Monday, September 19, 2011

Windows and Toddlers Don't Mix: Here's How to Keep Your Toddler Safe

One of my worst nightmares is for Aias to topple out of one of our many apartment windows.  This morning on our walk, we noticed this image on the cover of The Province with the headline "Thirteen-month-old girl injured in fall from Surrey window":


This little girl was lucky and only sustained a broken limb and some bumps and bruises.  It was only a few weeks ago that I remember having heard of another child, a 2 year old little boy, also surviving a fall from a second story window.  You'd think things like this wouldn't happen very often but the reality is that it happens often enough to be more than a little concerning; according to MSNBC over 5,000 toddlers and babies fall out of windows each year (in the United States).  Fortunately many of these toddlers survive their injuries, of course, some don't.  If you type "toddler window fall vancouver" into Google, you can see for yourself that this happens pretty frequently in the Vancouver area alone, but it seems to be a problem everywhere.    The Seattle Times reported in 2008 that Seattle area children were falling from windows at an alarming frequency, with one hospital reporting to have treated approximately 40 to 60 cases a year.

In hopping around from article to article and making the mistake of reading some of the comments on the articles, I saw one commenter sarcastically remark:
"OMG! 5000 kids a year fall from windows---The obvious answer is to immediately board up all windows and make all new buildings windowless! Or, or people could keep a better eyes on their kids."
Poetic words spoken by someone I imagine probably doesn't have a child.  At any rate, the most alarming trend I saw in reading these articles about toddlers falling out of windows was that the article headings DON'T say "Child of Passed Out Neglectful Parent Falls Out of Window" or "Toddler Falls Out of Window While Parent Does Lines of Crack Off a Hooker."  No, in fact most of the articles I read said that the children were in direct supervision of the parent when the accidents happened but the parents weren't able to get to the child in time.  While I'm sure most of us would like to think this is the kind of thing that happens to OTHER parents and OTHER kids (because we always have our eyes on our kids, right?), the reality is that it can happen to anyone.

Think about it.  You are at your computer right now reading this? Where is your kid? Are they in the room with you right now? Is there a window in the room? How away are they from it? How far away are you from the kid? Are they in their bedroom sleeping peacefully where you leave them during naps and every night? Is there a window in that room?

If you live in a house or apartment building or dwelling that is higher than 1 floor or has more than 1 floor and your dwelling has windows, listen up: this could happen to your kid!  Another shocking trend I noticed was that lots of these kids didn't fall out of apartment building windows, they fell out of windows on the second floor of their house, so it's not just those of use who live in apartments that have to worry.

Here are a few steps you can take to prevent an accident like this from happening to your child.

1. Don't have too much faith in your screens.
Screens are not made with the intention of keeping people inside dwellings, they are made with the intention of keeping insects and other critters out.  Insects weigh next to nothing and toddlers weigh 20+ lbs.  Many of the windows these toddlers fell out of were windows with screens.  Screens can lull you into a false sense of security about the safety of your windows.

2.  Using window stops, adjust your windows so they can't open enough for a child to topple out.
I feel like there are as many window styles as there are buildings and houses, but do whatever you can to ensure your style of window can't be opened wide enough for your toddler's head to fit through.  Home Depot and other hardware stores sell safety devices (window stops) that can help you with this.

3.  Keep furniture away from windows.
Try to resist putting beds, tables, chairs, toys, shelves too close to a window.  Maybe your child can push a chair up to a window, but at least something like that would buy you a little more time.  Putting a climbable piece of furniture next to a window is just asking for trouble.

4. Purchase and install window guards for windows that can't fit window stops.
It may look a little prisonlike, but window guards installed on second story windows can work wonders. Different cities have different requirements re: these window guards and fire safety; you can talk to your local fire department to find out which guards are safe to use on your windows.  They'll be able to tell you which will be able to foil your toddler but won't be impenetrable by firefighters.

5. If your toddler is old enough to understand, talk to them about window safety. 
While a baby or young toddler may not be old enough to understand, older toddlers and young children may be able to understand an explanation of why they shouldn't stick their heads or bodies outside windows.  Let them know that they could fall and get seriously injured.  I wouldn't suggest this as your only line of defense, of course, but it can't hurt to mention it.

6. Last but not least, keep an eye on your kids. 
I know this seems obvious, and I also know that you can't be within inches of your children 100% of the time, nor can you have your eyes on them 100% of the time, but make sure you are aware of when your child is near a window or other dangerous space.  If you see them hanging around or playing near a window, encourage them to play somewhere else.  At least be cognizant of where they are with relationship to a window.

Here's one last bonus: while I wouldn't necessarily suggest selling your house or moving on the basis of the windows, before moving into a new house or apartment, have a look at the windows.  Do they seem like they can be made so they are safe for your child?

Have a look at the apartment building next to mine:


I waited and waited for someone to open a window so I could take a picture of what it looks like when that tiny window is open, but it's sort of chilly out today and as luck would have it all the windows in the building are closed. At any rate, on warmer days many people in this building have that small window open.  The small window opens at at least a 45 degree angle, downward, and at ground level (when someone is standing next to the window I can see their ankles).  These are probably the most dangerous windows I've ever seen, as a baby/toddler/cat/dog could easily just drop out the window without even realizing (this building is probably 10+ stories tall).  If I had these windows in my apartment, I would have moved after Aias was born if I hadn't already moved because of the dog.  If you live in a building or house with windows like this, I'd immediately discuss this issue with your building management or hand in your notice as extreme as that sounds.

Here's an example of safer windows, the windows in my building that are designed for families with children or people with pets:


I could probably stand to move those plants,
but so far Aias hasn't taken any interest in standing on them. 

As obvious as this all may sound, it's not obvious to at least 5,000 parents a year.  Share this with your friends.



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