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Amidst Holiday Baking Bonanzas, Keep Watch on Kids in the Kitchen

Thursday, November 15, 2007

This holiday season, Emergency Medicine docs at Golisano Children's Hospital want you to remember: kids in the kitchen require constant supervision.

A season of stuffing turkeys, prepping pumpkin pies and cutting out Christmas cookies is just around the corner, replete with little helpers begging to take part in baking traditions. But before you tie an apron around your pint-sized cook, experts from Golisano Children’s Hospital at Strong are eager to share kitchen smarts that can help your family enjoy a safer holiday season.

“Parents need to remember that kids in the kitchen require constant supervision,” said Lynn Cimpello, M.D., assistant professor of Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics who co-directs the children’s hospital’s Injury Free Coalition for Kids Rochester site. “Lay the ground rules immediately. Tell kids that there’ll be no horseplay allowed, they must always ask first before starting a task, and they have to stay focused while doing it.”

You’ll need to also take a moment to appreciate that all children progress at different rates, Cimpello said.“The trick is to spend some time choosing cooking and kitchen tasks that suit their ability. Find special elements in each recipe that they can be involved with.”

She suggests that toddlers can learn to wash fruits and veggies, or practice stirring or pouring liquids; once they’ve mastered these, they might advance to other activities, such as greasing pans, or opening packages; older kids might begin using measuring cups and spoons, or rolling and shaping cookies.

“There is a steep learning curve, so start by keeping it simple,” Cimpello said.

Model cutting-edge safety

Some of the infamous kitchen culprits are knives, which pose serious risks for kids.

“This may seem odd, but you would not believe the number of cuts we see in the ED from kids slicing themselves while trying to separate bagels. They’re holding them right in their hands,” Cimpello said. “This speaks sharply to the danger of knives, and how few kids have enough of a healthy fear of them.”

Remind kids that cutting boards do more than protect nicks in the counter-top – they make sure you’re able to do the cutting away from yourself, a mistake even adults make from time to time, she said.

Other rules to mind:

Beware burns, shocks posed by stoves, microwaves, appliances

“Kids underestimate lurking hazards posed by things that appear safe on first glance,” Cimpello said. 

But looks deceive. Make sure kids know that steam can scald; that burners keep piping hot even after they’ve turned off and pans have been cleared away; that microwave ovens don’t always heat foods evenly and that these foods are often hotter than they appear.

“We treat too many scalds caused by kids heating Ramen noodles. Because the microwave ovens themselves don’t become hot, kids let their guards down,” she said. “These lessons may not be intuitive, and the kitchen is not the place for learning by experience.”

Other tips to consider:

Keep clean, and you’ll keep safer

“Tidying up as you go might seem like shoveling in a snow storm, but it’s smart,” Cimpello said. “Carelessness invites accidents, so keeping clean – whether it’s your hands, the floor, or the countertop – will go a long way in preventing injury and illness.”

The Injury Free Coalition for Kids of Rochester is a child injury prevention program run through the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center and Golisano Children's Hospital. Supported in part by a generous gift from the Kohl’s Cares for Kids children’s hospital partnership program, the coalition's main goal is to reduce the incidence and severity of childhood injury in the greater Rochester metropolitan area.

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