Safety Tips for the Holiday Season

The holidays are a particularly busy time of year for many families. As you put up decorations and gather friends and family together to celebrate, keep these safety tips in mind.

Keeping Mental Health a Priority

  • Try to stick to your child’s usual routines; including sleep schedule and naps to reduce stress so your family can better enjoy the holidays
  • Kids still need to brush their teeth twice a day.
  • Take care of yourself both mentally and physically. Children are affected by the emotional well-being of their parents or caregivers. They can also learn how to successfully cope with stress by observing how you handle stress.
  • Make a plan to focus on one thing at a time, including shopping, cooking, and family get-togethers. Stop and pay attention to what is happening at the moment, focus your attention on one thing about it, and notice how you’re feeling at the time. Withhold immediate judgment, and instead be curious about the experience.
  • Give to others by making it an annual holiday tradition to share time and talent with people who have less than you do. For example, if your child is old enough, encourage him or her to join you in volunteering to serve a holiday meal at your local food bank or shelter, or sing at a local nursing home. Help your child write a letter to members of the Armed Forces stationed abroad who can’t be home with their own family during the holidays.
  • Remember that many children and adults experience a sense of loss, sadness, or isolation during the holidays. It is important to be sensitive to these feelings and ask for help for you, your children, family members, or friends if needed.
  • Don’t feel pressured to “overspend on gifts.” Consider making one or two gifts. Help your child make a gift for his or her other parent, grandparents, or other important adults and friends. Chances are those gifts will be the most treasured ones and will teach your child many important lessons.
  • Most important of all, enjoy the holidays for what they are—time to enjoy with your family. Do things together like sledding or playing board games, and spend time visiting with relatives, neighbors, and friends.

Tree Safety

  • Think carefully about where you set up your tree. Keep it away from fireplaces, radiators, or portable heaters. Do not block exits.
  • If you purchase an artificial tree, make sure it's labeled “Fire Resistant.”
  • Make sure your live tree is fresh. How to tell:
    • A fresh tree is green.
    • Fresh needles are hard to pull from branches.
    • When bent between your fingers, needles do not break.
    • The trunk of a fresh tree is sticky with resin.
    • When tapped on the ground, the tree should not lose many needles.
  • Cut about two inches off the trunk of your tree to expose the fresh wood. This allows for better water absorption and will help to keep your tree from drying out and becoming a fire hazard.
  • Keep the stand full of water—it can dry up quickly in the dry, heated air.
  • Make sure the stand has widespread feet for stability.

Safety with Holiday Lights

  • Only use lights labeled as “tested for safety” by an independent testing laboratory.
  • Check for frayed or exposed wires on all electric lights. Make sure no wires are pinched by furniture and no cords run under rugs.
  • Before using lights outdoors, check labels to be sure they have been certified for outdoor use. To hold lights in place, string them through hooks or insulated staples, not nails or tacks. Never pull or tug lights to remove them.
  • Plug all outdoor electric decorations into circuits with ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) to avoid potential shocks.
  • Use no more than three standard-size sets of lights per single extension cord.
  • Check all tree lights—even if you've just purchased them—before hanging them on your tree. Make sure all the bulbs work and that there are no frayed wires, broken sockets or loose connections
  • If your artificial tree is metallic, don't put lights on it; they'll create a fire hazard and risk of electrocution.
  • Make sure your lights are out of reach of young children who might try to put them in their mouths. Also wash your hands after handling lights as some light strands may contain lead in the bulb sockets and wire coating, sometimes in high amounts. Leaded materials are hazardous to children.
  • Keep bubbling lights away from children. These lights, with their bright colors and bubbling movement, can tempt curious children to break the candle-shaped glass, which can cut. Kids may also try to drink the liquid, which contains a dangerous chemical.
  • Turn off all lights when you go to bed or leave the house.

Safety with Other Decorations

  • Use only non-combustible or flame-resistant materials to trim a tree.
  • Choose tinsel or artificial icicles of plastic or non-leaded metals. Leaded materials are hazardous to children.
  • In homes with small children, take special care to:
    • Avoid decorations that are sharp or breakable.
    • Keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children to keep them from swallowing or choking on small pieces
    • Avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food that may tempt a young child to eat them.
    • Keep potentially poisonous holiday plant decorations, including mistletoe berries, Jerusalem cherry, and holly berry, away from children.
  • Wear gloves while decorating with spun glass “angel hair” to avoid irritation of skin and eyes.
  • Artificial snow sprays can irritate the lungs if breathed in. To avoid injury, read container labels and follow directions carefully.

Candle Safety

  • Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other evergreens.
  • Always use non-flammable holders and place candles where they cannot be knocked over.
  • Keep candles away from other decorations and wrapping paper.

Fireplace Safety

  • Use a sturdy fireplace screen to prevent sparks from igniting newspapers, carpeting, curtains and upholstery.
  • If a glass-fronted fireplace is used, keep children and others away from it with a screen or gate. The glass doors can get hot enough to cause serious burns and they stay hot long after the fire is out.
  • Only use the fireplace when you're home and awake. Extinguish the fire if you leave your home or go to bed.
  • Before lighting any fire, remove all greens, boughs, papers and other decorations from the fireplace area. Check to see that the flue is open.
  • Use care with "fire salts," which produce colored flames when thrown on wood fires. They contain heavy metals that can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting if eaten. Keep them away from children.
  • Do not burn wrapping papers or dry greenery in the fireplace. A flash fire and flying sparks may result as wrappings or dry greenery ignite suddenly and burn intensely.

Other Fire Safety Tips

  • Keep matches, lighters, and candles out of the reach of children.
  • Be on the lookout for danger spots near fireplaces, trees, and electrical connections.
  • Talk to your children about the dangers presented by all of these fire hazards.
  • Avoid wearing flowing clothes, especially with long, open sleeves. They can catch fire near the stove, fireplace or candles.
  • Install smoke detectors on each level of your home, outside each sleeping area, and inside each bedroom.
  • Make a fire escape plan and practice it. Make sure every family member knows what to do. You can watch a video to help you develop a fire safety plan.

Safety with Wrappings

  • Remove all wrapping papers, bags, paper, ribbons and bows from tree and fireplace areas after gifts are opened. These items can pose suffocation and choking hazards to a small child or can cause a fire if near a flame.

Food Safety

  • Keep hot liquids and food away from the edge of counters and tables, where they can easily be knocked over.
  • Don’t leave the holiday spread on the table all day long. Foods that require refrigeration should never be left at room temperature for more than two hours.
  • Alcoholic beverages, especially colorful or fruity appearing drinks, can be tempting for children. Be sure to watch individual drinks, punch bowls, or other containers of alcohol carefully.
  • Keep healthy eating in mind. Have healthy snacks on hand or bring a fruit or vegetable tray with you for a dish to pass. It is reasonable to have some extra treats around the holidays but try to celebrate for the day, not the entire month. Be sure to return to healthy eating the next day! 

Toy Safety

  • Select toys to suit the age, abilities, skills, and interest level of the intended child. Follow recommended age ranges listed on the packages. Toys that are too advanced may pose safety hazards for younger children.
  • Before buying a toy or allowing your child to play with a toy that was received as a gift, read the instructions carefully.
  • Young children can choke on small parts contained in toys or games. Children under the age of 3 cannot have parts less than 1.25 inches in diameter and 2.25 inches long, per government regulations.
  • Children under the age of 8 can choke or suffocate on deflated or broken balloons.
  • Button batteries and magnets can be found in toys, musical greeting cards, remote controls, hearing aids, and other small electronics. They can pose danger to children and result in serious stomach and intestinal problems, including death. Keep these items away from young children and call your health care provider immediately if your child swallows one.
  • If a toy has a battery compartment that seems like it can be easily opened, you can tape over the area. If it still seems too accessible, consider keeping that toy away from your child until they are old enough to keep small items out of their mouth.
  • Small, powerful magnets are part of some building toy sets, many of which have been recalled
  • Keep toys stored in designated locations, such as on a shelf or in a toy chest, and keep older kids’ toys away from young children.
  • Don’t give a toy that must be plugged into an electrical outlet to children under the age of 10, as this can cause burns and electrical shocks. Instead, buy toys that are battery-operated.
  • Remove tags, strings, and ribbons from toys before giving them to young children.
  • Watch for strings and straps that are more than 12 inches in length, for example on pull toys. They could be a strangulation hazard for babies and small children.
  • Be careful of holiday gift wrapping, such as bags, paper, ribbons and bows. These items can pose suffocation, strangulation and choking hazards to a small child.
  • It’s a good idea to check the CPSC’s toy recalls regularly. Make sure your child’s new toys have not been recalled. 
  • Looking for some non-technology gifts to promote language and learning? Here are some ideas!

Happy Visiting!

  • Clean up immediately after a holiday party. A toddler could get up early and choke on leftover food or come in contact with alcohol or tobacco.
  • Remember that the homes you visit may not be childproofed. Keep an eye out for danger spots, such as stairs, open flames, hot food or liquids, and choking hazards. Make sure medications are stored safely in an area where your child does not have access.
  • Wash hands frequently and avoid close contact with those known to have colds or other illnesses. Consider carrying hand sanitizer to help protect your family from getting sick.
  • Keep a laminated list with all of the important phone numbers you or a babysitter are likely to need in case of an emergency. Include emergency numbers, your pediatrician, and the Poison Help Line: 1-800-222-1222.

Additional resources:

Reviewed by Sara Laule, MD and Shelby Lemke, M.D.

Updated by Sydney Ryckman, MD, February 2022