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If you've decided to go forward with self-care, you'll need to give your child some basic training. Take a tour of your house together. Make sure your child can lock and unlock the doors and windows. If he's allowed to operate certain appliances, make sure he knows how. The same goes for adjusting the temperature on the thermostat.
Put a first-aid kit in a handy location such as the kitchen and teach him some basics: how to stop bleeding from a cut and deal with a minor burn, for example. The kitchen also is a good place to keep a flashlight, batteries, and battery-powered radio in case there is a power outage due to a storm. Tell him not to light candles. Teach him where to go if the storm becomes severe: maybe it's the basement or on the ground floor under a piece of sturdy furniture.
A keypad door lock eliminates the hassle of keeping track of keys. Then the only question is whether your child can remember which numbers to push!
The start of self-care is a good time to do another home safety survey. Check each room and your yard for hazards you might not have noticed before—anything from frayed appliance cords and loose area rugs to broken glass in the back storm door. It's bad enough when a child gets hurt, but worse when he has to cope with an injury alone.
Make sure your child knows how to call 911. Post your work numbers and those of neighbors he could call for help. Write your home address and phone number on the list, too, so he won't forget them in a moment of panic. Make sure he always has change so he can call you from a pay phone in a pinch, such as if he's locked out and can't find a neighbor.
Leave a spare set of keys with more than one neighbor in case he loses his. Don't hide one outside your house—burglars know all the places to look! And don't put your name or address on your child's key or key chain. This makes it easier for a person who finds it to break into your home. Have him wear the key on a chain around his neck or on a chain threaded through his belt loop. Tell him to keep it hidden under his shirt or in his pants pocket.
Fires: How to Get out Alive
Go over what your child should do in case of a fire. Have a fire drill and practice different escape routes. If you live in a house with a second story, it's a good idea to have a rope ladder in case a fire should block the stairway. If you live in an apartment building, remind your child that in case of fire he should exit by the stairs and not in the elevator.
Stress that if there's a fire, he should leave the house immediately, and go to a neighbor to call for help. The same rule applies if he smells gas. Unless a fire is very minor, such as in a pot on the stove that can easily be smothered with a lid, your child should not try to put it out himself.
Cooking food left unattended is a major cause of house fires. For that reason you might be wise to prohibit your child from using the stove, at least initially. Since microwaves do not have open flames and they shut off automatically, this is a somewhat safer cooking alternative as long as your child has been well trained in its proper use, especially the rule about not putting metal utensils in it.
Space heaters are another high-risk appliance and should not be used by children in self-care.
Teach him to stop, drop, and roll on the ground to put out the flames if his clothes should catch on fire. If rooms are smoky, he should crawl on his hands and knees to escape. If he's behind a closed door, he should feel it to see if it's hot before opening it.
Fire extinguishers can be difficult for a child to use and any delay during a fire could be dangerous. Teach him to leave the house instead of playing firefighter. Kitchens can be replaced; kids can't.
Caution in the Kitchen
A session on kitchen safety is a must for kids who will be making their own snacks and who might eventually progress to starting dinner before you get home. Here are some of the things your child should know:
- Keep handles on pots on the stove turned to the inside.
- Avoid wearing loose clothing—especially big sleeves—around the stove.
- Use a wooden spoon to stir hot foods instead of a metal one which can become hot.
- Point knife blades down and away from you, never toward your fingers.
- When using a vegetable peeler, scrape away from the body.
- To take something out of the oven, use oven mitts or pot holders to pull the rack out first, and then lift the dish.
- To avoid falls, clean up spills on the floor immediately.
- Concentrate when you cook. Don't get distracted while cutting with a knife or wander off to watch TV when something is cooking on the stove.
If your child will be using a microwave oven, it's safest if the oven is placed no higher than his eye level. Ovens installed higher, such as above the stove top, make it easy for kids to spill hot foods on themselves when they are lifting from overhead. Also, remind your child to be careful when removing dish covers or opening popcorn popped in bags because hot steam can escape and burn him. Tell him to use oven mitts and open hot dishes away from his face.