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Tips to Keep Kids Safe Over the Holidays

Contributors Alexy Arauz Boudreau, MD, MPH; Abeer Bader, MSC, RD, LDN; Melisa W. Lai-Becker, MD; Nimesh A. Patel, MD; John Schulz, MD, PhD; Wynne Armand, MD; Jonathan Slutzman, MD
9 minute read
family holiday baking

It’s the holiday season, and the most wonderful time of the year for many. Friends and family gather to celebrate old traditions and make new memories. Amid the fun, the holidays also can bring new challenges for children’s health and safety.

To keep the holidays focused on being together and avoid unnecessary doctor’s visits, take a few minutes to go through the following recommendations, says Alexy Arauz Boudreau, MD, MPH, a Mass General Brigham pediatrician. Dr. Arauz Boudreau is associate chief of Pediatrics for Primary Care at Massachusetts General Hospital and medical director for Population Health Management at Mass General for Children.

Dr. Arauz Boudreau and other Mass General Brigham experts share holiday health and safety tips. Learn how to help keep everyone as happy and healthy as possible during your seasonal celebrations. 

Safe holiday gatherings: Illness prevention tips

“Holiday gatherings create shared memories and bring together multiple generations. Often the more, the merrier,” says Dr. Arauz Boudreau. “Indoor settings are also the perfect environments to spread respiratory viruses. However, there are steps we can all take to keep our family and friends safer.”

Dr. Boudreau recommends you:

  • Stay up-to-date with your vaccines for COVID-19 and flu. Vaccines help protect both you and your loved ones from serious illness, particularly babies, children, the elderly, and immunocompromised individuals.

  • Learn how to protect yourself against RSV. If you are age 60 and older, you may be eligible to receive an RSV vaccine. To protect their infant, pregnant people are encouraged to get an RSV vaccine. Infants also may receive monoclonal antibody treatments depending on their age and health history.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.

  • Cover your mouth when sneezing or coughing. Wash your hands after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. Set an example for your children and teach them how to do this.

  • Clean and disinfect surfaces. It’s especially important to clean those that are touched often, like doorknobs.

  • Stay home if you feel sickGet a COVID test if you have symptoms or you’ve been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19.

  • Consider wearing a mask. You can wear a mask regardless of community levels of COVID-19 or other respiratory viruses. Wearing a mask is especially important if there are higher levels of virus circulating and if you or those around you are at risk for severe disease from COVID-19 or other respiratory viruses. Children as young as 2 can start wearing a mask. They do this best when others around them do so as well. 

Safe food preparation

One of the best parts of the holidays is enjoying your favorite festive foods, from stuffing and gingerbread houses to latkes and lasagna. A case of food poisoning would definitely put a damper on the celebrations.

Abeer Bader, MSC, RD, LDN, a Mass General Brigham dietitian, shares tips on holiday food safety. Keep the following in mind as you plan the menus for your holiday gatherings and cook or bake with your children:

  • Clean your surfaces and hands before prepping food. Wipe down and sanitize all surfaces and cooking tools. Make sure everyone washes their hands before and after handling raw food.

  • Thaw meat safely. Once meat gets above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, bacteria can multiply. Thaw meat either on the lowest shelf of your refrigerator, in cold water, or using the defrost setting on your microwave.

  • Avoid food contamination and cross-contamination. Wash your hands and use separate cutting boards for raw meat and vegetables. Use serving utensils so people can avoid touching food directly.

  • Cook foods thoroughly before eating or serving. “Use a thermometer to ensure holiday cooking safety. That way, you can make sure your meats and other foods have been cooked to the appropriate minimum internal temperature,” says Bader. Don’t eat any raw baked goods—cookie dough may be tempting for children, but anything with raw eggs can contain Salmonella bacteria.

  • Store foods promptly and properly. Any meat and dairy (think: charcuterie platters) should be refrigerated after 2 hours. Leftovers should only be stored in the fridge for 3 to 4 days. 

Toy safety  

While unwrapping toys and gifts can be source of great joy for kids, the presents themselves can cause problems if they’re not used safely. Parents should establish ground rules for safe play and never leave young children to play unsupervised.  And don’t forget to dispose of wrapping supplies safely.

Eye injury prevention

“Small toys that can poke the eye cause most of the problems. If you’re looking for eye-safe toys, go for larger and softer rather than smaller and harder,” says Nimesh A. Patel, MD, a Mass General Brigham ophthalmologist.

To prevent child eye injuries, avoid toys with projectiles (like darts and toy guns) and toys with lots of sharp parts or pieces that stick out. Because even “safer” toys can cause injury, always watch any young children when they’re playing and teach them to never aim at the face or head of another person or pet.

Choking prevention

Parents know all too well that babies and toddlers love putting random objects in their mouths. When buying toys, follow age recommendations on the packaging. Avoid toys with small parts that may pose choking risks. Melisa W. Lai-Becker, MD, a Mass General Brigham emergency medicine doctor, shares ways to help reduce the risk of choking while playing or eating over the holidays.

Follow these simple steps:

  • Keep small objects, high-risk foods, and other choking hazards out of children’s reach.
  • Watch your child while they eat and supervise playing. It is always safer for children to sit while eating and avoid running around while snacking.
  • Cut your child’s food into small pieces.
  • Beware of foods like nuts, grapes, hot dogs, and hard candies that are easy to choke on.

Fire safety for the holidays

Whether you’re lighting candles or snuggling in front of a fire on a winter’s night, it’s important to be safe around any open flames and other heat sources, like space heaters.

“It’s absolutely essential that people have working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in their homes,” says John Schulz, MD, PhD, a Mass General Brigham surgeon and medical director of the Burn Center at Massachusetts General Hospital. Make sure there’s at least one in every floor of our home (one in every bedroom), and that the batteries are tested and replaced regularly.

Dr. Schulz shares other fire safety tips, including:

  • Develop a fire escape plan and review it with your family.
  • Maintain a 3-foot perimeter around fireplaces (indoor and outdoor) and space heaters.
  • Use caution in the kitchen, especially when young children are present.
  • Operate heat-generating appliances carefully and according to instructions.
  • Be careful with candles, matches, and lighters.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher in an easily accessible spot.

Go over these safety measures regularly with the entire family, including youngsters. In all the holiday hubbub, they might need extra reminders. “If you reinforce the message over time, that can help,” says Dr. Schulz. 

Burns prevention and treatment

Following Dr. Schulz’s fire safety tips can help prevent burns. There are other potential sources of burns around the home, like a hot cup of coffee or an unlocked cleaning cupboard. To prevent burns from liquids or household chemicals, he recommends the following safety checks at home or on the road visiting family and friends:

  • Set the hot water below 120 degrees.
  • Check bath temperatures before a child gets in.
  • Be careful when holding warm beverages and keep cups out of arm’s reach of children.
  • Childproof any cabinets where strong chemicals, like oven cleaners or drain cleaners, are stored.

Even with all the proper precautions, accidents can happen. Treatment for burns depends on how severe the burn is, and what caused it. For minor burns, clean the skin with soap and water if necessary. Avoid using ice. For more severe burns with blistering, or any burn caused by a chemical, seek medical care urgently.  


Accidental poisonings can happen anytime, not just during the holidays. But with all the extra activity and departure from the regular routine, there’s extra potential for exposure. Dr. Lai-Becker explains how to recognize the signs of poisoning and how to perform first aid.

Signs and symptoms of poisoning include:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Hyperactivity or agitation (moving nervously, fidgeting)
  • Trouble urinating
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty breathing

Call poison control immediately at 1-800-222-1222, or 9-1-1 if a child loses consciousness or has trouble breathing. If you have guests, remind them to keep their medications in tamper-resistant bottles. 

Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is more common in cold weather, when people start heating their homes. Gas-powered furnaces and heaters can release the odorless, colorless gas if they haven’t been maintained properly. Other causes of CO poisoning can include improperly vented generators or fireplaces.

If a CO detector goes off in your home, “Just get everybody outside. Don’t pause to open the windows or call the fire department. Even if you’re not sure—get outside and then call for help,” says Jonathan Slutzman, MD, a Mass General Brigham emergency medicine doctor.

Plan ahead to stay safe.

It’s not too late to plan ahead and coordinate with loved ones to have a happy holiday season!

Alexy Arauz Boudreau, MD, MPH


Abeer Bader, MSC, RD, LDN


Abeer Bader, MSC, RD, LDN
Melisa W. Lai-Becker, MD


Emergency Medicine Doctor
Nimesh A. Patel, MD


John Schulz, MD, PhD


Wynne Armand, MD


Internal Medicine Doctor
Jonathan Slutzman, MD


Emergency Medicine Doctor