Category Archives: Injury Prevention

Define safe boundaries for kids and play

Encouraging the learning and exploration process will increase your child’s confidence and creativity, and defining safe boundaries and rules will keep you both happy. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

Encouraging the learning and exploration process will increase your child’s confidence and creativity, and defining safe boundaries and rules will keep you both happy. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

By Dex Tuttle

Not long ago, I watched my toddler daughter, Quinnlyn, as she played with her favorite blocks. She picked one up, stacked it carefully on top of another, and repeated until she had a tower four or five blocks high. Without warning, she pummeled the tower while sounding her signature high-pitched battle cry, sending blocks flying in all directions. She immediately seemed to regret not having a tower and ran to pick up the blocks to start the process over.

Young children begin to understand their world by cause-and-effect experimentation. Psychologist Jean Piaget was one of the first to put this concept into organized thought.

This behavior is apparent with my daughter: “If I stick my hand in the dog’s water dish, my shirt gets wet. This pleases me and I must do this each morning, preferably after mommy helps me put on a clean shirt.”

Then, something occurred to me as I watched Quinnlyn build and destroy her tower; there is a trigger missing in her young mind that could change her behavior: She does not understand consequence, the indirect product of an effect.

I began to notice this in her other activities as well. At dinnertime, we give her a plastic fork and spoon so she can work on her motor skills. If she’s unhappy with how dinner is going, she throws her fork and spoon on the floor in a fit of toddler rage. She is then immediately puzzled by how she’ll continue her meal now that her utensils are so far away.

Subscribe to MightyAs frustrating as toddler tantrums can sometimes be for parents, I’d love to be in my daughter’s shoes. Who wouldn’t want the satisfaction of taking all those dirty dishes that have been in the sink for two days and chucking them against the wall? That decision, of course, would be dangerous and reckless and I have no desire to clean up such a mess. And, with no dishes in the house, I’d be forced to take a toddler to the store to shop for breakable things; not a winning combination.

There’s an important lesson here for safety-minded parents: Kids will explore their environment in whatever way they can. It’s like the feeling you get when you find a $20 bill in the pocket of a pair of pants you haven’t worn in months, or when you discover the newest tool, gadget or fashion. For toddlers (and us adults), it’s fun finding new things and learning new skills; it’s motivating and creates a feeling of accomplishment. However, the cognitive skills of a toddler haven’t developed beyond that cause-effect understanding.

This is why we need to consider the environment in which our young children play. I recommend giving them plenty of space and opportunity to experiment without worry of the consequence:

  • Make sure stairs are blocked off securely and unsafe climbing hazards are eliminated; encourage kids to explore the space you define.
  • Create a space to explore free of choking hazards, potential poisons and breakable or valuable items; leave plenty of new objects for children to discover, and change the objects out when the kids seem to grow tired of them.
  • Allow children to fail at certain tasks; be encouraging and positive without intervening as they try again.
  • If possible, discuss their actions and consequences with them to help them understand the reason for your rules.

Encouraging the learning and exploration process will increase your child’s confidence and creativity, and defining safe boundaries and rules will keep you both happy.

At Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, we care for more pediatric emergency and trauma patients than any other health care system in our region, seeing about 90,000 kids each year between our St. Paul and Minneapolis hospitals. Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis is the area’s only Level I pediatric trauma center in a hospital dedicated to only kids, which means we offer the highest level of care to critically injured kids. When it’s critical, so is your choice – Children’s Level I Pediatric Trauma Center, Minneapolis.

Dex Tuttle is the injury prevention program coordinator at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota and the father of a curious and mobile toddler. He has a Master of Education degree from Penn State University.

Life jackets greatly reduce risk of drowning

(iStock photo / Getty Images)

(iStock photo / Getty Images)

By Dex Tuttle

According to the Minnesota Water Safety Coalition, it’s estimated that half of all drowning events among recreational boaters could have been prevented if life jackets were worn.

As a parent, it doesn’t take much to convince me that the safety of my daughter is important, and more specifically, directly my responsibility. This statistic is alarming. Especially since drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death among children ages 14 and younger.

My daughter, Quinnlyn, loves the water. It’s easy to get caught up in her excitement and joy as she splashes around and giggles that addicting toddler laugh, so much so that I often forget the dangers inherent in water for a child who is oblivious to them.

Subscribe to MightyStill, as an attentive parent, it’s hard for me to believe that drowning is an ever-present danger for my little one. That’s why it’s important to consider the staggering statistics around near-drowning incidents.

Since 2001, an average of 3,700 children sustained nonfatal near-drowning-related injuries.  To spare you the details, check out this article.

When protecting your children around water, there’s little to nothing that can supplement uninterrupted supervision. However, a life jacket will provide significant protection for your little ones and help instill a culture of safety in your family. Here’s how to know if it fits right (thanks to the United States Coast Guard):

  • Make sure your life jacket is U.S. Coast Guard-approved on the label on the inside of the jacket.
  • Ensure that the jacket you select for your child is appropriate for his or her weight, and be sure it’s in good condition. A ripped or worn-out jacket can drastically reduce its effectiveness.
  • Football season is here again (YES!), so consider the universal signal for a touchdown – after the life jacket is on and buckled, have your child raise his or her arms straight in the air. Pull up on the arm openings and make sure the jacket doesn’t ride up to the chin; it’s best to find out that it’s too loose before getting in the water.

At Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, we care for more pediatric emergency and trauma patients than any other health care system in our region, seeing about 90,000 kids each year between our St. Paul and Minneapolis hospitals. Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis is the area’s only Level I pediatric trauma center in a hospital dedicated to only kids, which means we offer the highest level of care to critically injured kids. From the seriously sick to the critically injured, we’re ready for anything.

When it’s critical, so is your choice – Children’s Level I Pediatric Trauma Center, Minneapolis.

Dex Tuttle is Children’s injury prevention program coordinator.

Volunteers needed for Minnesota State Fair

Want a free ticket to the Minnesota State Fair?

We’re looking for fun volunteers to help staff our Making Safe Simple booth. We have four interactive stations: helmet safety, car safety, household safety and water safety. All volunteers receive free entry to the fair and a T-shirt.

There still are several volunteer spots available — Labor Day weekend is our greatest need for champion volunteers:

Subscribe to MightySaturday, Aug. 30

  • 5-8:30 p.m.

Sunday, Aug. 31

  • 2-5:30 p.m.
  • 5-8:30 p.m.

Monday, Sept. 1

  • 2-5:30 p.m.
  • 5-8:30 p.m.

Encourage your family and friends to volunteer, too!  Please note that volunteers must be 18 years or older. To sign up, please contact Ana Nugent at Ana.Nugent@childrensmn.org. We hope to see you at the fair!

Don’t forget kids in cars

Cracking a window does little to reduce the heat inside a car. Never leave your child unattended in the car. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

Cracking a window does little to reduce the heat inside a car. Never leave your child unattended in the car. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

By Dex Tuttle

I’ve often surprised myself by how forgetful I am as a parent. It’s possible I’m the only dad who has nearly forgotten that his daughter needs to eat and, more specifically, that he’s responsible for making sure that happens. I know for a FACT, however, that I’m not the only dad who has forgotten the diaper bag in the car and been forced to speed-run the grocery shopping to get a stinky child out of the store as fast as possible. On tired days after sleepless nights, I’ve forgotten that my keys are in the ignition of the car I’m driving and seriously debated being late for work to turn around and go get them.

I’m exposing a vulnerable part of myself a little when I admit this type of fault, but I know I’m not alone. As the injury prevention program coordinator at Children’s, I feel even more responsible to be mistake-free in providing a safe environment for my child, and I feel that much more silly when I fail to do so.

Subscribe to MightyWhen Quinnlyn was learning to walk, she pulled herself up on me as I sat in my “dad chair” in the living room. (I’ll admit, realizing that the recliner was a crucial part of fatherhood was a huge part of my excitement for becoming a dad, but I digress.) She grabbed my hands and smiled at her accomplishment. After a few happy moments, she started to turn and walk away, and I forgot that she wasn’t yet able to stand on her own. I let go of her hands and down she went, flat on her back. Thankfully, she was OK. She actually laughed it off (her reaction to near-injury that would soon give me anxiety) and got herself back up.

So far, my follies have been rather benign. Still, I live in eternal fear of finding myself in that vulnerable, forgetful moment when something more serious happens.

As the summer ramps into full swing, one such mistake I’m determined NOT to make is forgetting Quinn in the car. This can happen for one of two reasons: we don’t realize the danger, or we find ourselves in a moment of distraction and leave out one very important detail.

Let me first convince you that this is extraordinarily dangerous:

  • Children have lower water reserves, so their body temperatures rise three to four times faster than an adult.
  • The temperature inside a car can rise 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit every 15 minutes (on a 70-degree day, the temperature inside a car can reach 116 degrees).
  • Since 1998, more than 580 children in the United States have died from being left in vehicles.
  • In car seats, children are insulated, making it more difficult for their bodies to regulate overheating.
  • Signs of hyperthermia set in when body temperature reaches just 100.9 degrees Fahrenheit, which children will surpass in only a matter of minutes; internal organs can begin to fail at 104 degrees, and death can occur when body temp reaches 107.
  • Cracking a window does little to reduce the heat inside a car.

On most days, strapping my daughter into her car seat easily could be the final challenge on a reality game show that tests strength, patience and fortitude. Therefore, I’m admittedly hesitant to take her in and out of the car more than I need. However, you never know what will happen; on an average day, there are so many things that are out of your control and could delay a quick stop or create catastrophic failure of your car’s air conditioning. Please take control of what you can and never, ever leave your child unattended in the car.

But as I’ve already admitted, I’m forgetful. Here are some tips on making sure you don’t forget your most-precious package:

  • Place an important item in the backseat. My recommendation is to leave your phone there – thus removing a major distraction while driving – but it can be a purse, wallet, computer, jacket or any other item you know you’ll need when you arrive at your destination.
  • If you don’t carry items often and you drive a car with an automatic transmission, take the shoe off the foot you don’t use for the pedals and put it in the back seat. This can be a fun game where everyone in the family participates.
  • Leave yourself a note on the dashboard: “BABY IN BACK!”
  • Put a stuffed animal or doll in the car seat when your child isn’t in it. When you strap your kid in for a trip, put the stuffed animal in the seat next to you up front – a reminder that something is out of place.
  • If you have a GPS-enabled device, set location reminders when arriving at your favorite locations – the grocery store, work, restaurants, etc. Kars 4 Kids is developing an app that works with your car’s Bluetooth capabilities to remind you as you walk away from the vehicle.

Make arrival habits:

  • Always do a walk-around of your vehicle to ensure you’re a safe distance from other hazards and make note of items that will help you remember where you parked.
  • Always use the passenger-side doors to load and unload for trips. This will force you to walk around the car to collect your items.
  • Make a game with your child where you always sing a song, say a phrase, do an activity each time you stop at a destination. Even if your child is sleeping, the habit will keep your mind thinking about the little person in the backseat.

Other resources:

Dex Tuttle is the injury prevention program coordinator at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

Five things to know about heat exhaustion

With sun and humidity a factor during summer in Minnesota, we thought it was a good time to talk about ways to keep kids safe in the heat. In addition to our quick tips for protecting your kids from dehydration, here are tips on avoiding heat exhaustion. We believe in Making Safe Simple, so take a few moments to review these tips!

  1. Subscribe to MightyChildren adjust more slowly than adults do to changes in environmental heat. They also produce more heat with activity than adults and sweat less. Sweating is one of the body’s normal cooling mechanisms. Children often don’t think to rest when having fun and may not drink enough fluids when playing or exercising.
  2. Heat exhaustion results from a loss of water and salt in the body due to excessive sweating. It occurs when the body is unable to cool itself properly and, if left untreated, can progress to heat stroke.
  3. Signs of heat exhaustion in children are: profuse sweating, pale skin that’s cool and damp to the touch, rapid and shallow breathing, headache, nausea, normal or below-normal body temperature, vomiting or diarrhea, dizziness, weakness or fainting, and muscle cramps.
  4. If your child is experiencing heat exhaustion, move him or her to a cool place right away to rest. You should remove extra clothing and apply cool cloths (towels with cold water) and fan the child’s skin. Give him or her cool sports drinks containing salt and sugar such as Gatorade (if the child doesn’t feel nauseated).
  5. Call your doctor or go to the emergency department if their condition hasn’t improved or your child is unable to take fluids within an hour.

At Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, we care for more pediatric emergency and trauma patients than any other health care system in our region, seeing about 90,000 kids each year between our St. Paul and Minneapolis hospitals. Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis is the area’s only Level I pediatric trauma center in a hospital dedicated to only kids, which means we offer the highest level of care to critically injured kids. From the seriously sick to the critically injured, we’re ready for anything.

Stay safe and avoid dehydration in hot weather

Follow these quick tips to keep your kids safe from dehydration when they’re out playing in hot temperatures.

Summertime is definitely here, and what kid can’t wait to get outside and play? But staying safe in the sun, and avoiding dehydration, is important.

Subscribe to MightyWe believe in Making Safe Simple. Here are some quick tips to help your kids avoid dehydration:

  • On hot days, make sure you drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. The human body requires at least one liter of water daily.
  • Dehydration means that a child’s body doesn’t have enough fluid. Dehydration can result from not drinking, vomiting, diarrhea, or any combination of these conditions. Sweating or urinating too much rarely causes it.
  • Thirst is not a good early indicator of dehydration. By the time a child feels thirsty, he or she may already be dehydrated. And thirst can be quenched before the necessary body fluids have been replaced.
  • Signs of dehydration in children include the following: sticky or dry mouth, few or no tears when crying, eyes that look sunken into the head, lack of urine or wet diapers for six to eight hours in an infant (or only a small amount of dark yellow urine), lack of urine for 12 hours in an older child (or only a small amount of dark yellow urine); dry, cool skin; irritability, and fatigue or dizziness in an older child.
  • If you suspect your child is dehydrated, start by replenishing his or her body with fluids. Plain water is the best option for the first hour or two. The child can drink as much as he or she wants. After this, the child might need drinks containing sugar and electrolytes (salts) or regular food. Also, the child should rest in a cool, shaded environment until the lost fluid has been replaced.
  • Call your doctor immediately or take your child to the nearest emergency department if there is no improvement or condition is worsening.

At Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, we care for more pediatric emergency and trauma patients than any other health care system in our region, seeing about 90,000 kids each year between our St. Paul and Minneapolis hospitals. Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis is the area’s only Level I pediatric trauma center in a hospital dedicated to only kids, which means we offer the highest level of care to critically injured kids. From the seriously sick to the critically injured, we’re ready for anything.

Be smart, safe with fireworks

For many families, the Fourth of July celebration includes fireworks. It's important to take the proper safety measures when using fireworks (iStock photo / Getty Images)

For many families, the Fourth of July celebration includes fireworks. It’s important to take the proper safety measures when using fireworks (iStock photo / Getty Images)

Subscribe to MightyBy Luul Mohamed and Alicia Youssef

The Fourth of July is a day filled with fun, excitement and celebration. Across the nation, families and friends gather to celebrate our nation’s independence. Follow these tips to ensure maximum fun and prevent injuries.

Firework safety tips

Each year in the U.S., thousands of adults and children are treated in emergency rooms for fireworks-related injuries.

At Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, we care for more pediatric emergency and trauma patients than any other health care system in our region, seeing about 90,000 kids each year between our St. Paul and Minneapolis hospitals. Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis is the area’s only Level I pediatric trauma center in a hospital dedicated to only kids, which means we offer the highest level of care to critically injured kids. From the seriously sick to the critically injured, we’re ready for anything.

The safest way to enjoy fireworks and avoid a visit to the emergency room is to attend a public fireworks display. However, if you choose to light them yourself, here are a few ways to enjoy the fun while keeping you and your children safe:

  • Keep fireworks of any kind away from children, even after they have gone off. Parts of the firework can still be hot or even explosive after fireworks have been lit.
  • Older teens should only use fireworks under close adult supervision.
  • Keep fireworks far away from dense areas where there are a lot of buildings and/or people.
  • Do not light fireworks around flammable items such as dead leaves, gas-powered equipment or fabrics, and be sure they’re pointed away from people, animals and buildings.
  • Always have a fire extinguisher, water bucket and/or hose readily available in case of an accidental fire.
  • After you have enjoyed your fireworks, be sure to pick up any debris or pieces of the firework that may be left in the area. These small pieces may pose as a choking hazard for young children.

The Fourth of July weekend also is a great time for travel and spending time in the water. Please view these articles for tips on water safety and traveling:

Fireworks references: The National Council on Fireworks Safety, Parents: Fireworks Safety

Luul Mohamed and Alicia Youssef are members of Children’s injury prevention program team.

Precautions increase camping enjoyment

Camping can be an enjoyable activity to share with family and friends. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

Camping can be an enjoyable activity to share with family and friends. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

By Luul Mohamed and Alicia Youssef

With school over and summer officially under way, a camping trip can be an enjoyable activity to share with your family and friends. Take advantage of these tips to have a fun and safe trip:

Skin and eye protection

First and foremost, you must effectively protect your skin before engaging in any outdoor activity, regardless of the weather.

  • The sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays are the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so try to plan outdoor activities before or after those times.
  • Children 6 months and older should use sunscreen with a SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or higher that protects against UVA and UVB rays. Do not use sunscreen on children younger than 6 months as they may ingest the sunscreen by sucking on their fingers or arms. Additionally, their skin is thinner and may absorb chemicals from the sunscreen. Instead, cover infants head to toe in clothing to keep them shaded at all times.
  • Wear sunglasses that go around the entire head that also protect against UVA and UVB rays.
  • Try to wear protective clothing that covers your arms and legs, wear a wide-brimmed hat and try to stay in the shade when you can.
  • Protect yourself from bug bites by applying bug repellent with DEET. The CDC recommends a 30-50 percent concentration of DEET to prevent the spread of pathogens carried by insects.
  • Sunscreen should be reapplied regularly, and bug repellent should not.

Subscribe to MightyPrepare yourself

  • Bring more than one first-aid kit.
  • Bring safe and healthy food with mostly nonperishable items and make sure all food is in waterproof containers and tightly packed.
  • Let others know where you’ll be going beforehand.
  • Avoid hypothermia by bringing insulated bedding and warm clothing for nights.
  • Stay well hydrated during the day by drinking plenty of water.

Water safety

  • Avoid swallowing water while swimming.
  • Always swim with a buddy and make sure there is an adult supervising at all times.
  • Whenever you are riding a water vehicle, always wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket. Minnesota law requires children younger than 10 years old to wear a life jacket. We recommend that children older than that also should wear life jackets.
  • A life jacket should properly fit. You can determine the fit by a child’s weight.

Splish splash: The ins and outs of water safety (Twin Cities Moms Blog)

Fire/bonfire safety

  • When starting a fire, only burn dry, not damp, material and don’t use fire accelerants such as gas or lighter fluid.
  • Start the fire away from flammable things like trees and keep a bucket of water near.
  • Children should be supervised at all times and never near the fire.
  • Never burn containers that have foam or paint in them and never put pressurized containers into a fire. They may explode and release dangerous fumes.

For more information on camping safety, visit:

At Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, we care for more pediatric emergency and trauma patients than any other health care system in our region, seeing about 90,000 kids each year between our St. Paul and Minneapolis hospitals. Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis is the area’s only Level I pediatric trauma center in a hospital dedicated to only kids, which means we offer the highest level of care to critically injured kids. From the seriously sick to the critically injured, we’re ready for anything.

Luul Mohamed and Alicia Youssef are members of Children’s injury prevention program team.

How to prevent and treat bug bites and stings

By Erin Dobie, CNP

Minnesota summers bring warm weather and opportunities for our kids to go outside exploring and playing in nature. Pesky insects often irritate or interrupt summer fun. Learn how to prevent insect bites, treat bites when they do occur, remove ticks and how to know when you should seek medical attention for your child.

How to treat bites

Insect bites and bee stings react because of venom injected into the skin. The severity of reaction depends on your child’s sensitivity to the venom. Most reactions are mild, causing redness, local swelling and irritation or itching. These usually will go away in two to three days. Calamine lotion or any anti-itch gel or cream may help soothe the itching.

Bee stings cause immediate pain and a red bump, but usually the discomfort lessens within 15 minutes. More than 10 bee stings at once (extremely rare) may cause a more-severe reaction with vomiting, diarrhea and headache. Allergic reactions to bee stings can be severe and quickly get worse. These reactions include difficulty breathing, swelling of the lips, tongue or throat, or confusion. Children who have a severe reaction need immediate medical attention, and you should call 911. If the child has a known bee allergy and an Epi-pen is available, the Epi-pen should be administered in addition to calling 911. If a stinger is present, try to rub it off with something flat such as the edge of a credit card. Do not try to squeeze the stinger out or try to dig it out. If it does not come out easily, soak the area in water and leave it alone to come out on its own.

Tick bites don’t often cause much of a local reaction. They’re primarily concerning because they can transmit infectious diseases. Ticks are prevalent in Minnesota. They’re generally found on the ground in wooded or heavily bushy areas. Ticks can’t jump or fly. Generally they climb grass and climb onto someone to attach as we brush up against them. Ticks are most active during the spring and summer months.

There are a few different infectious diseases that can be transmitted by ticks, but the most common one found in the Minnesota-Wisconsin area is Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi). To infect a person, a tick typically must be attached to the skin for at least 36 hours. The incubation period, the time from infection to being symptomatic, is anytime between three and 30 days.

Lyme disease can present in many different stages. Early localized stage often includes a red ring-like rash (or may resemble a “bull’s eye” target) that slowly expands. Other symptoms include headache, fever, joint or muscle aches and overall not feeling well or excessively tired. If your child develops these symptoms within a few days to weeks after tick exposure you should seek medical attention to evaluate for Lyme disease. Lyme disease is evaluated by medical history, physical examination and sometimes a blood test. It may take the body several weeks to develop antibodies and the blood test may not show up positive early in the disease. Most cases of Lyme disease are easily and successfully treated with a few weeks of antibiotics.

How to prevent a bite

Prevention is the key to avoiding insect bites. I recommend insect repellent that contains at least 20 percent DEET. The higher concentration of DEET does not indicate better repellent; it just means that the repellent will last longer. Most repellents can be used on infants and children older than 2 months. Other effective repellents contain permethrin, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus and IR3535. Permethrin-treated clothing is an option if the child will be camping or on wooded hikes. Finally, showering or bathing soon after exposure to tick areas is important to check for and remove ticks. Parents should pay close attention and check children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist and especially in their hair on their scalp. Dogs should be treated for ticks, but also checked as the ticks can ride into the home on the dogs then attach to a person later.

How to remove a tick

If you find a tick attached to your child’s skin, there is no need to panic.

  1. Use a fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
  2. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick, as this often can cause the tick’s mouth to break off and remain in the skin. If the mouth breaks off: try to remove it. If it cannot be removed easily, don’t dig it out; just wash and allow it to fall out on its own.
  3. After removing the tick, clean the skin with soap and water or rubbing alcohol.

Animals are great family members, except when they’re not

Teach kids to respect your animal’s space. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

By Dex Tuttle

Even before the pitter-patter of toddler feet, our house was plenty busy. My wife and I jokingly referred to our dog, Sprocket, and cat, Harvey, as training for parenthood. By the time our daughter, Quinnlyn, came around, we already had learned to keep valuables out of reach and close the doors to the rooms where we didn’t want roaming paws. And we quickly learned the value of eating our meals after distracting the animals to avoid begging eyes.

In addition to providing safety challenges, animals have an uncanny way of creating rules for your house, with or without your approval. Regardless of your expectations of them, they almost always get their way. (Those with toddlers will recognize the similarity here.) In our case, for example, we insisted that Sprocket not be allowed on the furniture – and he most definitely would not be allowed to sleep in our bed. He had different plans, though, and now I’m regularly curled up in the only free corner of our king-sized bed and rarely leave the house without fur-covered pants.

After we introduced the pets to Quinnlyn, Harvey disappeared for what seemed like the better part of a year while Sprocket was quite concerned about losing out on time with us. What remained to be seen was how these interspecies siblings would get along once Quinn became more mobile. We had two animals who thought they owned the house and a new queen who demanded nearly all of our attention. Naturally, there was some ruffled fur.

Recently, Sprocket was lying comfortably on the couch while I was typing away in the recliner near him. Quinn recognized the quiet, relaxing vibe and felt it needed a little chaos. She grabbed her step stool, crawled up on the couch and tried to climb up on Sprocket’s back, hoping to get a free doggie ride. Sprocket alerted me with the warning signs – he first tried to move away then let out a little growl before licking Quinn’s face. Thankfully, I was able to intervene before he got increasingly upset, but his behavior understandably is confusing to Quinn, so she continued to try to climb aboard.

Therein lays the challenge: No matter how well trained, animals are instinctual beings that are territorial, protective and usually inflexible on changing the rules they created. Young children are curious beings who discover their world by poking, prodding, throwing, climbing and chasing. Pairing children and pets can be simultaneously developmentally rewarding and potentially dangerous.

Here are some tips to help keep your kids safe around dogs:

Household pets

  • Dogs typically don’t like hugs and kisses, particularly when it’s not on their own terms. Teach kids to respect your animal’s space.
  • Don’t stare at a dog in close proximity to its face as this can be interpreted as an act of aggression.
  • Dogs that are tied up, cooped in or curled up (sleeping or relaxing) may be more agitated if approached – they either want to get out or be left alone.
  • Know that dogs don’t only attack when they’re angry (growling, barking, hair standing up); they can attack because they’re scared; a dog with its mouth closed, eyes wide and ears forward may indicate that it’s scared or worried.
  • Recognize these behaviors in your family dog to know it’s time to stop playing and give your pet some space:
    • Avoidance – hiding behind something or someone or turning its head away
    • Submission – rolling on its back, licking, or leaving the room; even though the dog is giving up now, it may not some day
    • Body language – tail between legs or low with only the end wagging, ears in a non-neutral position, rapid panting, licking its chops, or shaking out its fur
    • Acting out – tearing up or destroying personal possessions such as toys or other items your family uses frequently, or urinating or defecating in the house; these may be signs that your dog should be seen by a behavioral professional – don’t delay!

Pets outside of your family (tips courtesy of Children’s Hospital of Michigan)

  • Always ask an adult’s permission before approaching or petting a dog. Start by letting the dog sniff you, then gently pet under its chin or on top of its head, but never its tail, back or legs.
    • Never run or scream if a dog comes up to you
    • Never try to ride a bike away from a dog; they can run faster than you can bike
    • Always be calm around dogs and don’t look them in the eye; they may see this as an act of aggression
    • Stand still like a tree or rock and let the dog sniff you. If a dog starts biting, put whatever you have (backpack, stick, toy, etc.) in its mouth.
      • Avoid dogs that are eating, playing with toys, tied up in a yard, or behind a fence; also avoid dogs who look ill or angry
      • Never tease a dog by throwing things at it, barking at it, etc.

Dex Tuttle is the injury prevention program coordinator at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.