Tag Archives: Host a Safe Birthday Party

How to Host a Safe Birthday Party

26 Sep

When Lynn Morley planned her son’s first birthday party she knew what she wanted. The Belton, Missouri, mom envisioned a small get-together with family surrounding her son Alexander as he blew out the big number one candle atop his cake. What Morley didn’t plan on is her son being so enchanted with the flames that he lunged forward in his high chair to grab the candle. “I pulled it back just in time,” recalls Morley. “My husband and I blew it out for him.” That was three years ago. As Morley prepares for her second son’s first birthday party, she doesn’t plan on lighting any candles.
“What’s interesting is that no one at the party—all experienced parents—thought to caution us about the candle,” confides Morley. Normally vigilant parents can easily become distracted from safety issues at birthday celebrations. And these events can pose serious risks from the cake candle to the small plastic toys often found in goodie bags. The distractions add up when you have other children and parents attending the festivities too. Look over some of the top birthday hazards to make sure that your child’s special day stays happy, not hazardous.


“There are so many food items that are considered unsafe until a child reaches the age of 4,” says Dr. Christine Wood, pediatrician and author of How to Get Kids to Eat Great & Love It. She lists popular party foods such as hot dogs, grapes, hard candy, popcorn, chunks of cheese, meat, carrots, celery, taffy, dried fruits, marshmallows, and others as posing choking risks.
Dr. Wood advises some simple precautions to avoid problems. First, make sure that the children attending the party—including the birthday child—sit while eating. “Almost any food can become a choking hazard if children are running around or laughing.” Second, avoid known choking foods or make sure these foods are cut into small pieces.
Choking is a serious hazard for little kids. According to a study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17,537 children visited emergency rooms around the country in 2001 with nonfatal choking problems. Of those choking incidences, 60 percent were from food items, 31 percent were from nonfood items, and 9 percent were from unknown substances.
If a child does appear to be choking, either because he is unable to breathe, breathing is labored, or he’s turning color, Dr. Bryan Burke, a pediatrician at the Arkansas Children’s Hospital, relays the importance of parents reacting quickly. Sometimes the child is still able to breathe while the object is lodged in the airway, but if a child’s breathing is blocked completely, you have only four minutes before the lack of oxygen will lead to death, says Dr. Burke.
Dr. Burke, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests parents take a CPR course and familiarize themselves with how to react in emergency situations.
Additionally, when planning the party, ask parents of party guests if their children have any food allergies so that you can avoid serving those foods or restrict the food to certain areas.

Decorations and Wrappings

With all the party excitement, you may not realize that some common party items—such as gift-wrapping and balloons—can prevent breathing if inhaled or swallowed. Dr. Burke recalls vividly a case where he was called to remove a balloon from a child’s throat. Unfortunately, the four-year-old died before ever reaching the hospital.
While you don’t have to ban balloons from your festivities altogether, be careful where you place them. Tape balloons high above children’s heads and don’t let anyone play with them. Save balloon animals until children are older and won’t place the balloons in their mouths.
Gather up wrapping paper, ribbons, and packaging as soon as your child is done opening gifts. Remember that you’re not just trying to ensure your own child’s safety, but also that of other children attending the party.

Your House

Take a childproofing tour of your house. This is a great time to check between couch cushions and under beds for hazardous items. “Small things like marbles, watch batteries, pen caps, or buttons can be a real choking problem,” says Dr. Wood. Reinstall childproofing devices such as outlet covers and gates at stairs if necessary.
Before the party, determine where guests will put their coats and purses. Dr. Wood points out that many items that a child might stumble onto in a purse left on the floor can be dangerous, such as medications, keys, or pocket knives.
If you have a family pool, there must be at least one adult who will stay in the pool for the entire event and watch the children. If your pool is covered, lock outside doors or pool gates so that children will not find their way into your pool and drown.


Like small pieces of food, tiny toys can also put your child at risk of choking. Opt for party favors that are large enough that they cannot be swallowed. Dr. Wood explains that any item that can fit through a toilet paper roll can potentially fit in your child’s mouth and create airway problems.
Remember that gifts your child receives may be unsuitable for your child’s age—such as a toy intended for preschoolers with small parts. Tuck these gifts away and save them for your child to enjoy once she’s old enough.

Have Fun—Get Help!

Parties are supposed to be fun, not stressful. If you are aware of common party dangers you’ll be better able to prevent an accident and enjoy your child’s special day. Perhaps the best celebration advice comes from pediatrician Dr. Dan McGee, of the DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan: “Don’t do it all yourself. Find someone or hire a babysitter to help you manage the party, especially if you are expecting a lot of guests.” Now, who’s ready to party?
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