Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on December 19, 2016

Full of festive decor and family traditions, this time of year offers plenty to be jolly about. The bad news? Many items that make the holidays merry may also pose a health or safety risk to children. In fact, it’s one of the busiest times for emergency room visits. Whether you have kids of your own or plan to host children at your home this holiday season, here are eight ways to keep them out of harm’s way. 

Stay Away From Toxic Plants

The sharp, prickly leaves aren’t the only reason to avoid holly bushes. The berries can be poisonous  to people and pets. Eating just a few berries can cause vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, or drowsiness. Mistletoe also contains a potential toxin. Though most people who eat small amounts of mistletoe generally won't be poisoned, it's best to keep these potentially harmful plants out of your home if you have young children around. 

Watch Out for Dangerous Decor

Bubble lights (those throwback lights from the '50s, '60s, and '70s) may look cheerful, but they pose a danger to little ones. The fluid inside the bulbs, methylene chloride, is highly poisonous if inhaled, swallowed, or if it touches your skin. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, headache, drowsiness, or even death. 

Shiny tinsel and sparkly ornaments can also be choking hazards  As a general rule, if it’s small enough to fit in the mouths of babies and toddlers, it’s too small to play with. Plus, fragile glass ornaments can break easily and cause cuts. Keep all of these potentially dangerous decorations high on the tree -- or better yet, skip them altogether until your children are older.

Child-Proof Your Christmas Tree

Homemade or commercial tree preservatives (especially if they’re made with bleach and vinegar or alcohol) can harm your children or pets if they drink them. Use only plain water in tree stands. Also, if swallowed, needles can cause painful cuts in the mouth and throat, so clean up fallen needles quickly. 

Plan a Safe Party

Pick up any leftover drinks sitting around during a party, and keep any bottles or cans of alcohol out of kids’ reach. Whether it’s wine, spirits, or beer, a sip of alcohol can be dangerous for children, causing their blood sugar to drop and possibly leading to seizures, coma, or even death . Party foods like popcorn and peanuts are small enough for kids to choke on. If you’re hosting children under the age of 4, serve an alternative snack. 

Beware of Battery-Powered Products

Make sure that children can’t get their hands on a battery from toys or decorations. The button-shaped kind are especially risky because they're round, but any size can cause burns in the esophagus within 2 hours after they're swallowed. Never leave batteries sitting out, and use tape to secure any battery compartments that may open if dropped.

Store Medications Safely

If you’re having guests over, remind them to keep all medicine and vitamins securely closed and kept out of sight and reach of children . Kids can also get into purses or bags, so store those in a place they can’t reach. If your kids are visiting or staying at another person’s home, make sure they put any medications (including products like cold medicine or diaper rash creams) in a safe place.  

Avoid the Risk of a Fire

A roaring fire sets a cozy scene for holiday celebrations, but it can be risky: More home fires occur during winter than any other time of year. Have your fireplace inspected before lighting the fire for the first time each year. Don’t burn paper or pine boughs, which can drift out the chimney and possibly spark a fire on your roof or a neighbor’s. And keep any heat sources, like radiators, space heaters, or candles, away from your tree.  

Travel Smart

Traveling during the holidays isn’t easy on anyone, but it can be especially difficult with toddlers. Try to plan sleeping arrangements in advance, and make sure the area is safe and secure: Beware of any loose cords and stairs they could fall down, and ask your host if it’s OK to move any potentially dangerous items. When it comes time to eat, take inventory of the table setting. Watch out for any potential choking hazards, foods your child is allergic to, or foods that could burn them, like hot soup or foods in chafing dishes. 

Show Sources

Kids Health from Nemours. 
National Institutes of Health. 
Electrical Safety Foundation International.
Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD. 


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