“Everyone in the burns unit was there because of an accident. None of them were born that way and they hadn’t developed a disease to make them disfigured. In a split second their whole life changed.”

Almost half of all serious burns are to children under two and 70% are to children under five.

It comes as a surprise just how easily a young child can badly burn themselves. But because their skin is thinner and more delicate than an adult’s, a baby or toddler is at greater risk of serious burns.

Most young children are burnt at home, when they take parents and carers by surprise, for example by reaching for a hot drink or grabbing hair straighteners.

In fact, a cup of tea could be the most dangerous thing in your lounge. A hot drink can scald a baby even 15 minutes after it’s been made.

Find out why young children are more at risk, how you can stop these accidents and what to do in an emergency.

Why are young children at greater risk?

Let’s start with an obvious one – they’re small! For burns and scalds, this is a risk factor in its own right. A burn from hair straighteners (maybe up to 10cm in length) or a scald from a spilled hot drink will cover a larger surface area of a child’s skin in proportion to its body than it will with an adult.

Babies and toddlers have thinner skin – up to 15 times thinner than that of an adult. This means that the injury is more severe. A small contact burn or scald can be a minor irritant to an adult, but it can be a serious injury for a young child.

They’re inquisitive and developing fine motor skills – they’re learning to reach and grab, and they don’t discriminate! It could be a favourite toy, a cup of tea, pan handle or hair straighteners. Which brings us on to …

Reflexes. We assume they’re automatic but they’re not! If we, as adults, touch something hot, we move away from the heat source almost immediately and the contact lasts for just a split second. But young children have yet to learn to pull away and won’t know that touching something hot will harm them.

Finally, you can tell a young child not to touch something and why, and the chances are they won’t do it in that particular instance. However, they are still developing reliable memory and don’t really understand the consequences (even if they say they do!), so what you’ve told them may not register.

Top tips for parents

Hot drink illustration

Look for safe zones in your house where you know your child can’t reach your hot drink

hair straighteners illustration

Put your straighteners in a heat-proof pouch or on a high shelf to cool

bath illustration

When running a bath, put cold water in first and top up with hot

hot pan illustration

Push your kettle to the back of the worktop and use the back rings of your cooker first

Download our fact sheet for more top tips. Or scroll down to discover other dangers in and around the home and some tips on how to prevent injury.

Preventing burns and scalds in the kitchen

Around half of all children are burnt in the kitchen. There’s more to watch out for than just the oven – kettles, hot drinks and saucepans can all burn. Young children can climb on chairs and counters and may often reach higher than you think.

Saucepans can seem like fun things to try to grab. Turning the saucepan handles away from the edge of the counter or cooker and using the back rings keeps them out of reach of little hands.

Kettle cords are also a temptation, but if you push the cord to the back of the worktop, or use a kettle with a short or curly flex, you will be able to keep them out of reach.

Hot drinks can easily be knocked over or grabbed by little fingers, and a cup of tea can burn even 15 minutes after it’s been made. Try to get into the habit of putting your child down before picking up your hot drink. And push your black tea or coffee to the back of your worktop before getting the milk out of the fridge – lots of accidents happen this way.

Hobs and hotplates can all stay hot even after they’ve been turned off, and oven doors can be very hot when the oven is on. You can teach children how to behave safely around them, but they might not understand or remember the danger. A safety gate can help you keep young children out of the kitchen while you’re cooking. Or pop them in their highchair.

Microwaves don’t heat things in the same way as a cooker. Avoid warming babies’ bottles in the microwave, the milk may heat up unevenly leaving spots of very hot milk which can scald your baby’s mouth. Use a warmer or jug of hot water instead. Shake the bottle well after warming and test to make sure it’s lukewarm not hot.

Hot water bottles can cause serious burns if they are not used properly. When filling them always follow the safety instructions on the bottle, regularly check for signs of wear and tear and don’t use hot water bottles that are more than two years old. Learn more. 

In the bedroom

Radiators. Move cots away from radiators. Then your baby can’t get their arm or leg trapped against the heat.

Hot water bottles. The Lullaby Trust advises never putting a hot water bottle in your baby’s sleep space as they can overheat. Remind older children not to sit or lie on hot water bottles. And, never put a hot water bottle directly on your skin, use a cover. Learn more about hot water bottle safety.

Hair straighteners and curling tongs. Hair straighteners get really hot and can still burn even after they’re unplugged. In fact, hair straighteners can reach temperatures of 235oC – that’s as hot as an iron. They get so hot you could cook breakfast on them. If they can fry bacon, imagine what they can do to a child’s skin!

If they’re stored safely on a high shelf, or put inside a heatproof bag, you can stop your little ones from playing with them, or touching or stepping on them by accident.

In the bathroom

Whether your child loves it or hates it, there’s no avoiding bath time. A baby’s skin is 15 times thinner than an adult’s, so hot water can pose a real danger. Bath water can cause such bad burns that children need years of treatment and may be scarred for life.

Cold before hot. You can make sure the water is the right temperature by putting the cold water in the bath first. When the cold water has run, add the hot to get the right temperature.

The elbow test. The quickest way to check! Dipping your elbow into the water gives a good idea of how it will feel for your baby or toddler. It shouldn’t feel hot or cold.

Bath time. Many accidents happen when a child gets into the bath before it’s ready, play with the hot tap when they’re in the bath or lean over to pick out a toy and fall in. Staying with your child all the time when they’re in the bath means you can keep them safe and also share some quality time.

Thermostatic mixing valves (TMVs) are a great invention. They control the temperature of the hot tap so that you can have a nice hot bath but they stop children being scalded within seconds. Some newer houses and flats have TMVs on the taps already, but you can get them installed by a professional. Or ask your landlord to fit one.

The living room

Here’s where the toddlers take over. A living room can be full of surprises – exciting things to grab for and places to explore. Even if your baby has just started to crawl, you’d be surprised at the things they can reach.

Hot drinks are something to watch out for here. Choose a high shelf to put your mug on, rather than a low coffee table. If you need a relaxing cup of tea, ask someone else to hold the baby while you put your feet up, or put the baby in their own chair. And try to avoid passing hot drinks over children’s heads.

Heaters and fires. Dancing flames can be appealing to babies and toddlers. A fire guard can stop them getting to the fire and reaching for or falling into the flames.

Irons. Irons will stay hot after they’re unplugged. Even older children could make a mistake and touch a hot iron. it is always safest to put it away – out of reach and out of sight after you’ve used it.


Barbecues and bonfires can be a worry for parents. But with the right supervision, children can enjoy the fun without being at risk.

Barbecues stay hot for a long time, even when all the food has gone. Disposable barbecues can be tipped into a bucket of cold water to help them cool quicker, while children are kept out of the way!

Bonfires are fascinating for children. Even though they usually only happen once a year it’s best to teach children to stay a safe distance from the fire and supervise them carefully.

Fireworks are understandably a worry for parents, especially in autumn when many people have bonfire parties and fireworks nights. See our fireworks page for more information.

Hot drinks are just as dangerous in cafes or coffee shops as they are at home. So, be mindful of where you place hot drinks and remember children can often reach further than we think. Don’t let children run around anywhere that’s serving hot drinks. Avoid passing hot drinks over children and, if possible, seat your child or their highchair out of the gangway so drinks don’t get carried on trays over their heads.

What to do in an emergency

Remember cool, call, cover in burns emergencies

Knowing what to do if your child suffers a burn can mean the difference between lifelong scarring and a child who heals well.


  • COOL the burn for 20 minutes under cool running water.
  • CALL for help
  • COVER the burn loosely with cling film

Learn more about first aid for burn injuries

Safety equipment

Some safety equipment can also help in preventing burns and scalds. For instance:

  • Fireguards. Prevent young children from crawling, walking or falling onto fires.
  • Heatproof bags for hair straighteners. They keep the burning hot straighteners away from young children’s feet and fingers.
  • Thermostatic mixing valves (TMVs) on bath taps. They mix hot and cold water to a safe temperature before it comes out of the tap. You can get a TMV installed by a professional or ask your landlord to get one fitted.
  • A safety gate on the door to your kitchen can be invaluable in keeping toddlers out of harm’s way.

Do you work with families?

We have lots of free resources to help you create a talking point, run an engaging workshop or provide essential advice to the families you work with.

Related pages

Safe from burns fact sheet

Safe from burns fact sheet

Download our free safe from burns fact sheet for more top tips on how to prevent burns and scald injuries.

Remember cool, call, cover in burns emergencies

LEARN: Burns first aid

Knowing what to do if your child suffers a burn can mean the difference between lifelong scarring and a child who heals well.

Instagram live replay: Burns prevention and first aid

WATCH: Instagram live replay

We teamed up with The Children’s Burns Trust to deliver an Instagram Live on burns prevention and first aid. Watch the replay here.

Fire safety

Fire safety in the home

We’ve highlighted some of the key fire risks in your home and what you can do to prevent fires and protect your family.

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