Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Could your child strangle on your window blinds?

URGENT: Write the CPSC by THIS FRIDAY, September 13, to tell them why you think window blind cords should be safely covered. Help end child strangulation on window coverings once and for all!

Welcome to the September 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Staying Safe

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared stories and tips about protecting our families. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

{TRIGGER WARNING: This post talks about child deaths due to strangulation.}

Could your child strangle on your window blinds? == A warning from Hobo Mama and what to do to keep your kids safe
Do as I say and not as I do. Here's newborn Mikko in front of the DEATH BLINDS.

When Mikko was a baby, we lived in a rented apartment. On the windows? The ubiquitous white metal horizontal-slat Venetian blinds.

Before I had kids, I hated those things for how hard they were to keep clean, how easily they started looking ratty and dented, and how they kept pretty much no light out. Once I had a young child, I added a new reason to my list:

They could kill my child.

In the United States, about one child a month strangles to death on the cord of a window covering, and another child suffers severe and sometimes permanent injury.

Could your child strangle on your window blinds? == A warning from Hobo Mama and what to do to keep your kids safe
This post is really hard for me to write, because when I was researching this issue several years ago, I steeped myself in the grief of families who'd lost a small child due to window cords. In particular, I watched a video I can never unwatch in which a mother was filming her baby while her preschooler, offscreen, had wandered over to the window to strangle himself. Fortunately, he survived, but her screams haunted my nightmares.

I know the death count for window blinds isn't as high as, say, motor vehicle accidents, and I'm not here telling you you shouldn't drive. But I do advocate for the safest infant and child seating in a car possible (hint: rear face!), and I think even one unnecessary death from window treatments (window treatments! such a small thing to change!) is one too many — especially when there's a fairly easy solution:

If you're in a home with young children, don't use window coverings with cords. Ever. At all.

Hidden dangers of cord strangulation

The scary thing is, you're not safe just because you've tied up and secured the longest hanging cords. It's a good start, but there are a couple problems:
  • There have been confirmed deaths of children who climbed up and untied the cords. Kids — especially preschoolers — are persistent and inventive, and often have an invincibility complex.
  • Children can strangle on the internal cords: for instance, those cords that hold the Venetian blind slats together, or the cords on the back of Roman shades.

You're also not safe just because you have a young baby: The risk factor starts rising as soon as a baby can crawl. Cribs and beds are often placed near windows, and that intensifies the risk by lifting children up to the level of the blinds (and the danger of falling out of a window).

And you're not safe just because you have a slightly older child. Many of the deaths feature children who are 4 or 5 years old — past the age you might think a child would be stupid enough to wrap something tightly around the neck. I'm here to confirm this simply is not the case. I'm constantly having to warn both my kids (6 and 2) to stop wrapping ropes, cords, and belts around their own or their sibling's neck. They just don't have a good sense of how dangerous that is.

And Sam and I can testify that we were stoo-pid when we were that age. I remember eating a whole bottle of Flintstones vitamins — thank heavens they weren't the kind with iron, or I'd presumably not be here to write this post! Sam used to eat charcoal. I followed peer pressure to eat glue, paste, and crayons. Yep, we were brainiacs, all right. Just because something seems obviously dangerous and no-go to an adult mind doesn't mean your kids won't try it. They might be thinking they could lift themselves up with the cord, or fly, or something — so don't give them the temptation.

You're also not safe just because you supervise your kids. Children have fallen into a loop and strangled within seconds. Children have strangled when they were in bed and their parents thought they were asleep. As I said above, older children have strangled when they were of an age to play alone at times. Children have strangled even when in the same room with a watching parent, as in that video I mentioned. Keep in mind that strangulation, like drowning and other forms of suffocation, is silent. Many victims of sudden suffocation instantly pass out. You might, if you're lucky (!), hear your child knocking over furniture or kicking the wall. But you will not hear a scream or cry or hard breathing — because there won't be any. Ugh.

How to keep your kids safe

Go check your windows right now. It's all right — I'll wait.

Do any of them have cords? On the front, on the back, on the side, on the inside? Take them down.

That's it. Take them down.

It's pretty much one of the easiest babyproofing steps you can take.

If you're renting and you have those stupid Venetian blinds we always did, they pop out of their brackets so they can be replaced from renter to renter. This video shows clearly how to remove the blinds with at most a screwdriver; you can ignore the steps after that show how to remove the brackets. So pop the blinds out, store them in a closet, and put them back up when you leave the rental.

Dangerous window coverings

Could your child strangle on your window blinds? == A warning from Hobo Mama and what to do to keep your kids safe
Horizontal Venetian and mini-blinds typically have long cords (particularly when raised) hanging to the side that can wrap around a child's neck, plus internal cords as seen here that can form dangerous loops.

Could your child strangle on your window blinds? == A warning from Hobo Mama and what to do to keep your kids safe
Ignore the millions of patterns for Roman shades floating around Pinterest. As you can see, they have cording on the reverse that forms dangerous loops for a child's head to fit through.

Could your child strangle on your window blinds? == A warning from Hobo Mama and what to do to keep your kids safe
Vertical blinds and sometimes drapes can have low-hanging side loops that are metal or cord.

Could your child strangle on your window blinds? == A warning from Hobo Mama and what to do to keep your kids safe
Roll-up blinds have cords that can slip to the side and around a child's neck.

What window coverings to use instead

To replace your dangerous window coverings, try these options instead. I'm going to use some affiliate and non-affiliate links to show you what I mean; I don't intend for these links to suggest an endorsement of any particular product.
  • CurtainsUse sheers for light transparency with a layer of privacy. Use blackout curtains in bedrooms to block light and sound and insulate (energy savings!) — install them higher and wider than the windows for best effectiveness. Install a double rod if you want sheers during the day and heavier drapes at night. Curtains are great for personalizing a room and adding panache, and you don't have to spend a lot to get something pretty. (You can even hem your own fabric easily if you sew.) Instead of cord or loop tie-backs (which tend to be at kid level), go for decorative metal or wooden hooks or knobs that install on the wall.
  • Cordless blinds — These cost more than the corded models but are attractive and useful, and easy even for kids to operate — they simply push and pull up and down. Many versions are honeycombed for insulation, though they have other styles, too, including cordless Roman shades. Blackout options are available. You can upgrade to versions that lower from the top down, which lets in light while preserving privacy. Some really fancy models even come with remote controls!
  • Shutters — Bet you didn't even think of that one! Interior wooden shutters have no cords and are stylish, too.
  • Adhesive or spray covering — If you want a long-term solution, such as for a bathroom window or entrance window where you know you want privacy at all times but not much in the way of light control, you can apply a stick-on or spray-on film, design, or texture (such as a frosting or imitation stained glass). If you're renting, choose a sticker that promises to come back off!
  • Retractable roller shades — Think old-, old-school, like what my grandparents had in all their windows! These are the kinds of roll-up shades you pull down into place and then tug to get them to — phwip! – retract onto their drum at the top. Fortunately, since my grandparents' day, they've come out with a lot more color and style options, including decorative hems and (short) pulls, blackout versions, and motorized options (no, really). But if you go for the plainest types, this is one of your economy options.
  • As a last-resort scenario, you can retrofit your corded blinds to be somewhat safer. It won't remove internal cords and their hazards, but it will help lessen the dangers of external loops and long cords. Contact the Window Covering Safety Council to obtain a free repair kit for the type of coverings you're changing. Store blinds with internal cords in their fully upright position to get them out of the way of grabby hands, tie up and latch or cover any long strings, cut hanging loops to make two shorter lines, and follow the other safety measures mentioned below.

You might be asking why I know so much about blinds. In moving to a new place with no window coverings, I had to do a lot of research to figure out what we wanted and could afford. I knew only one thing for certain: I did not want anything with cords!

Interesting note: When we opened our storage closet, inside were dumped several windows' worth of those stupid white aluminum Venetian mini-blinds, which clearly had recently been covering all the windows. I'm so glad they went through the bother of taking them down for me!

Other safety tips

  • Don't place beds, cribs, or other climbable furniture in reach of windows. This includes tables, bookcases, shelving, desks, and dressers.
  • Talk with your children about the dangers of strangulation. Stop them and make it a teaching moment if you see them wrap cords or strings around their necks or someone else's (even a doll's or stuffed animal's).
  • Check the window coverings of places your children frequent. This includes daycare, preschool, a childcare provider's house, the grandparents' house, and playdate friends' houses. If you see unsafe window coverings, politely let the people caring for your children know about the safety risk. If they don't want to remove them, ask them to keep them fully raised and/or secured out of your children's reach, with all cords wrapped and stored up high.

Don't become a family whose child's face is posted on the memorial wall of Parents for Window Blind Safety. My heart goes out to those families who are mourning. Don't trust manufacturers, landlords, and the government to take over in looking out for your kids (I wish) — take down your corded window coverings, and come up with a safer alternative that works for you.

Save a life and share:

Could your child strangle on your window blinds? == A warning from Hobo Mama and what to do to keep your kids safe

Click for a pre-filled Tweet

URGENT: Write the CPSC by THIS FRIDAY, September 13, to tell them why you think window blind cords should be safely covered. Help end child strangulation on window coverings once and for all! All you need to do is sign the petition and write 3 sentences (examples given) for why the CPSC should act NOW. Full information is here.

Statistics and data resource: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
Photo credit for the safety photos: US CPSC on Flickr

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by afternoon September 10 with all the carnival links.)

  • Stranger Danger — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shares her approach to the topic of "strangers" and why she prefers to avoid that word, instead opting to help her 4-year-old understand what sorts of contact with adults is appropriate and whom to seek help from should she ever need it.
  • We are the FDA — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger makes the case that when it comes to food and drugs, parents are necessarily both their kids' best proponent of healthy eating and defense against unsafe products.
  • You Can't Baby Proof Mother Nature — Nicole Lauren at Mama Mermaid shares how she tackles the challenges of safety when teaching her toddler about the outdoors.
  • Bike Safety With Kids — Christy at Eco Journey In the Burbs shares her tips for safe cycling with children in a guest post at Natural Parents Network.
  • Spidey Sense — Maud at Awfully Chipper used a playground visit gone awry to teach her children about trusting their instincts.
  • Watersustainablemum explains how she has used her love of canoeing to enable her children to be confident around water
  • Safety without baby proofing — Hannabert at Hannahandhorn talks about teaching safety rather than babyproofing.
  • Coming of Age: The Safety Net of Secure AttatchmentGentle Mama Moon reflects on her own experiences of entering young adulthood and in particular the risks that many young women/girls take as turbulent hormones coincide with insecurities and for some, loneliness — a deep longing for connection.
  • Mistakes You Might Be Makings With Car Seats — Car seats are complex, and Brittany at The Pistachio Project shares ways we might be using them improperly.
  • Could your child strangle on your window blinds? — One U.S. child a month strangles to death on a window blind cord — and it's not always the obvious cords that are the danger. Lauren at Hobo Mama sends a strong message to get rid of corded blinds, and take steps to keep your children safe.
  • Tips to Help Parents Quit Smoking (and Stay Quit) — Creating a safe, smoke-free home not only gives children a healthier childhood, it also helps them make healthier choices later in life, too. Dionna at Code Name: Mama (an ex-smoker herself) offers tips to parents struggling to quit smoking, and she'll be happy to be a source of support for anyone who needs it.
  • Gradually Expanding Range — Becca at The Earthling's Handbook explains how she is increasing the area in which her child can walk alone, a little bit at a time.
  • Safety Sense and Self Confidence — Do you hover? Are you overprotective? Erica at ChildOrganics discusses trusting your child's safety sense and how this helps your child develop self-confidence.
  • Staying Safe With Food Allergies and Intolerances — Kellie at Our Mindful Life is sharing how she taught her son about staying safe when it came to his food allergies.
  • Don't Touch That Baby!Crunchy Con Mom offers her 3 best tips for preventing unwanted touching of your baby.
  • Playground Wrangling: Handling Two Toddlers Heading in Opposite Directions — Megan at the Boho Mama shares her experience with keeping two busy toddlers safe on the playground (AKA, the Zone of Death) while also keeping her sanity.
  • Letting Go of "No" and Taking Chances — Mommy at Playing for Peace tries to accept the bumps, bruises and tears that come from letting her active and curious one-year-old explore the world and take chances.
  • Preventing Choking in Babies and Toddlers with Older Siblings — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now gives tips on preventing choking in babies and toddlers along with Montessori-inspired tips for preventing choking in babies and toddlers who have older siblings working with small objects.
  • Keeping Our Children Safe: A Community and National Priority — September has many days and weeks dedicated to issues of safety; however, none stir the emotions as does Patriot Day which honors those slain the terrorist attacks. Along with honoring the victims, safety officals want parents to be ready in the event of another disaster whether caused by terrorists or nature. Here are their top tips from Mary at Mary-andering Creatively.
  • A Complete Family: Merging Pets and Offspring — Ana at Panda & Ananaso shares the ground rules that she laid out for herself, her big brown dog, and later her baby to ensure a happy, safe, and complete family.
  • Be Brave — Shannon at Pineapples & Artichokes talks about helping her kids learn to be brave so that they can stay safe, even when she's not around.
  • Catchy PhrasingMomma Jorje just shares one quick tip for helping kids learn about safety. She assures there are examples provided.
  • Know Your Kid — Alisha at Cinnamon&Sassfras refutes the idea that children are unpredictable.
  • Surprising car seat myths — Choosing a car seat is a big, important decision with lots of variables. But there are some ways to simplify it and make sure you have made the safest choice for your family. Megan at Mama Seeds shares how, plus some surprising myths that changed her approach to car seats completely!
  • I Never Tell My Kids To Be Careful — Kim is Raising Babes, Naturally, by staying present and avoiding the phrase "be careful!"


Unknown said...

I knew a 12 month old who strangled in blind cords and died. It was terribly devastating. It happened probably 13 years ago now and I am still terrified of those cords!

Lindsay said...

I love blinds because of the way they let in some air flow and some light while also blocking the view of the neighbors. Sigh. Also, I cannot operate roller shades and am constantly having them jump up all the way to the top of the window where I can't even reach, sometimes so hard that they pop out and fall on the ground.
But sounds like its time for me to suck it up and get rid of the blinds.

Prof. Hannah said...

When we bought our new house, the very first thing I did was untie the blind cords and shorten them.

Prof. Hannah said...

Cruncy Con Monmmy - there some GREAT new blinds on the market that don't have the cord issue.

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

good gawd, Lauren - a real video of a child getting strangled? I am trying to get the visual/sounds out of my head, and I never saw it.
We have cellular blinds with cods. Gah. I'm putting it on the "replace" list.

Lauren Wayne said...

@Crunchy Con Mommy: What Hannah said. They even have cordless mini-blinds available now (the type of horizontal aluminum blinds I was talking about). As I understand it, newer blinds are less likely or unlikely (not sure if all manufacturers are complying) to have internal-cord issues, too — the CPSC has been trying to get manufacturers to make them so they can't be pulled out into a loop.

Lauren Wayne said...

@Dionna @ Code Name: Mama: It was horrifying. I purposely didn't link to it!

Brittany Thomas said...

Sounds like a horrible video to watch! As tempted as I am to google it, I'm going to refrain. We can't do much about our blinds but I make sure that they are always up and out of reach!

sustainablemum said...

You would hate my house! I have blinds in two rooms the dinning room and my eldest's bedroom. The blind in his room is at the end of the bed which is at windowsill height he has been in the room with the blind for five years since the age of three.

My children have never tied anything round their own necks and I am totally confident they would never do it to each other as my youngest has experienced another child's hands on her neck, she was two and half at the time and still talks about it now as she was so terrified.

Anonymous said...

I only heard of this as a danger about a year ago when a child in the UK died from strangulation on a blinds cord.. it was BIG news, I don't think it happens nearly so often here. I guess that's partly because there are less people and partly because curtains are more popular. Venetian blinds are seen mostly in office buildings.
However, I have a rather scuzzy roman blind on our bathroom window which was here when I first started renting this place pre-babies.. it's coming down in the morning! I've been meaning to replace it with something fresher for a while, thank you Lauren for giving me the necessary nudge. :)

Deb Chitwood said...

That's scary! I'm thankful my kids survived our houses with blinds. Such very important information. I pinned your post to my Family Safety and Emergency Preparation Board at http://pinterest.com/debchitwood/family-safety-and-emergency-preparation/

Unknown said...

PFWBS is petitioning the cpsc now to get things changed. Please support us and write a quick comment to the cpsc. Goto the pfwbs Facebook page and follow the instructions.

Christy said...

Thanks for this informative post. I'm going to pin it so I have it at the ready to share with people when they question the need to get rid of these types of window coverings.

Unknown said...

Super scary - I've never thought of that risk before...thanks for the info.

Anonymous said...

Another option for holding back curtains is to use clothespins or chip clips, if you can find some that coordinate well enough with your classy decor. We bought some transparent chip clips of assorted colors at Big Lots and use the blue ones on our blue curtains, where they are barely visible.

Having grown up with wooden shutters, I have to say: It's true you can't strangle on them, but it is easy for a young child to injure herself or her sibling enough to need stitches--either by pinching a hand in the shutter or by whanging the corner of it into someone's head. :-(

Unknown said...

Please u guys.. Take this post/blog/ whatever u call it seriously.. I never thought of the danger the strings on a blind can cause until 2 days ago. see that picture up there??? My niece has seen it too. Just 2days ago she lost her 3year old daughter EXACTLY LIKE THAT. it wasn't because she wasn't paying attention to her child either. Its because it happened quick and her daughter was gone within seconds.. Please please PLEASE from someone who's been there.... DO NOT LEAVE THOSE CORDS HANGING replace them, tie the waaaay up, do whatever u have to do so ur not the next one sitting here like me leaving a post like this....

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