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!
What? Am I supposed to bubble wrap everything? Get my kid full-body armor and a cushioned helmet (I can’t make this stuff up)? Eliminate corners from my child’s world?
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.
One thing we did differently was baby proofing our stairs was only keeping it off limits until our son was almost 2 years old. We then taught him how to safely go up and down. Once he knew how to go up/down there was no more fascination with the stairs. He knew he wasn’t allowed to go up/down as he please or play on the stairs. We also did this with our daughter and then with a friends daughter. Since they can be so dangerous I wanted to teach them how to use them safely as soon as possible. Especially like you had stated so when we go somewhere where there are un-gated stairs they knew how to safely use them.
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Is a pair of small scissors *THAT* dangerous?
I don’t think I can chop my finger off with them… And maybe Anneliese can learn how to safely use scissors in a few hours? If that’s the case, satisfying curious toddlers can be a more effective way of “baby-proofing”.
I also heard that some Montessori teacher says 1.5-year-old baby can start learning scissors.
Though you need to be extra careful that, as well as safety issues, the toddler with destructive cutting power can be a nightmare (very dangerous to your house)!
Teaching a toddler to use a small pair of blunt scissors safely is a different issue than childproofing.
My giant super-sharp fabric scissors are NOT something I would want her messing with, regardless of whether or not I’ve taught her to use scissors properly.
There is a continuum of course…for example, right now, I’ll let Anneliese color with markers while supervised, but I am not leaving markers lying around for her to “satisfy her curiosity” with, because I don’t want ink on the walls/couch/etc. But sometime between now and when she’s 20 years old, I’m sure she’ll be “Safe” around markers.
Same deal with scissors. You have to use your judgement and assess your individual kid and his or her personality, and decide what to do.
I baby-proofed my living room and dining room. My 14 month old can roam freely in those places. She can pretty much roam freely in her room, too, but now that she knows how to close doors (but not open them), we have to monitor that a bit. It’s not much monitoring, though. Our furniture is cushy, and instead of a table in the living room, we went with a huge ottoman (that doubles as toy storage). All other rooms have doors that close, and we haven’t “proofed” a thing in there. We gated off the kitchen, since it’s small and we couldn’t make it safe without remodeling (which we can’t afford). I think babyproofing involves both – the child AND the house. But too many extremes are ridiculous.
Great tips and a fresh perspective. I’ve known families that literally turn their living rooms into baby jail instead of using the opportunity to teach their children boundaries and allowing them to explore. It is definitely less tempting for children to get into things if you let them have some access and talk/teach them about it instead of making everything “off limits.” I have to disagree about the baby walker though. We have smooth continuous flooring downstairs with no steps and my 11month old loves it! It gives her a chance to practice walking and lets her interact with our two dogs without getting to rough which happens at times (pulling tails, ears etc…). It’s been my biggest lifesaver when I need to sweep and mop the floors. She is happy to follow me around and even push the dry mop, but keeps her from grabbing the broom or getting into my dust piles. It obviously is ALWAYS used with adult supervision and is not a babysitter which some may use it as…
One tip about storing medications that my pharmacist friend recently shared with me. They should never be stored in medicine cabinets in bathrooms. Bathrooms are subject to temperature changes and moisture (mostly if there is a shower/tub being used). This will cause medications or anything with an active ingredient to expire faster, including tums, neosporin, even toothpaste (although that is a bit drastic). Instead keep all medications/first aide supplies in a lock box in the pantry, kitchen, laundry area or any place that doesn’t have extreme changes in temperature or high moisture :0)
This is an excellent post!
When our daughter was that age we put all medicines in a small suitcase and locked it. Then it could safely be stored under the bathroom sink since we really had no other place to put medicines.
The other thing to watch for is purses–your own and those of visitors. Purses often contain hazardous items so should not be placed on the floor or low surface. Grandma’s pill bottle can look like candy to a toddler and a nail file can terrify you when you see what a child might choose to do with it.
I work in emergency services and we just got a call like that yesterday; 2 y/o toddler saw mom’s purse on the floor, reached in and found a loose ibuprofen tablet. The toddler actually said to our paramedic ‘it was pink and looked like candy so I thought I’d eat it’!
I agree with house-proofing a child. Our parents did that with us. I currently have a few babyproofing items in place as well. When I had a gas stove I took the knobs off too. Now I have the kitchen gated so my 2 yr old cannot be on there without my supervision. I had outlet plug covers but he figured out how to get them out then chewed on them. So I took blank face plates and screwed them over the plugs in his room for now. He also learned to open doors long ago and so I have knob covers on a few doors like the bathroom so he isn’t in there running tub water or playing in the toilet. We have less furniture and no knicnacs so less to get into and simpler life with less to clean. So far he has done quote well in other people’s homes too. It’s all about seeing what is truly serious safety hazard and what just needs to be taught not to touch. Now to teach him to be mindful of his baby sister who is quickly becoming quite mobile.
This is great! I only wish I had toddlers that were as calm and composed as Annaliese! Mine have always been tornados of destruction! X walked at 10m and has been running and climbing ever since! The only thing we’ve done differently from you is use a lot more gates, but with twins it was much harder to keep an eye on what both were doing. I had to know that if I was extracting one from the bookshelf the other wasn’t headed up the stairs! We also had to turn their bedroom lock backwards, because he figured out doorknobs by the time he was 2! I think Z would have been more like your daughter, but as a twin her brother eggs her on. Now, we have taken down the gates (except for the stairs) and let the baby crawl free, so hopefully she will not be too hard to “houseproof”!
Thank you for this!! I hadn’t thought of child-proofing your house from the house-proofing your child point of view! Our little guy still has a few months before he is mobile but it is very reassuring to know what needs to be done ahead of time. Thank you again!
Thank you for these tips. This is very timely for me b/c I have a 9mo who is curious about everything. I have been trying to house proof her. We don’t have the corners of the table covered or the toilet seat locked. We haven’t blocked off the stairs yet but I know we will at some point. They are curved so it may be hard to find a gate for them. We have a fireplace with a stone hearth that she likes to crawl on. I don’t want to block it with a gate but I don’t want her crawling on it either. Do you have any tips for that?
My SIL put a thick rug that hung over the front edge on her raised hearth to cushion any falls. It could be removed when using the fireplace and teaching the word “hot”. That worked for them.
These are great guidelines for childproofing/houseproofing : )
One additional thing that we have done is because we have a gas stove. If a child turns the knobs, not only can they burn themselves, but they can actually just turn on the gas, which creates the possibility for an explosion!
So, to prevent that, we just removed the knobs from the stove, and we keep them in a drawer next to the stove. It only takes a few seconds to put a knob back on to cook something, and this way I don’t have a heart attack if my toddler is in the kitchen and I can’t see what he is doing.
My sister-in-law told me this trick and I wanted to pass it on for anyone else who has a gas stove.
We definitely house-proofed Abigail. We have been very lucky. I think the biggest thing we did was buy an ottoman for the living room and put up a big gate that keeps her in the living room/kitchen. She has always been free to roam. She is starting to get a bit more curious so I will be relocating certain items in the kitchen and bathrooms.
Suggestion on what I can do with extra knives that aren’t used very often that are in a drawer? I may even just give them away as part of our give500.
I like these: