Safety tips for grandparents

Siski Green / 22 August 2013

Child safety laws are a must-know area for grandparent carers.



Only 30 years ago car-seats for young children weren’t a legal requirement, bike helmets were practically unheard of, and babies were put to sleep on their backs to avoid choking. Things have changed a lot. But there’s a problem – according to Age UK, more than 14% of under-14s are taken care of by grandparents, yet most informational campaigns target new parents, not grandparents. So you may be missing out on important information that might just save your grandchild’s life.

Car safety

Strapping a young child in with a seatbelt isn’t enough to protect them from injury but with car-seats of different sizes and designs, as well as booster seats, it can be difficult to know what you need. Research undertaken by the UK National Research panel YourSayPays found that out of 1,000 caregivers, including grandparents who regularly drove their grandchildren, 74% had already stopped or planned to stop using booster seats for children ten years old or under. The law is clear: children under 12 and/or under 135cm tall must use a car-seat of some kind. For infants up to 13kg, a rear-facing baby car-seat; for children from 9 to 18kg a forward-facing or rear-facing baby carseat; for children from 15 to 25kg a forward-facing car-seat or booster; children more than 22kg should use a booster unless they are 12 or older, or taller than 135cm.

Around three-quarters of those caregivers surveyed also weren’t sure what booster seats were for. They’re intended for children who are too big for car-seats. As seatbelts are designed and positioned to protect an adult, a child, who is shorter or lighter than the average adult, can be injured by one during an accident. The belt can cause strangulation if the child is too low in the seat, for example; with a booster the belt is positioned in the correct place, across the chest.

Be aware of exceptions too: for example,  licensed taxis are permitted to carry children without car-seats.

Find out more about child car-seats and the law 



Bike safety

All children will have accidents as they play and explore, but while a grazed knee or bleeding elbow won’t scar them for life, a brain injury can have life-long devastating effects. Research from the Transport Research Laboratory concluded that helmets are effective at preventing head and brain injuries, and that around 15% of fatalities could have been prevented if a helmet had been worn. However, it is not mandatory for children (or adults) to wear helmets when riding bicycles, scooters, using a skateboard or wearing roller blades. Even so, it’s a good idea to use one every time. After all, it certainly won’t do them any harm and it could save their life.    

Infant sleep safety

Putting a baby to sleep on its stomach used to be thought of a good way to prevent spit-up from choking a baby. However, a study undertaken by researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, USA, found that only 44% of grandparents know the current advice to put babies to bed on their backs. Since the early 1990s medical professionals the world over have recommended putting babies to sleep on their backs as doing so has been shown to reduce the number of deaths via Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Pillows and stuffed animals in the cot should also be avoided for the same reason.  Find out more about SIDS at NHS Direct.

Home safety

Research from the US shows that over a period of 15 years, child protection measures such as car-seats, cabinet locks and baby gates have helped reduce the number of accidental child deaths by 45%. So before taking care of small children in your home:

Put anything toxic out of reach. Medications (vitamins too), household chemicals and so on need to be stored where little fingers can’t get to them.

Put away the candles. Matches, lighters should also be stored out of sight and reach. Fit smoke alarms too.

Take extreme care with water. Drowning is the second most likely cause of death for children under 14 (car accidents is the first). A small child can drown in water that’s only a couple of centimetres deep because they might struggle to get up from the face-down position. And while many think they would hear a child drowning, in fact it is usually very quiet – the child doesn’t scream for help. For this reason, a child should never be left unsupervised near water. Remember too, that a toilet contains water. Secure the seat with child safety locks or keep the bathroom closed.

Block entrypoints to the garden or street. Even if a baby isn’t crawling yet, it might choose the moment you turn your back to attempt an exit. Similarly a toddler who can’t yet open a door might suddenly figure it out. Childproof door locks are inexpensive and can be fitted quickly and easily.  Cut food into small pieces. For children of any age choking can be a hazard but those under two are particularly at risk. Keep small items out of reach (coins, marbles and so on) and cut foods into very small pieces, avoiding foods that are difficult to chew. Familiarise yourself with the Heimlich Manoeuvre for children and babies, too).

Find out more about child safety at the RoSPA website.

Online safety

These days children as young as four and five are able to log on to the internet and, if they can write, even do a basic web search (not to mention potentially deleting important files or changing your settings!). Older children spend an average of three hours online each day.

While your own adult children probably have their computers at home set up to avoid problems, you may need to check your systems too to ensure your grandchildren’s safety. Children can easily be exposed to inappropriate content if the right safeguards aren’t in place.

Even parents find this issue difficult. According to Quib.ly, an online parent community support network, 71% of people find it difficult to keep up with technology as a parent. In fact, 56% of parents of 11-16-year-olds actually ask their children for help on things like downloading music or installing software.

Ask the parents. Your own ‘kids’ probably have rules about what sites their children can use and for how long. Try to stick to those rules at your house too.

Keep it out. If you let your grandchildren use your computer equipment, make sure they do it in sight. That way you can see if they’re logging on to chatrooms or talking to strangers online, or viewing age-inappropriate content.  

Set your controls. To set up your PC account so you have tighter control over what your grandchildren view, get Family Set Up (go to http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-8/family-safety#1TC=t1). There you can monitor what sites they visit, set time limits, restrict access to inappropriate sites and so on. For a Mac, go to System Preferences, Accounts, click on the ‘Lock’ icon and enter your password details. A list of accounts will appear, click on the plus sign to add a New Account and name it after your grandchild/grandchildren. On the pop-up window you’ll see the option ‘Managed With Parental Controls’. Whenever your grandchildren use your Mac, log in with those account details and you can be sure they’re safer. (More here: http://www.macworld.com/article/1151943/parentalcontrols.html)

Remember: While the facts and figures regarding child safety can seem mindboggling and a little overwhelming, it’s important to keep in mind the one most important thing you can do to protect your grandchildren: simply focus your attention on them while they’re in your care.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.