Share on Facebook

A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

7 Incredibly Dangerous Parenting Moves Even Careful Parents Make By Mistake

You use baby gates at the top (and bottom) of the stairs, secure heavy furniture to the wall, and monitor your teen's social media profiles. But even the most careful parents make potentially harmful child safety mistakes. Here are some of them.

1 / 7

Your car seat doubles as a crib

You pull into the driveway from your ride to nowhere, routed specifically to lull your oh-so-cranky baby to sleep. And voila—it worked. Chancing a transfer from car seat to crib gives you hives, so you bring the infant carrier in, unbuckle the straps so he’s more comfy, and let the sleeping giant snooze while you attempt to empty the dishwasher and vacuum without making a sound. No judgment, we’ve all done it. But we should all stop. Researchers at Penn State’s Milton S. Hershey Medical Center looked at 47 reported cases of children under two years old who died in sitting and carrying devices, like car seats, swings, or bouncers. Most of the deaths occurred in car seats—about half due to strangulation by the straps, the other half were caused by suffocation from improper positioning. Your baby is at very little risk if he is properly buckled into a properly positioned car seat that is properly secured in a car. But out of its intended context, the seat could topple over from an unstable or elevated surface; unfasten the restraints, and things can turn hazardous. Never leave your little one unattended in his car seat—awake or asleep; keep him buckled in until you’re ready to pick him up; and outside of the car, the carrier should be placed on a firm, stable surface. Ultimately, the safest spot for your baby to sleep is his crib. Oh, and about that crib…

2 / 7

You (still) use crib bumpers

Yes, those padded pieces of fabric cushion the slats a little. And they make the crib look cozy and coordinate nicely with the rest of the nursery décor. But seriously, who cares? You have absolutely heard the advice to dump crib bumpers, and here is yet another reason to heed it: 23 babies died because of them over a seven-year span between 2006 and 2012—that’s three times higher than the average number of deaths in the three previous seven-year time spans, according to data reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Babies either got their face caught in the bumper and couldn’t breathe or got wedged between the bumper and something else in the crib. The significant uptick may be in part due to more awareness among doctors and reporting by states, but overall the authors believe these numbers are still “substantially” under-counted. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents not to use any bumpers—that includes thick, thin, or the newer, mesh versions. Instead, they and other experts recommend a minimalist approach: just a firm mattress covered in a tight-fitting sheet, without any pillows, blankets, bumpers, toys, stuffed animals, or positioning devices. Your baby should sleep on his back, in footy pajamas if he’s cold.

3 / 7
iStock/Milan Markovic

You ‘say hi’ to the cute doggy

Your kids know strays are off limits, but they can’t resist patting your neighbor’s golden lab or stopping to greet a friendly-looking beagle on a leash. And that’s fine, as long as they always ask the owner’s permission first. Every year, children are by far the most common victims of dog bites, with more than 400,000 injured severely enough to need medical attention, according to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation. What’s even more surprising: More than half of dog-bite injuries occur at home, with dogs that are familiar. Keep a close eye on toddlers when they play with your pooch, and make sure older kids show your four-legged family member the right amount of respect. They should never tease the dog by snatching toys away or pull his ears or tail, and if the dog goes to bed or into his crate, let that be his space to be left alone. These are 50 secrets your pets wish they could tell you.

4 / 7

You watch the rear-view more than the road

You think texting and driving is bad? I mean, it is. Sending or receiving a text takes your eyes off the road for an average of almost five seconds, akin to driving the length of a football field at 55 mph—blind. Kids in the backseat, though, take the whole driving while distracted problem to a whole new level. Australian researchers found the average parent takes their eyes off the road for a staggering three minutes and 22 seconds during a 16-minute trip. It sounds crazy, but think about how many times you watch your little one in the rear-view, try to calm a fussy baby, or break up a sibling fight. Pint-sized passengers are four times more distracting to a driver than adults; and infants are eight times more distracting, according to the AAA. Of course you can’t put your kids on vibrate only, and it’s only natural that you give them a glance in the backseat. The key, however, is to keep it at a glance, whenever possible; pull over in a safe spot if your little one needs to be fed or consoled; and set some car rules—if something falls, it stays on the car floor until you stop.

5 / 7

You don’t think twice about pool drains

You also don’t take your eyes off your little one when she’s splashing in shallower end, you forbid your older kid to dive off the side of the pool, and you yell at both of them about a hundred times to walk, not run, so they don’t slip. The drain at the bottom of the pool, however, is not on your list of worries. But if the cover is damaged, improperly installed, or missing, your kid’s feet, hands, or hair can get caught, essentially trapping your child underwater. Older, flat drain grates pose a risk of entrapment as well: If a body part, like the torso or bottom, covers the drain, the intensity of the suction can be strong enough to hold even an adult down. Between 1999 and 2008, 11 children died in pool entrapments, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Eight years ago, new federal laws were passed requiring all public pools and spas to install anti-entrapment drain covers—many of which are dome-shaped, cutting down suction and making it more difficult for hair and limbs to get caught inside. Since then there have been no reported fatalities, but reports show 28 victims—mostly kids—have suffered entrapment injuries. In public pools, warn your kids away from the drains and pipes to be safe; if entrapment happens at home, immediately turn the pump off to stop the drain’s circulation and break the suction by putting your arm between the drain and the child and roll her off.

6 / 7

You go tandem down the slide

Your toddler makes a beeline for the big kids slide, but there’s no way you’re letting your little daredevil go it alone. Your heart is in the right place, but a study conducted at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, New York, found that nearly 14 percent of pediatric shin fractures treated over an 11-month period were caused by toddlers riding down slides on an adult’s lap. If his foot gets caught on the way down, the force of the adult’s weight behind him can end up breaking his leg. Compromise instead: put him on the big boy slide at the halfway point and stand next to it as rides down. Or, just hit the swings.

7 / 7
iStock/Curt Pickens

You keep meds in your purse

You think safe spot; a new report says otherwise. Nearly 60,000 U.S. children—mostly toddlers—are accidentally poisoned by medicines each year, according to Safe Kids Worldwide. That’s one kid going to an emergency department every nine minutes from ingesting medicine not intended for him. And nearly one out of every five of those kids is getting the medicine from a purse or diaper bag. Americans fill nearly three times as many prescriptions as they did in 1980 and spend five times as much on over-the-counter drugs, according to the report. That means parents, grandparents, and other adults need to be especially vigilant in keeping prying hands away. Keep your pill bottles, medication boxes, purses, and bags up, away, and out of sight. Reconsider where you store vitamins, diaper rash creams, eye drops and even hand sanitizer, which can be harmful if kids get into them.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Teresa Dumain
Teresa Dumain is a NYC-based writer who has been covering health and wellness for nearly 20 years for a variety of publications and websites, including Reader’s Digest, WebMD,, Real Simple, and the Leaf (Nutrisystem’s official weight loss blog). Her work has also appeared in Shape, Prevention, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Dr. Oz The Good Life, and; and she has written for The Doctors, a nationally syndicated TV show. She earned a BA in Communications and English from James Madison University.