Burns prevention for young children

Published on Wednesday, 05 August 2020
Last updated on Wednesday, 21 October 2020

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Winter is a time for heaters, open fires and hot drinks, and although these toasty delights warm the cockles, they also bring a degree of risk for young children.

Busy little bodies can get burnt without careful supervision, and burns are a leading cause of injury for young Kiwi children. So, let’s look at ways to prevent accidents from happening, and how to best treat a burn injury.

What are some common causes of burns in children?

Although children can suffer burns anywhere, home is where many burns and scalds occur. The family kitchen is a hotspot for serious burns, and children can also get injured in other rooms (like the bathroom or lounge), the backyard and in sport and recreational places (like campsites).

According to Safe Kids Aotearoa, more than 50 per cent of the one- to two-year-old children admitted hospital with severe burns got them from spilt hot drinks and other liquids. And Kids Health says that, in addition to hot food and drinks, other common causes of childhood burns are:

  • Kitchen appliances
  • Heaters
  • Irons
  • Barbecues; and perhaps a little surprisingly,
  • Treadmills.

How does children’s skin burn differently to that of adults?

Skin is the largest organ in the human body and our children’s new and delicate skin is easily burnt. It can take less than a second for a little one to get seriously burnt by spilt tea, coffee, hot soup or noodles, and Kids Health says that, ‘Children’s skin burns deeper, quicker and at lower temperatures compared to adults.’

As well as causing pain and distress when it happens, a burn can leave a lasting effect on children, with physical and psychological scarring. Families also suffer guilt and a sense of blame when young ones are burnt, so it’s important to prevent accidents from occurring in the first place.

How can parents prevent scalds in children?

A scald is an injury caused by very hot liquid or steam, so it can happen when a child pulls a boiling kettle off the counter, jumps into a too-hot bath or is tempted to touch a steaming iron.

To prevent scalds, you should:

  • Supervise your young child at all times when they’re in and around the kitchen and bathroom
  • Make sure hot drinks, hot food and all kitchen appliances are safely out of your young child’s reach
  • Be very careful when serving hot drinks, or walking with them, when your little one is around
  • Always check the temperature of bath water before putting your young child in the tub. Run the cold water first and set your hot water temperature so it is 50 to 55° Celsius at the tap.

How can parents prevent common burns in children?

The Fiona Wood Foundation says, ‘Burns are an injury to any layer of the skin and are caused by extreme heat or cold, contact with electricity, chemicals, friction or radiation.’ A burn causes skin cells to die, and there are different degrees of burn, depending on how deep the skin injury is.

To prevent common childhood burns, Kids Health advises you to:

  • Keep all electrical equipment which heats up out of reach of your child. This includes heaters, kettles, irons and hair straighteners. Make sure it’s unplugged after use and put away
  • Install a heat-resistant guard around fireplaces and heaters, ensuring it’s secured to the wall or floor and can’t tip or shift
  • Store matches and lighters in a locked cabinet, or up high where your child can’t reach them
  • Closely supervise your child around barbecues and don’t use flammable liquids
  • Always supervise your child near a campfire and never throw aerosols or accelerants (e.g. petrol, kerosene and turps) into the flames
  • If you have a treadmill, only use it when your child isn’t in the room, install a safety guard around the machine and make sure it’s unplugged after every exercise session; and
  • Install smoke alarms on all levels of your house and close to the bedrooms.

SafeKids Aotearoa provides burns prevention resources, and a stove guard is an effective way to protect your little one from hotplates, burners, pots and pans while cooking. 

What should you do if your child gets burnt?

If an accident does happen, it’s important that you treat your child’s burn correctly. 

SafeKids Aotearoa advises you:

  • To use cool, gently running tap water on the burn for 20 minutes (it’s ok to use lukewarm water on a baby who is vulnerable to hypothermia)
  • Do not touch the burn or burst any blisters because this can cause infection
  • Once cooled, remove your child’s clothing from the burned area, if possible, or cut around the fabric
  • Cover the burn with clean, non-fluffy material to prevent infection
  • Seek advice from your doctor or hospital; and
  • In an emergency, dial 111 (Triple One).

Kids Health says it’s important that you never use ice, iced water, cream, gel, toothpaste or butter on your child’s burn as these things can actually make it worse.

It’s also important to know that using cool water on a burn is effective within three hours of the burn happening.

You should have a fire blanket handy at home in case flames do break out, and this free First Aid for Burns online training module from Australia is a good way to learn more about burn care. 

Of course, prevention is always better than a cure, and although it’s relaxing to snuggle up next to a fireplace or get lost in a hot chocolate, it’s important to stay alert this winter and keep your child out of burns’ way.


SafeKids Aotearoa

Kids Health

The Fiona Wood Foundation

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