think about what you can do to
avoid safety hazards. If your child is discovering the joys of riding a
tricycle, for example, be sure to make riding in the street off-limits.

You can also find behaviors to teach and model. For example, if you wash your hands before eating, you child will probably also do this.

Remember that no one can watch a child’s every move or make a
home 100% safe all the time. Try to find a balance for supervising your
child, taking safety precautions, and allowing your child to explore. Learn all you can about child growth and
development. Doing so can help you learn how to respond to and make a positive impact on how your child behaves.

What can you do to help keep your child safe?

child is gaining in confidence and probably wants to explore. But your child
still needs your close supervision and guidance. You can:

  • Set up and consistently enforce rules and limits to help your child learn about dangers.
  • Teach some basic safety rules and precautions. Do this inside and outside the home. For
    example, teach your child to always use the car seat and that ovens and
    toasters can cause burns. Talk with other caregivers about what problems could arise and how to prevent them.
  • Practice healthy habits. Protect your child against illness and infection. For example, wash
    your hands often, keep toys clean, make sure your child is
    immunized, and go to all well-child visits.
  • Take safety measures around the home.
    For example, store poisonous products out of your child’s reach, and use safety
    covers on all electrical outlets.

How can your stress level affect your child’s safety?

Taking care of yourself is a vital part of keeping your child safe. Most
injuries to children happen when parents or caregivers are tired, hungry, or
emotionally drained or are having relationship problems. Other common causes of
family stress include changes in daily routines, moving to a new house, or
expecting another child.

If you feel over-stressed, get help. Talk with your
doctor or your child’s doctor, or see a counselor. Find support from family and friends, or join a parenting group.

Call 911 right away if you feel you are about to hurt yourself or your child.

Health Tools

Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.

Actionsets are designed to help people take an active role in managing a health condition.

Interactive tools are designed to help people determine health risks, ideal weight, target heart rate, and more.

Healthy Habits for Preventing Infection and Illness

Safe food preparation and precautions

You can prevent most cases of food poisoning by being careful when you prepare and store food. Wash your hands and working surfaces while preparing food, cook foods to safe temperatures, and refrigerate foods promptly. Be especially careful when you cook or heat perishable foods, such as eggs, meats, poultry, fish, shellfish, milk, and milk products.

To help prevent food poisoning:

For more information, see the topic
Food Poisoning and Safe Food Handling.

Protect against the spread of illness

Colds and
flu can
occur at any time of year. These upper respiratory infections (URIs) spread easily. Take extra precautions to help protect your child
against these and other viral and bacterial infections.

Visit the doctor regularly

Schedule regular
well-child appointments. During these visits, the

  • Gives your child a general physical exam.
  • Gives or schedules immunizations.
  • Asks you questions
    about your child’s health and development and whether you have any

Safety Measures Around the Home

You can help
protect your child from accidents and injuries by taking general safety
measures around your home. Think ahead about what potentially dangerous
situations will attract your child. Supervise your child, but keep in mind that constant hovering over children can limit their experiences
and confidence. Balancing supervision with safety precautions will help prevent
accidents and injuries as well as allow children to explore.

following are common accidents and injuries that can occur around the house,
and some suggestions on how to prevent them.


Preventing falls isn’t always easy.
Toddlers and young children often move quickly. Their excitement about their
mobility and their lack of experience can make them unaware of dangers, such as
stairs or hills. Children ages 4 to 5 years anticipate many dangers,
but they may not have the physical skills to avoid accidents. Some ways to help prevent falls are to:

  • Use sliding gates at both ends of stairways.
  • Use safety straps in high chairs and changing tables.


Children ages 2 to 5
years can easily choke on everyday objects and food. Your child needs your
supervision even though he or she may be able to eat independently.

  • Prevent choking. Your child can choke on things smaller
    than 1.25 in. (3.2 cm) in
    diameter and 2.25 in. (5.7 cm) long. These include button batteries and coins. Keep items like these out of your child’s reach.
  • Learn to recognize
    signs of choking. For
    example, a child who is choking can’t talk, cry, breathe, or cough.

Strangulation and suffocation

household items can strangle a young child. Make sure that loose cords, objects, and
furniture don’t pose strangling risks.

  • Keep cords for blinds and drapes out of
    reach. Attach cords to mounts that hold them taut, and wrap them around wall
    brackets. Cords with loops should be cut and equipped with safety
  • Do not use accordion-style gates. Babies and young
    children can get their heads trapped in the gate and may
  • Make sure that furniture doesn’t have cutout portions or
    other areas that can trap your child’s head.

Suffocation is another danger for young children. Teach
your child about suffocation and the importance of a safe play area. Pay
attention to possible suffocation dangers, such as:

  • Trunks of cars. Keep rear fold-down seats
    closed so children aren’t able to climb into the trunk from inside the car.
    Also, always lock car doors and keep the keys out of sight and out of reach of
    your child.
  • Refrigerators and freezers, even those that aren’t in
    use. If you are storing an old refrigerator or freezer, be sure to take off the
  • Plastic sacks. Don’t let your child play with plastic
    sacks. Keep them out of reach. Children may put sacks over their
    head during play, which can lead to suffocation.


Fire hazards and burns

  • Prevent household fires by having and maintaining smoke detectors, planning and practicing
    escape routes, and teaching your child basic fire safety skills. Children
    ages 2 to 5 are often curious about fire. Warn your child about
    the dangers of fire, and explain why only grown-ups are allowed to use
  • Prevent burns. Serious burns are most often caused by heat,
    electricity, or chemicals. Prevent burn injuries to your
    child by identifying dangers in your home and removing them or blocking your
    child’s access to them. For more information, see the topic
  • Enjoy fireworks from a distance.
    Fireworks injure children each summer. Children can also get burns from using and being
    around firecrackers and sparklers.

Guns and other weapons

Gun and firearm safety measures should be established for all households and especially those
where children live or visit. Keep all guns and firearms in a locked
area, unloaded, and out of reach of children. Also, store knives (even kitchen
knives), swords, and other weapons safely out of reach.


Teach children how to interact with pets. Teach them to never tease animals or bother them while they are eating. Explain that animals can sometimes hurt you. Also be sure to train your own
pets and keep them healthy.


Drowning is a leading cause of death
in young children. Help
prevent drowning by following these tips:

In addition to these precautions, learn first aid and
CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). Knowing these
skills can make the difference between life and death in an emergency
situation. For more information, see the topic
Dealing With Emergencies.

Safety Measures Outside the Home

You can’t protect
your child from every danger that he or she can possibly encounter outside the home.
But you can equip your child with some basic safety rules and precautions. Let
your child’s natural surroundings give you
ideas for general training to help prepare
your child for a variety of situations he or she may face.

To help
avoid accidents, injuries, and unsafe situations outside the home, establish
and review basic rules before outings. Reinforce the rules often. And let other caregivers know about them.

Basic safety precautions

  • Help your child be safe in and around motor vehicles. Teach your child basic rules about the
    dangers of streets, cars, and other vehicles.
  • Help prevent child abduction. Teach children
    to be cautious of strangers, and teach them how to react when they feel they are
    threatened. Remember that most children who
    are abducted aren’t taken by strangers but rather by a parent, a relative,
    a family friend, or an acquaintance.
  • Protect your child from too much sun or heat when outdoors. If your child will be outside from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., have your child stay in the shade or cover up with a hat and clothing and wear UV-blocking sunglasses. Put broad-spectrum sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher) on any exposed skin, even when it’s cloudy. Watch for heat exhaustion. Don’t
    keep your child out in warm weather for long periods. For more information, see Sunburn and
    Heat-Related Illnesses.
  • Help your child prevent insect stings and spider bites. Use
    insect repellents, and have your child wear closed shoes, socks, and clothes that fully cover his or her
    body when outdoors. For more information, see Insect Bites and Stings and Spider Bites.
  • Keep your child safe on the playground. Make sure all
    play equipment is safe, in good repair, and appropriate for your child’s age.
    Closely supervise all young children while they are playing on any

Before your child visits an unfamiliar home, ask whether
you need to be aware of any dangerous areas, weapons in the home, pets, or
other safety issues. Also, it is always a good idea to see the household
for yourself. Don’t be afraid to voice any concerns you have about safety. You
are ultimately responsible for protecting your child.

Choosing child care

Before enrolling your child in
day care, evaluate the environment and talk with the care providers.
Ask questions about their safety guidelines. Identify any hazards, and ask
how they are handled. For more information, see the topic
Choosing Child Care.

Going along for the ride: Exercising caution

parents and caregivers want to share their favorite activities with their young
children. This can help build common interests and appreciation for exercise
and other pursuits. Be sure, though, to recognize the safety issues related to
these activities. Remember that your child’s comfort and safety are most

  • Always use a car seat and have your child ride in the backseat of your car. Car accidents are the leading cause of death and injury
    in young children. Follow
    basic guidelines established by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). See the AAP website at
  • Never leave your child alone in a car. Heat
    inside the car and other factors could cause long-lasting injury-or death-in a
    matter of minutes. Keeping the car windows down won’t protect
    your child in hot or warm weather. Other injuries could also occur from a child
    getting stuck in the trunk or setting the car in motion.
  • Keep your child safe in strollers and carts. Use the safety straps, and follow the printed instructions. It’s safest not to put children in shopping carts at all.
  • Use extra caution when riding bikes and tricycles. Make sure that you and your child always wear
    helmets and practice safe riding habits, such as avoiding busy streets. Bike
    only during daylight hours.
  • If your child rides a scooter, watch him or her at all times. Don’t let your child ride near traffic. And have your child wear a helmet, knee pads, and elbow pads. Wait until your child is a little older before you teach skateboard safety. It’s not safe for children younger than 5 to use skateboards.
  • Monitor air pollution before outdoor
    activities. Children’s lungs are especially sensitive to pollution. You can
    check your newspaper or local weather station for details about air pollution

Parent Self-Care

Connection between your well-being and child safety

Taking care of yourself is a vital part of keeping your child safe.
Although accidents can occur at any time, many happen during times of excess
stress, such as when:

  • Parents and children are hungry and tired.
  • Another baby is
  • Relationship problems develop.
  • Major changes in the
    routine or environment occur, such as when a child’s caregiver changes, when the family is
    moving, or when a parent leaves because of military duty.

Recognize the
signs of stress and what situations cause it. Be extra vigilant during these
times. Take care of yourself and your
personal relationships.

For more
information, see the topic
Stress Management and/or use the Interactive Tool: What Is Your Stress Level?

Seeking help

All parents have times when they feel
exhausted, frustrated, angry, sad, or overwhelmed. This is a
normal part of being human and a parent. But if these feelings become too much
for you to handle alone, keep your child safe by
getting help. For example, when your emotions are too
much for you to handle alone, you may not have the energy or desire to watch
your child as closely as you should. And some parents injure their children when
their emotions cause them to shake, hit, or push them.

Call 911 right away if you feel that you are about to injure yourself or
your child.

Places to go for help include:

For more information on physical harm to children, see
the topic:

For more information on
handling difficult emotions, see the topic:

Other Places To Get Help

Organizations (U.S.)

Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies: (U.S.)


Other Works Consulted

  • American Academy of Pediatrics (2009). Keeping your child safe. In SP Shevlov et al., eds., Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5, 5th ed., pp. 457-506. New York: Bantam.
  • Committee on Injury and Poison Prevention, American Academy of Pediatrics (2002, reaffirmed 2005). Policy statement: Skateboard and scooter injuries. Pediatrics, 109(3): 542-543.
  • Rivara FP, Grossman DC (2011). Injury control. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 19th ed., pp. 17-25. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
  • Treitz M, et al. (2014). Ambulatory and office pediatrics. In WW Hay Jr et al., eds., Current Diagnosis and Treatment: Pediatrics, 22nd ed., pp. 248-270. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Window Covering Safety Council (accessed August 2012). Basic cord safety. Available online:


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD – Pediatrics
E. Gregory Thompson, MD – Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD – Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Thomas Emmett Francoeur, MD, MDCM, CSPQ, FRCPC – Pediatrics

Current as ofMay 4, 2017