When I was pregnant with Anneliese, I redecorated my living room. We got a less oppressive coffee table, new wonderful couches that were exactly what I had in mind, and a pretty rug and curtains. I posted a picture on my facebook page, and got a horrified comment from a friend of a friend:
Aren’t you worried about the CORNERS on that table??? You’re having a baby, right?? That doesn’t seem safe for kids!
I’m happy to report that Anneliese has made it to the ripe old age of 26 months without losing an eye to the coffee table’s corners. And so far, Joseph has also escaped its cornery wrath. Whew!
So while I might not be doing everything right, I definitely am not doing everything wrong. Hopefully these tips will help you keep your kids safe in the potentially-hazardous world that is your home.
10 Tips for Foolproof Baby-proofing
1. Kids are Individuals
Anneliese is fine-motor oriented. She would be more likely to poke scissors into an electrical outlet than to climb the curtains. I can’t be sure, but from what I’ve seen of Joseph, he may be the opposite. He rolls across a room in a flash, to pull down toys that are far too complicated for him to play with, just because he can. When Anneliese was his age, she would sit in one spot and play with the toys within her reach, and if something was a little too far for her to grasp? “Well, I didn’t want that toy anyway.”
Anneliese opened her first child-proof bottle (of teething tablets) at about 10 months old. She can still barely throw a ball. Joseph would be more likely to throw the teething tablet bottle than to figure out its complex push-and-turn mechanism.
The point of all of this is that children are individuals. If your child is curious about what is behind cabinet doors, you might want to put locks on them (even if the things inside are child-safe… it might be annoying to constantly have to re-wash and put away EVERYthing in your kitchen). If your child likes shiny colorful objects, you might have to move tchotchkes to higher ground so that they’re out of reach (OR come to terms with allowing your child to handle them).
2. House-Proofing Your Child
I almost wet myself at an acquaintance’s house. I was 8 months pregnant and I went to her bathroom to pee. She had a toddler, and everything was “baby proofed.” The toilet itself was locked. I had to fumble with the lock to get the lid up … I had never used one before and it was tricky. Then, after I peed, I discovered that the toilet paper was also child-proofed. It took two hands and some finagling to get a few squares.
I couldn’t live that way. I don’t want to have to unbolt the fridge every time I want a snack, open baby gates to get through every doorway, and unlock the stinking toilet paper every time I pee! I also want to know that my children can go into another person’s home, a store, or ANYwhere in public and know a few basic social “laws.”
So instead of child-proofing my home, I choose to house-proof my children. It takes more vigilance, and a lot of redirection and teaching, especially at first, but eventually it pays off. Anneliese knows not to unroll the toilet paper, even though it fascinates her. She knows that if she wants some, she should pee or poop in the toilet. And when we go to other people’s bathrooms, she doesn’t go crazy at the sight of “unlocked” toilet paper, unrolling mile after mile of the stuff… because she knows how to use it, and what the limits are. Because ours is also “unlocked” and I’ve taught her.
That’s just one example, of course, but there’s babyproofing for safety, and then there’s BABYPROOFING for neurosis. I do the former.
3. Don’t Be Stupid
When you’re deciding what to babyproof in your house, and what to houseproof in your child, a good line to draw is the degree of injury that’s possible.
Electrocution can kill a kid, right? So babyproof the hell out of your outlets. Toilet paper costs a couple bucks a roll and never killed anyone? Houseproof that kid.
Your paper shredder should absolutely have safety mechanisms on it… I actually have a little bit of trouble figuring ours out when I want to shred something. That means it’s working, and it pleases me. I don’t want my kids to lose fingers to its jaws of destruction. If it were a little less complicated, I’d probably unplug it after each use too.
Basically? Don’t be stupid.
4. Electrical Outlets
Electricity is powerful stuff, man. Heard of the electric chair? Zapppp, dead. This isn’t a place to take chances. Go around the perimeter of every room in your house (and be sure to get down on a low level, because sometimes there are less-obvious ones you might miss – like the one under our breakfast bar), and cover those electrical outlets. I don’t use anything fancy… just the cheapy plug-in outlet covers you can buy in a package of a billion for a dollar.
There are fancier ones that will make it easier on your fingernails when you want to plug something in, with special release buttons, or self-closing self-opening outlets that magically know if the thing poking it is a real plug or if it’s a kid with a paper clip… I don’t know anything about those. I just have the cheapie ones and they work fine.
If you need to cover an outlet that has something plugged into it, there are covers designed to fit OVER the plug, snapping around the entire thing with a hole for the cord to come out of… we have one. It requires 2 hands and some curse words for me to get the cover off, so I think it works really well.
5. Wires and Power Cords
Think about why you’re worried about wires and cords. (Not the outlets/plugs themselves, which we covered above.) Is it because of a tripping hazard? Strangulation? Or maybe because if a kid pulls on that particular cord, a big appliance or electronic item will come crashing down on them. Each cord situation is a little different, and you have to decide how to deal with yours.
For some of the cords in our living room (the cord to the router, and the cord to the roomba) the problem mostly would’ve been a tripping hazard (and an ugly-hazard). So we tucked them under the baseboards as well as we could, and secured with a few staples (the big kind you can hammer in AROUND the cord. Don’t go stapling through any cords!) so that they wouldn’t come free.
Others, like the cords for our lamp and iPod dock/speakers (both on the end table in the corner of the room), would more likely be strangulation hazards. We moved the couches closer together to sort of block off that whole corner, so that babies can’t get to the cords there at all. Definitely simpler than trying to attach the cords to the furniture and then the floor and back up to the outlet or something. Though I suppose that’s possible.
And cords for appliances or electronics that could be pulled down? We just try to keep those out of reach. The stand mixer in the kitchen is plugged into one of the outlets above the counter, not one below it. Our computers are charged out of reach, and our television cords are hidden behind the entertainment console.
You have two options here. You can put any toxins out of reach*, or you can lock the cabinets they’re stored in. Or both.
What counts as a toxin? Anything you would go, “Oh Crap!” and then google the number for poison control if your kid had a half-empty bottle of? That’s a toxin. My homemade all-purpose cleaning spray? It wouldn’t taste good, but it’s not a toxin. But a bottle of ibuprofen isn’t something I’d want to find out that my kid had chugged, so it goes out of reach. A bottle of Tums? Not a toxin. A bottle of bleach? Definitely a toxin.
Anneliese isn’t a huge cabinet-opener, and she still can’t work doorknobs, so our toxins are all either in the hall linen closet or high out of reach in the laundry room. Her medicine cabinet only has a couple of non-dangerous things in them (teething tablets, tums), and the most dangerous thing under her bathroom sink is the toilet bowl brush. Which would mostly just be disgusting to play with, but not too scary.
7. Sharp Stuff
Scissors, knives, saws, what have you… I know it’s probably obvious but I had to point it out. They should be out of reach* or locked away.
One thing that might not be as obvious though is that when you’re in the kitchen, chopping vegetables, and you turn around to do something else… you need to remember to put the knife you’ve been using FAR into the countertop, away from the edge.
Curious toddler hands may reach up and try to grab anything near the edge of the counter, and they won’t know whether they’re grabbing a dishtowel or a chef’s knife. Make sure it isn’t a chef’s knife.
8. A Child’s Perspective
Get on the floor and look around. I don’t mean kneel, or sit. I mean get down on your stomach, lie down, and slither around your house. (Well, you can get up and walk in between rooms/areas, but tummy-down is the best perspective for this.) Look at everything, and try to think like a child.
The shelf that just looks like a shelf to you, from an adult point of view? On the floor, suddenly each “level” of it becomes the rung on a very exciting ladder. The items at the top of the shelf are challenging you, taunting you, DARING you to climb. Make sure to secure this type of furniture to the wall, just in case.
The water cooler that just looks like a thirst-quencher to your adult mind? Now it’s primary-colored levers that Mommy likes to touch! I want to touch them too!! I need to reach up there! In the case of the cold water, this is a “house-proof your child” issue. In the case of the hot water, your child could get hurt, so it’s a good idea to make sure the one you buy has a child-safety feature.
Wires under furniture that you NEVER see as you walk around? Your kids see them and they look exciting. Push them far back enough so that they’re out of reach, or attach them to the backside of the furniture if possible, off the floor.
9. Appropriate “Containers”
It can be tempting to see playpens, baby play yards, and baby gates as the simplest childproofing solution. Instead of worrying about your entire house, you just stick your kid in a “container” and they can’t get hurt.
This goes back to “house-proofing your child”… if your child has no mobility in your house, no independence, no opportunity to learn, the world is going to be a dangerous place for her. Because she won’t know any better. So while these things have their place and their use, it’s best not to rely on them.
HOWEVER, if you have stairs, you should absolutely gate them off! (This falls under “Don’t be stupid.”)
It can also be useful to section off your house with a gate or two, so that you can keep an eye on your child. If I’m in the living room nursing Joey, I want to know that Anneliese isn’t on the other side of the house playing in the toilet (not that she does that, but still). If I’m putting him down for a nap, I want to know that she is playing in her room or near me, not going through the drawers in the kitchen. So we have a baby gate dividing the house in half, in the hallway.
Several months back, I needed to get some sewing done, and my sewing area is the opposite of child-safe, so I bought a used play pen and made it into a ball pit (I bought two sets of these “fun ballz” … yes, fun ballz). It kept Anneliese safe and entertained for a few minutes at a time, so that I could work on my projects now and then.
Somewhere between keeping your child in a cage all day and letting your child have free rein is your perfect balance. Only you can determine where that line is drawn.
10. No Children Allowed
It is OKAY to have grown-up-only areas. One room in our house is completely off-limits to the kids (unless in a play pen / ball pit). The office/sewing area is SO NOT CHILD SAFE… I have fabric scissors, a rotary blade, pins, needles, cords everywhere, the paper shredder, and so forth. At this point, it’s not even worth trying to make this room child-safe. Instead, it’s a kid-free zone.
I ALWAYS close this door when I’m not in the room (remember, Anneliese still can’t open doors. When she can, we’ll re-evaluate and figure something out) and if Anneliese comes into the room for some reason, I keep my eyes on her and interrupt what I’m working on, so that I’m 100% sure she is safe and not playing with anything dangerous. Even then, I usually escort her out of the room pretty quickly.
There are no-entry zones in the real world too, and it’s important for children to learn to respect them. Just like we as adults know not to go into an “Employees Only” area in stores or restaurants, taped-off crime scenes, or construction zones, kids can learn that there are boundaries at home and in the bigger world too. You don’t have to feel guilty about it. It’s life.
- Make sure that small objects are out of reach, as they are choking hazards.
- NEVER leave your child unsupervised around water, even for a minute. If you’re bathing your kid, and the phone or doorbell rings, ignore it or take the baby with you to answer. And yes, this includes the toilet. Even though I despise toilet locks, at this point, Anneliese is supervised whenever she’s in the bathroom, and the bathroom door is closed if I don’t want her in there or am unable to supervise her.
- Teach your child about the stove and oven and potential burns. I love for Anneliese to be in the kitchen with me when I’m cooking, but when I’m opening the oven to take something out or put something in, I have her stand just outside of the kitchen so that I know she won’t be grabbing at the oven door. I tell her, “The oven is VERY hot. It can burn you and that would hurt.” every single time. Now she will often tell me, “Oven hot. Eese get burned,” when she sees me open the oven (meaning she COULD get burned, not that she has been. She hasn’t).
- If you use tablecloths or table runners than hang over the edge, make sure nothing is on top of it that could hurt your child if he decides to yank on the dangling fabric. Remember to think like a child… it’s not a tablecloth when you’re crawling around on the floor. It’s an invitation.
- Make sure the pull cord on window blinds is secured out of reach. These can be strangulation hazards.
- Socks with grippy bottoms are great for beginning walkers, if you have slick floors. Barefoot is even better.
- Baby walkers are just not a good idea. They can cause many injuries (especially on uneven ground, or if there is a step to fall off of) and have no benefits.
- Always follow safety instructions on products, even if it’s common for people not to. For example, a baby in a bumbo seat should never be placed on a table or countertop. Bumbos aren’t meant for use in the water (tub/shower) either.
- If you have a fireplace, there are tons of considerations to keep in mind. If it’s a gas fireplace, even if you have a glass “window” between the flame and the room, the window can get very hot. Make sure to have a screen blocking the glass, if the fire is or has been on.
- Store all matches and lighters out of reach* or behind a lock.
- Guns and ammunition should be stored SEPARATELY from each other, AND behind locks.
- Make sure that the plants in and around your house are not toxic when ingested.
There are so many more things to consider, based on your own house, your child’s personality, and so forth. But hopefully my list has given you a start! And remember, you don’t have to do all of the baby-proofing in a day. If you miss something, you can fix it later. If you don’t have the perfect solution to a babyproofing quandary, find something that works “enough” for now, and change it when you’ve researched it better.
If you care enough about keeping your kids safe to read this entire article…
…you’re well on your way to creating a safe environment for your littlest family members.
*If you have a climber, “out of reach” will mean something different than if your 26 month old toddler JUST learned that she can get into her chair at the dinner table on her own. Use your judgment and watch out for developing skills.