“It’s important to keep cabinets closed and locked, and to store hazardous substances out of reach, but that’s not enough,” says Cherie Sage, State Director for Safe Kids Kansas. “The most important safety precaution in the kitchen is constant, close, attentive supervision.”
Whether a child is helping an adult cook or simply watching, he or she should always be actively supervised, which means that the child is in sight and in reach at all times.
“Burns from spills, steam, hot surfaces and flame can be especially devastating injuries,” says Sage. “Because young children have thinner skin than adults, they burn more severely and at lower temperatures.”
Scald burns from hot liquid or steam are the most common type of burns among children ages 4 and under. A child will suffer a full-thickness burn (third-degree burn) after just three seconds of exposure to 140-degree water.
Safe Kids Kansas recommends these precautions against kitchen burns:
- Never leave a hot stove unattended. (Unattended food on the stove is the number one cause of home fires.)
- Never hold a child while cooking or carrying hot items.
- Cook on back burners whenever possible, and turn all handles toward the back of the stove.
- Don’t allow loose-fitting clothing in the kitchen.
- Keep hot foods and liquids away from the edges of counters and tables. Be especially careful around tablecloths, children can pull hot dishes down onto themselves.
- Tie up the electrical cords of small appliances. A toddler playing with a dangling cord can pull a toaster or microwave down from a countertop.
In addition to hot surfaces, hot liquids and sharp objects, the other major hazard in the kitchen is poison. Store potentially hazardous goods, such as cleaning products and alcohol (including many baking extracts), in locked cabinets out of reach. Also, install a carbon monoxide detector to alert everyone to get out of the house in the event of a buildup of the odorless toxic gas given off by fuel-burning appliances.
Children who can follow directions may be ready to help out in the kitchen with tasks that do not involve knives, appliances or heat.
“You know your own children. Don’t give them knives or let them handle anything hot until they have shown the maturity and coordination to do it safely,” says Sage. “Some children mature faster than others, so it’s up to parents to use good judgment about each child’s capabilities.”