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Keep Your Grandkids Safe

Get up to speed on the newest expert advice so your grandchildren will stay safe and healthy in your home

En español | You raised your own children, so you probably assume that you know what to do to keep your grandkids safe — and for the most part you do. But since it's been awhile since you had to childproof your home, you may need a quick refresher. Plus, since rules have changed a bit over the past few decades, there are a few new things you need to know about. Here's the best way to keep your grandkids safe when they're with you.

See also: Grandparents Day.

Nix the ipecac. You probably kept a bottle of this syrup on hand to induce vomiting in case your young child swallowed a toxic substance. But new studies show that vomiting doesn't really help. Plus, ipecac can be dangerous in certain cases and can actually prevent children from keeping down drugs that are necessary to treat poisoning. What to do instead? If you think your grandchild ingested something harmful, immediately call Poison Control at 800-222-1222.

grandparents guide to childproofing holding baby finger

Photo by Tim Hale/Corbis

Infants are safest sleeping on their back.

Prevent problems in the first place by keeping household cleansers, medications, mouthwash, rubbing alcohol and the contents of your liquor cabinet well out of reach — ideally in a locked cabinet. And don't leave your handbag sitting out — it's probably filled with choking hazards. What's more, if you keep pills in it, a busy toddler could get his hands on them, pry the container open and swallow something dangerous. Common heart medications and iron supplements, for instance, can be deadly to children.

Put babies "back to sleep." In the old days, you put an infant down to sleep on her stomach or side, for fear that she could choke on her spit up if she slept belly up. But since 1992, pediatricians recommended that babies sleep on their backs to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) — and the SIDS rate has dropped by more than 50 percent since then. Studies have shown that the fear of choking was unfounded. Experts still don't know what causes SIDS (the latest theory is that it has to do with re-breathing carbon monoxide, which is more likely to happen when babies sleep face down), but they do know that putting babies to sleep on their back and keeping cushiony objects such as pillows, blankets and stuffed animals out of the crib is the safest way to go.

Use car seats correctly. These safety devices are super high tech compared to what your kids rode in — and the rules are constantly changing. As of March 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that toddlers remain in rear-facing infant seats until they're 2 years old, or until they hit the seat's height and weight limits. At that point they can move to a forward-facing car safety seat with a harness and should keep using that seat until they outgrow it. Next comes a belt-positioning booster seat: Kids need to ride in one of those until they reach 4 feet 9 inches, are between 8 and 12 years old, and the car's seat belts fit them properly. And remember, all kids under age 13 need to sit in the back seat.

Worried that you didn't put the car safety seat in right? Chances are you didn't; research shows that seven out of 10 infant car safety seats are improperly installed. Go to to find a child safety seat inspection location near you.

Next: A must-have childproof checklist. »

Watch out for hand-me-downs. That car seat your neighbor gave you might not be safe to use. Car seats actually come with expiration dates — generally 6 years after the manufacture date. And if you don't know the seat's history, you don't know whether it's been in a crash, which can render it unsafe.

Old baby furniture also poses a risk: While it would be sweet to have your grandson sleep in his daddy's old crib, you don't want to take a chance that the hardware will fail, plus there have been significant changes in crib safety standards over the past 20 years, including limits on the distance between slats and a ban on cutouts to prevent strangulation and entrapment. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recently prohibited the sale of drop-side cribs (which have an adjustable side that makes it easier to get a child in and out of bed) because babies have died when the rail detached.

For any children's equipment — new or used — it's important to check for recalls. Go to and sign up for recall alerts.