Avraham ben Yaakov
6. Danger! Take Care
Wherever there is a potentially life-endangering pitfall or obstacle, it is a positive commandment to remove it, to be on guard against it and to take very good care in the matter, as the Torah says: "Guard yourself and guard your soul." (Deuteronomy 4:9-10). And if one leaves dangerous pitfalls and obstacles and fails to remove them, he has not fulfilled the positive commandment, while also transgressing the negative commandment of "Do not put blood upon your house" (Deuteronomy 22:8). The Sages prohibited many things that can endanger life.. Anyone who violates these and similar prohibitions, saying "What business is it of others if I choose to put myself in danger" or "I am not bothered about such things" is liable to get lashes for rebellion against the Sages, while those who are careful will be blessed with good.
(Shulhan Aruch, Hoshen Mishpat 427: 8-10).
The Torah obliges us to protect ourselves from dangers and to keep them well away. Today more than ever we have many occasions to keep these two mitzvahs of "Guard yourself" (the positive mitzvah) and "Do not put blood." (the negative). There have always been dangers, and it was always necessary to take care. But the wonders of modern science and technology have brought many new dangers inside our homes, on the street and everywhere else.
It is not enough to be aware of dangers. It is our duty to do everything possible to protect ourselves from them. The rule that "a danger is more serious than a ritual prohibition" (Hulin 10a) applies to the two mitzvahs of "Guard yourself" and "Do not put blood". In other words, negligence in the face of danger is more serious than violating Torah prohibitions such as against forbidden foods. Certainly, "We may not rely on miracles" (Pesahim 64b).
Teaching safety to children
As soon as children are born, the responsibility for their safety falls upon the parents. A baby obviously cannot take care of himself, and we the parents have to keep our eyes open all hours of the day. We watch our babies in the crib, the stroller and even when they're in our arms.
The need to supervise a child grows the more active he becomes, especially the moment he starts crawling and walking. Now he can get all over the place. Our houses are likely to have plenty of electrical sockets and appliances, fragile items, sharp knives and tools, strong cleaning materials and other sources of danger. It is not enough to keep the child away from danger. His growing independence makes it vital that we try to start teaching him what he may touch and what he must not touch, where he may play and what he must keep away from in the kitchen, the bathroom, on the balcony and everywhere else in the house. As soon as the child starts going out of the house to explore the wider world, we must correspondingly expand the scope of what we teaching him to include the stairway, the yard, the playground, the roads..
Parents normally have an instinctive understanding of their children and how to find the right language, tone of voice, facial expressions and appropriate gestures to communicate the necessary message to each child. At every age, safety education must be in accordance with the development and understanding of the child. Our warnings and explanations must be very clear and are most effective when we give vivid examples of what can happen by ignoring danger.
Some important points to remember:
Children's safety education is an extended process. As they grow older and become more independent, our ability to supervise them is more limited. It is our duty to educate and prepare them well for the stage when we are not at hand to take care of them, so they will G-d willing be able to guard and protect themselves from danger.
We must also help them develop a deep sense of responsibility so that they will not endanger others. Likewise we must teach them that at times others are liable to act in ways that endanger them, whether through irresponsibility, lack of caution or for any other reason. They must be aware of this and learn to take appropriate precautions, such as in the playground, when crossing the road, and so on.
Accidents can happen anywhere and at any time. With G-d's help it is in our power to prevent many accidents if we are aware of the things that are likely to cause them. Parents must learn to recognize possible dangers to which their children are likely to be exposed. This way the parents can take the necessary precautions to protect their children as well as teaching them to protect themselves.
Taking proper care of our children includes acquiring a basic knowledge of first aid in the event of an accident in the home. Every home should have a first aid kit. Parents should also teach their children fundamentals such as the need to keep a cut clean, what to do in the event of a small burn, insect bite, etc. An organization to teach children first aid basics would be a blessed enterprise!
Parents should also certify that their children's school or Talmud Torah also has first aid facilities and someone who knows how to give first aid, and when to call a doctor or send a case to hospital.
We must always remember that whatever we do to protect ourselves from danger is fulfillment of a positive mitzvah of the Torah. We are trying to do our part to carry out God's will in the faith that God in His kindness will watch over us and protect us always.
Safety in the home
Studies indicate that the majority of home accidents involve electricity, fire, water, poisonous substances or falls. The more aware we are of the various causes of accidents, the more we can avoid them.
There must be a rule that "Children do not touch sockets". Parents must ensure that sockets not in use are covered, preferably with childproof covers. Do not leave sockets that have become detached from the wall, or exposed wires. It is dangerous to leave long electrical or phone wires trailing across the floor.
As far as possible, electrical appliances should be kept out of children's reach. When this is impossible, we must make it clear to the children that they are not allowed to touch them. In teaching children about the dangers of electricity, parents should put particular emphasis on the serious danger if water comes in contact with electrical sockets, wires and appliances. Together with the explanations, parents must continue carefully supervising their children.
It is desirable to install an electrical safety switch that automatically shuts off the electricity supply when an appliance is faulty or in contact with water, etc.
We must take special precautions and do everything possible to avoid anything that might lead to a fire in the home. Too many appliances should not be attached to a single outlet. An appliance that emits a bad smell or smoke should be turned off immediately. Lamps, heaters and other appliances must be kept away from bedding, curtains and other fabrics. Some synthetic fabrics are particularly flammable and must be kept well away from flames. Fire and electrical heaters must be properly covered with safety-grilles and children must be warned not to come near them or to stick anything into the heater.
A burning fire (food cooking on the stove, lighted candles) should not be left without supervision. Thank G-d, as Jews we have many opportunities to light candles in our homes on Shabbas, festivals and other occasions. We must see that the candles are always well out or children's reach, and we must warn our children not to come near fire, and even then, we must keep careful watch over them. Special care must be taken when lighting candles in the Succah.
Many children are fascinated by fire, and there are some children who despite their fear will not pass up an opportunity to play with fire. We must warn children again and again that fire can cause a terrible disaster. Children must not be left unsupervised near a fire or flame of any kind, nor should children have access to matches and lighters, etc. Special supervision of children is necessary when lighting bonfires on Lag BaOmer, burning Hametz before Pesach or having a "Kumzitz" or barbecue. At Purim time children should not be allowed to play with dangerous fireworks, fire crackers and the like.
Cases of children drowning in water in the home are all too common, and we must take extra precautions to avoid such accidents. When little children are around, it is dangerous to leave buckets of water around in the bathroom etc. unless the children are properly supervised, as they must be when playing in a tub or pool of water. Even when the water is very shallow, there is always the danger that a small child may fall with his face in the water. There is also a danger that a child may fall head first into the toilet or bath. The doors of the toilet and bathroom should be kept closed to prevent children entering. Small children must not be left in the bath unsupervised if there is the possibility that they could open a hot tap. One should always check the temperature of the bath or shower before putting a child in the water. Likewise the temperature of the child's bottle must be checked before feeding.
Poisonous and other dangerous substances
All cleaning fluids, medicines, alcohol, paint, pest control substances and all other poisonous and dangerous substances must be kept out of reach of children and where possible locked away. Children must be warned repeatedly not to touch these substances, let alone putting them in their mouths.
Plastic bags are made of materials through which it is impossible to breathe. Children have a tendency to play with plastic bags and sometimes put them over their heads, which can cause suffocation. Plastic bags should be kept out of reach of children, and they must be taught never to put a plastic bag over their faces or heads.
Slipping and falling
Little children generally have little awareness of danger. We must teach them that it can be dangerous to climb on furniture or anything else that is not stable, and that if they have climbed somewhere and cannot get down, it is best to ask for help and not to jump. At the same time, parents should do what they can around the house to minimize the possibility of children's slipping, falling and getting hurt.
When applying "polish" to the floor, one should choose a non-slip product. Especially when children are around, a polished floor should not be covered with rugs and carpets that might cause them to slip or trip. All obstacles should be removed from passageways, stairs and the like. are liable to slip and cause children to trip. Corners of items of furniture (tables, beds), marble kitchen surfaces, etc. should be rounded or padded to avoid injuries. Proper lighting helps avoid accidents.
Those who live on upper floors should see that windows have proper safety bars and that the railings around balconies and roofs are high enough and strong enough. Children must be taught never to climb on chairs or anything else near the railings. As soon as a child is old enough to crawl around the house, the door leading to the stairs must be kept closed. Duplex homes should have safety-gates at the top and bottom of the stairs.
In the kitchen
Small children and especially crawling babies should as far as possible be kept well away from the stove and oven. Check that the buttons contthe flow of gas are shut when not in use. If there is a smell of gas, try to check the source. If there is a leak, close the safety tap and call a technician as soon as possible. When lighting the gas, a lighter with a long handle is preferable to matches.
When cooking with pots that have long handles, the pots should be arranged on the stove so that the handles do not stick out so that there is no danger of catching on them when passing by and pulling them over. Some stoves have a guard that prevents pots from moving or slipping out of place. When baking, be sure to keep children well away from the oven before opening the door.
Utensils containing hot food and liquids should not be left within reach of children. Nor should they be left on a table if there is any possibility that a child could pull at the tablecloth.
Knives, scissors and other sharp utensils must be kept out of small children's reach, and the same applies to tools. Electrical appliances that are not in use should be disconnected and the outlet covered. Strong or poisonous substances should not be stored in the kitchen. The garbage bin should be kept covered.
In the bathroom
It is best to keep electrical outlets and switches out of the bathroom itself to avoid the possibility of contact with water. If there is an electrical heater in the bathroom, it must be mounted high up on the wall. Any electrical switches and outlets in the bathroom must be out of children's reach. When bathing or showering, any electrical appliance that could possibly come in contact with water should be turned off.
It is advisable to attach non-skid strips to the bottom of the bath to prevent slipping. As elsewhere in the home, sharp instruments and strong or poisonous substances in the bathroom should be kept well out of reach of children.
Chose only a safe method of heating the children's room, such as a radiator that has no exposed fire and cannot emit dangerous gases. In any event, the heater and all other electrical appliances must be kept well away from curtains, bedding and other fabrics.
A child's crib should have side-rails that are sufficiently high to prevent any possibility that the child might climb out and fall. Crib slats should not be too wide apart so that the child will not be able to push his head in between and get caught. Soft pillows and bedding and anything else that could suffocate the baby must be removed. Ribbons, strings, straps and anything else that could cause strangulation must be kept well out of the child's reach.
As a general rule toys for children of all ages should be chosen with an eye for their safety. Toys for babies should not be breakable or easily torn and should not have attachments that can be pulled off. Small toys should be kept well away from babies as they can put them in the mouth and swallow them. Make sure that all toys and other products for use with babies and children should meet the necessary official safety standards.
As children start to go outside the house, they become exposed to many new dangers - in the street, the playground and everywhere else. Children's ability to estimate dangers and their seriousness is usually limited. When small children are outside they must be under constant supervision. The older and more independent they become, it is our parental duty to teach them about common dangers and how to guard against them. As soon as children enter an educational framework, the teachers and educators must take their share in supervising the children, and they too must train and guide the children in their care to take care and avoid danger.
In the playground
Playing outside is an important and healthy activity that greatly contributes to children's development. The more they grow, the more they use their bodies to run, jump, climb. We should give them every encouragement, as this is how they gain strength and develop their coordination and other skills and abilities. At the same time, we need to watch over them to ensure that they do not put themselves in danger or endanger others. We should teach them to use playground equipment properly, not to push other children, and to watch how and where they are jumping and running.
Not only must we teach children to play carefully and avoid danger in the playground. It is also most important to help them develop a responsible attitude towards what belongs to others, and especially towards public property. Children benefit from the playground and the equipment: it is forbidden to destroy them!
Similarly, children should be taught not to throw litter and to take care to keep public places clean just as we keep our homes clean.
Exposure to the sun
"A sun of righteousness with healing in its wings" (Malachi 3:20). The rays of the sun have healing qualities. At the same time, excessive exposure to the sun can cause serious damage to the skin and even cancer. Too much sun can also cause dehydration and sunstroke. Parents must keep children from exposure to the sun on hot days and especially during the hottest hours of the day. When children go out into the open they should be equipped with suitable clothing and sun hats as well as sufficient drink.
Safety on the roads
"All roads are likely to be places of danger" (Yerushalmi Brachos 4, 4).
Our Sages' rule that all roads must be considered dangerous is more applicable today than at any other time. Accidents are one of the leading causes of death and injury in the world. Parents must repeat to their children over and over again, from the earliest age, that the road is a very dangerous place. When parents have occasion to take their children on the street, where they see cars, traffic lights, pedestrian crossings and so on, this is a good time to give children practical education in safety precautions on the streets and roads and dangers they must be aware of.
Even after teaching children the rules of road safety, we must be certain they follow them in practice before we allow them to cross the road alone. This rule certainly applies to parents who allow their children to ride on bicycles. Never take risks!
The main rules we must repeatedly instill in children are:
When the children enter an educational framework, parents must work in conjunction with their children's teachers to see that the children are thoroughly trained in all aspects of road safety, with regular reviews of all the main rules. Today's leading rabbis have given their full support and encouragement to this endeavor. Responsibility for children's education in road safety lies not only with parents and teachers but also with adult pedestrians and drivers in general. When adults serve as living examples of proper care on the roads, children will learn from them and follow their example, thereby avoiding many accidents.
Caution with strangers
On today's streets it is not only the cars that are dangerous. There are also dangerous people, and children should be taught basic rules of caution:
Many of the hazards we have discussed so far pose an immediate danger to our children and are likely to encounter every day in the house and outside. Parents of small children may consider smoking a remote problem - and so may it always remain. But the truth is that smoking is not such a far off risk. Children are often exposed to smokers and cigarette smoke. Unfortunately our children often see adults smoking, and among them, people they are taught to respect. This may encourage them to think smoking is not such a serious problem.
The dangers of smoking and its results have been known for years. Smoking causes damage to the lungs and heart and general health. Not only is smoking a waste of precious money, it also causes an unpleasant odor on the smoker's mouth and clothes and gives his teeth and hands an unsightly appearance. Recent research proves beyond all doubt that the harm caused by inhaling other people's cigarette smoke ("passive smoking") is as great as the harm caused to the smokers themselves.
Doctors are unanimously opposed to smoking. In all advanced countries, health regulations require that cigarette packs must carry a warning that smoking is dangerous to health. Yet in spite of everything, smoking is very widespread. Every year the ranks of smokers are swelled by tens of thousands of new smokers, most of them young. The mere sight of adults smoking encourages many young people (and even children) to start smoking, some out of curiosity, others because of a desire to assert their independence, to show how old they are or make an impression on their peers, or as a sign of rebellion. Unfortunately, Purim has turned into a time for children to try smoking, and from there it's often a short road to regular smoking.
Education against smoking should start from a young age. Just as we inoculate small children against dangerous diseases, so we should find ways to "immunize" our children against the temptation to smoke long before they are exposed to it. When parents are with their children and come across people who are smoking, this can be an opportunity to explain to the children that this is not a good habit and that smoking damages people's health. Some parents specify the damage that can be caused by smoking in detail in order to foster an aversion for the habit in their children.
As a general rule, children must understand that their parents are clear and unwavering in their opposition to smoking as well as to alcohol consumption and all other forms of substance abuse. At the same time, parents must be open and willing to answer their children's questions about these subjects. Parents should keep careful watch on their children's behavior. Especially as they grow older, parents should be alert to any unusual mood changes, and encourage them to talk openly, heart-to-heart.
Chapter 7: Nutrition
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