James Schmidt, an emergency room physician at Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughter in Virginia, sees plenty of avoidable accidents at this time of year — and all year round.

"Each year," he says, "parents are warned of holiday hazards, including toxic mistletoe and dangerous toys. Unfortunately most of the holiday hazard stories miss the larger point regarding children's safety. Most of the household injuries that occur during the holiday are the exact same types of injuries that occur commonly throughout the year -— poisonings, choking, falls and burns."

There is however, one common seasonal injury — that's when a child pulls over a Christmas tree. Trees should be securely fastened to the wall and toddlers should not be permitted close enough to a tree to tug on it, cautions Schmidt.

Other dangers to watch for include easy access to alcohol at holiday gatherings. "During a large party, guests may leave half-imbibed cups around the house. Small children may wander the house sampling the drinks. Children often show up at ERs showing symptoms of alcohol poisoning," he says.

Childproofing for the Holidays

Most parents understand the importance of childproofing their homes. Gates on stairs, using smoke and carbon monoxide detectors , and keeping medicines and poisons out of reach are fairly standard in many homes.

In addition to the risks of holiday decorations, younger children can get into trouble if they visit a home during the holidays (or anytime of year) that isn't childproofed.

It is especially likely that a home isn't childproofed if you are visiting grandma and grandpa and they don't usually have children in the house. In addition to not having safety locks on cabinets, gates on stairs, covers on electrical outlets, etc., they may also have prescription medications that aren't in a child resistant container. Things to be especially watchful for, and which you may want to ask about, include:

- Do they have a pool? Does it have a fence with a self-closing, self-latching gate? Can the children get to the area where the pool is located?

- Are there guns in the house? Are they stored unloaded in a locked box with the bullets locked separately?

- Are there small objects, such as hard candy or nuts in candy dishes, where younger children can get them?

- Are there gates on the stairs?

- Are medications, poisons, and household cleaners out of reach?

- Do they have a pet that may harm the children?

If there are going to be a lot of younger children present at a holiday gathering, you might consider volunteering to go over before hand and childproof the house for them.

Toy Safety

The following tips will help consumers choose appropriate toys:

- Select safe toys to suit the age, abilities, skills, and interest level of the intended child. Toys too advanced may pose safety hazards to younger children.

- For infants, toddlers, and all children who still mouth objects, avoid toys with small parts that can pose a fatal choking hazard.

- Look for sturdy construction, such as tightly secured eyes, noses, and other potential small parts.

- For all children under age 8, avoid toys that have sharp edges and points.

- Do not purchase electric toys with heating elements for children under age 8.

- Be a label reader. Look for labels that give age recommendations and use that information as a guide.

- If your child is going to be getting something that he can ride, such as a bicycle, inline skates, scooter, or a skateboard, be sure that he also gets the appropriate protective equipment, including a helmet and pads.

- Discourage your small children from playing with BB and pellet guns.