Playing it safe

One spring day, my daughter ate a wild mushroom in our backyard. After an emergency room trip and an overnight hospital stay, she was fine. But we learned the hard way that backyards aren’t benign. Before your baby ventures outside, take precautions.

Dump water. Dr. Karen Sheehan, medical director of the Injury Free Coalition for Kids of Chicago and an emergency physician at Chicago’s Children’s Memorial Hospital, says the most deadly backyard injuries are caused by baby pools. Empty pools and store them upside down.

Tame jungle gyms. If kids fall, a soft landing is critical. Put 12 inches of soft fill, such as playground wood chips, under play equipment. And Sheehan says most deaths on home playgrounds are caused by hanging from cords or rope swings. Jewelry, hoods and helmet straps also present strangulation risks, she says.

Garden thoughtfully. Visit to review toxic plant lists. While kids rarely consume enough to cause serious problems, they can cause illnesses. In case of ingestion, immediately call the center at (800) 222-1222. Pesticides are also toxic. Close chemical products immediately after use and store in a locked area. Don Guzan, president of the landscape firm Root Feeders, cautions to avoid plants with thorns and needles.

Ward off bites. Use insect repellent with up to 30 percent Deet. Spray sparingly on exposed skin and clothing (not under clothing). Also beware of animal bites. Studies show most pet-bite victims are bitten by a pet they know—often their own.

Contain kids. Fences keep kids in and others out, says Dr. Michael W. Boettcher, a Downers Grove pediatrician. Supervise children on porches and balconies and repair loose railings or boards. And stay alert. When kids snack while playing, choking risks increase.

The National SAFE KIDS Campaign ( says up to 90 percent of accidental injuries are preventable. The key, Sheehan says, is"to balance the kids having fun and exploring their world while making it safe.”

This is an updated version of a story that orginally ran in Chicago Parent.

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