Tips to keep kids healthy and safe during the holidays

Family holiday celebration

Whether your family is traveling far or staying close to home over the holidays, parents have an important role in making this season safe and joyful for their children.

From picking age-appropriate toys to avoiding holiday hazards, the University of Chicago Pediatric Injury Prevention Program has a list of child-safety tips to make sure your kids stays happy and healthy this holiday season.

What are general tips for keeping children healthy over the holidays?

  • A flu shot and COVID-19 vaccine are key to keeping your kids healthy. You’ll also protect elderly relatives and other family and friends who may be especially vulnerable.
  • Encourage handwashing and keep hand sanitizer in your purse, car and around the home.
  • Keep your kids bundled up and warm in cold weather. Try to stick to a regular bedtime routine, so everyone gets a good night’s sleep.
  • Go for moderation! Cake, candy and cookies are yummy, but encourage one serving instead of two, or a couple of cookies instead of five or six.

What safe travel tips do you have for the holidays?

Make sure your child is restrained in a car seat, booster or seat belt that’s right for their age and size. Bring your own car seat or booster if you’re ride-sharing, taking a taxi or flying. Adults should always buckle up, too.

Children shouldn’t wear bulky, thick or puffy coats while secured in car seats or booster seats. They create dangerous gaps in the harness or seat belt and can cause children to be ejected during a crash.

Leave plenty of time to get where you’re going, and tune up your car and inflate tires properly before long trips. Keep a cell phone and charger in the car.

For winter driving, keep a safe distance from snowplows, prepare an emergency kit for cold weather — including blanket, flares and jumper cables — and slow down on icy, rainy or snowy roads or other challenging conditions. Speeding is the main factor in one-third of serious accidents.

How do I pick out safe and appropriate toys?

  • Pay attention to age recommendations on all packaging.
  • Children ages 4 and younger are likely to put everything in the mouth. All toys and parts should be larger than your child’s mouth to avoid choking. Avoid stuffed animals with pellets, buttons or loose parts that can be swallowed.
  • For video games, double-check age recommendations and content warnings.
  • Buy helmets, knee pads and other safety equipment to go along with new bikes, skateboards and similar gifts.
  • Look for labels that say nontoxic. Avoid toys that shoot objects into the air, or are loud enough to damage a child’s hearing. Hobby kits and chemistry sets are often designed for children ages 12 and older.

What food safety tips should we follow?

  • Wash your hands and clean surfaces often.
  • Prepare raw meats separately from other foods and surfaces.
  • Cook and reheat all foods to the proper temperature.
  • Refrigerate leftovers promptly.

Any other tips to keep children safe at gatherings in my home?

Fire prevention: Use flameless candles or keep a close eye on real candles, and keep them away from flammable materials. Water your Christmas tree regularly so it doesn’t dry out. Keep space heaters away from bedding or drapes, and buy one that turns off when it tips over. Buy only flame-retardant pajamas. Don’t overload power strips and don’t run extension cords under rugs.

Toxic plants/medications: Lock up medication, alcohol and cleaning supplies before company arrives. Some decorative holiday plants are toxic, including holly, poinsettias and mistletoe. Use artificial versions or keep them out of reach of kids and pets.

Food allergies: If your child has allergies and isn’t old enough to keep track of what’s on the buffet table, keep an eye on them and their plate. If your child complains of a rash, has trouble breathing, or you notice anything out of the ordinary, call 911, your child’s doctor, or poison control.

About the Authors

Matt Louzon, CPST, is the program coordinator for the University of Chicago Pediatric Injury Prevention Program.