Holiday tips to keep your kids healthy and safe

Family holiday celebration

Parents play an important role in making the holidays a special time for their children. Whether it’s providing safe foods or age-appropriate toys, taking the right precautions can help families avoid hazards that come with the holidays.

Here are tips from child-safety experts at the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital to help keep everyone healthy and safe at home or while traveling.

How do I keep my kids healthy during the holiday?

Alison Tothy, MD: Good hand washing and getting flu shots are key. Stick a hand sanitizer in your purse or diaper bag. Bundle up from head to toe to keep warm. Try and stick to your routine, including regular bedtimes, so kids and parents get a good night’s sleep. When we get overtired, accidents and injuries sometimes occur.

How can I help children eat healthy?

Tothy: This isn’t a time to say no to all the holiday food traditions. Encourage moderation. For example, offer two cookies or pieces of candy instead of six.

At this time of holiday buffets, what food safety tips should we follow?

Poj Lysouvakon, MD: Follow this mantra to keep food safe:

  • Clean — Wash hands and surfaces often.
  • Separate — Keep raw meats apart from other foods.
  • Cook — Heat to the right temperature.
  • Chill — Refrigerate food promptly.

Tothy: If your child has a food allergy and isn’t old enough to monitor the ingredients of the foods on the buffet table, be sure to keep an eye on him or her. If your child eats something new and starts to complain of a rash or scratchy throat, call your pediatrician. Or call 911 if your child is sick to the stomach, has swelling lips or has trouble breathing immediately after eating a food.

How do I choose safe and appropriate toys?

Lysouvakon: Labels tell you what ages the toy is safe for and how to properly use it. Look for labels that say nontoxic. Avoid toys that shoot objects in the air or are loud enough to damage a child’s hearing. Hobby kits and chemistry sets are designed for children 12 years of age and older.

Tothy: Children under age 4 are likely to put everything in the mouth. All toys and parts should be larger than your child’s mouth to prevent choking. Avoid buying stuffed animals that have small bean-like pellets, buttons or loose parts that can be swallowed. If giving your infant a gift to unwrap, make sure there are no small staples or plastic bags.

Any safe travel tips for the holidays?

Tothy: It’s back to the basics: Make sure your child is restrained in a car seat or booster or by a seat belt, depending on his or her age. Pay attention to the weather, and leave plenty of time to get where you’re going.

Lysouvakon: Make sure your car is tuned up before taking a long drive. Map out your route, and leave earlier or later to avoid heavy traffic. Keep a cell phone and charger with you at all times, and have the contact information for roadside assistance ready in case of an incident. This is important to make sure young children aren't exposed to the cold for a long period.

How can we prevent home fires?

Tothy: Buy flameless candles, and if you’re using real candles, keep an eye on them. Water your Christmas tree regularly so it doesn’t dry out. Buy only pajamas with a flame-retardant label. If it’s cold in your home, you can use space heaters, but be sure to keep them away from bedding or drapes that could catch fire.

Alison Tothy, MD

Alison Tothy, MD

Alison Tothy, MD, is associate professor of pediatrics in the pediatric emergency medicine department at Comer Children’s.

Learn more about Dr. Tothy
Poj Lysouvakon, MD

Poj Lysouvakon, MD

Poj Lysouvakon, MD, is a pediatrician, director of the University of Chicago Pediatric Injury Prevention Program, and pediatric director of the Well Baby Unit at Comer Children's Hospital.

Learn more about Dr. Lysouvakon