Written by Sandra Gordon; Photo: Fotolia.com
When you become a parent, you take on lots of new roles, like chief diaper changer, colic analyst, playdate organizer and breast pumping principal. As if that’s not enough, you’ve gotta be the safety police too. If not you, then who? Sure, you can hire a professional babyproofer. But child proofing is also something you can and should do yourself because it’s not a one-off deal. It’s an ongoing process because kids are, well, kids.
Research shows that childhood injuries peak at 15 to 17 months of age. That’s no surprise because these natural explorers consider their whole world their playground and don’t really understand the concept of risk. “Toddlers aren’t yet able to protect themselves, so it’s up to the adults around them to provide a safe environment,” says Rose Ann Soloway, RN, a clinical toxicologist.
Still, it’s not realistic to expect yourself to be vigilant every single moment. “You’re human. You will get distracted,” says pediatrician Robert Sege, MD. A better idea? Think one step ahead and try to minimize the dangers in your child’s environment.
To keep your little one out of harm’s way, here’s a rundown of some of the things you’ll need to do around the house to help keep your child safe.
In the kitchen
- Get into the habit of drinking hot beverages from a travel mug to avoid spills.
- Use placemats instead of a tablecloth. A common scenario: “Mom puts her coffee on a table with a tablecloth, which gets pulled from the table, coffee and all,”says safety expert Meri-K Appy.
- Use safety latches and locks on cabinets and drawers to prevent mishaps from household products such as plastic wrap, food storage bags, knives, scissors and other sharp objects, refrigerator magnets or any small kitchen knickknacks.
- Install cabinet and drawer latches and locks before your baby learns to crawl. You’ll buy yourself time to learn how to use them before your child tries to.
- Keep a box of baking soda near the stove to extinguish grease fires. Purchase a small fire extinguisher and mount it nearby. Be familiar with how to use it.
- Lock household cleaners, any type of liquor, vitamins and medicine, even those with child-resistant packaging, in their original containers in a cabinet out of your child’s sight and reach. Keep in mind that child-resistant packaging isn’t childproof. Persistent toddlers may be able to pry the packaging open.
- Push electric coffeepots and teakettles away from the counter edges, and wrap dangling cords in a twist tie or cord wrap. Turn the water heater down to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius) or lower to prevent scalds from faucets. An infant’s skin burns much more easily than an adult’s.
- Cook on the back burners of the stove, and turn panhandles in so they don’t extend over the edge of the cooktop.
- Pull off front stove knobs and store them safely until it’s time to cook. You can also buy childproof knob covers and stove shields, which block a child’s access to the stovetop.
- In the pantry, move all breakables, such as drinking glasses and dishes as well as plastic bags and cooking sprays and oils, up to at least the third shelf from the bottom. The same goes for foods that are choking hazards for toddlers, such as raisins and peanuts.
- When you cook, use a safety gate or keep your child in a play yard or high chair - in view, but out of harm’s way.
- Don’t leave your toddler alone in a high chair, and always use safety straps.
- Keep your kitchen stepstool in a closet when you’re not using it to prevent your little one from climbing into trouble.
In the bathroom
- Keep the toilet lid down when not in use. If that doesn’t dissuade your little one from playing in the water, invest in a toilet lock or block the doorway with a safety gate. “Don’t think you’ll just tell your child ‘no,’” says Chad Haas, owner of Arizona Childproofers, and the father of two, ages three and one. “Saying ‘no’ for so long, then ‘yes’ when it comes time to potty train sends a mixed message and can make the process of training very difficult.”
- Don’t leave the room or answer the phone when your child is taking a bath. Using your cell phone in general makes it easier to continuously watch your child, but when they’re in the bathtub, let voicemail take your calls. “You don’t want any distractions during bath time,” says Appy.
- When bathing a toddler, attach rubber strips to the surface of a regular bathtub to prevent slipping. Also, “get a cover for the bathtub’s spout to protect your child from its heat-conducting metal and hard edges,” says professional childproofer Bob Reider. A bonus: Many come in fun animal shapes.
- Don’t use a bath seat, or a bath ring. They’ve been a factor in dozens of drownings. The seats give parents a false sense of security; accidents happen when seats tip over or children slip out of them. Also, consider anti-scald devices for faucets and showerheads, which help regulate water temperature. A plumber can easily install them.
In the nursery
- Position your child’s crib mattress at its lowest setting, if you haven’t already. If your child still climbs out of their crib, put them in a toddler bed with railings or consider putting the crib mattress on the floor. “Kids can break bones if they jump from the crib rail,” says Dr. Sege. If you use crib bumpers (radar: suffocation hazard), remove them so your toddler doesn’t use them as a stepping stool for climbing out (and potentially falling).
- Arrange your child’s crib and other nursery furniture away from a window to prevent falls.
- Cut loped cords on window blinds in two, or choose window treatments that don’t use cords; they’re a major strangulation hazard.
- Avoid high chests or tables. Or bolt bookcases and chests to the wall so they won’t tip if your toddler scales them. You can find mounting hardware at most hardware stores and online.
All around the house
- Install a carbon monoxide (CO) detector outside bedrooms if your home has gas, oil or wood heat, which can help prevent CO poisoning. Why is a detector important? Carbon monoxide is a senseless killer because none of your senses can detect it. “You can’t see, smell or taste it,” says Appy.
- Scan floors for choking hazards: small toys (anything that fits through a toilet paper roll), coins, batteries and popped balloons, which Dr. Sege describes as “the biggest single nonfood choking hazard.” Latex balloon pieces are dangerous because they conform to the shape of a child’s airway and are difficult to dislodge. Put packages of unused balloons safely out of reach.
- Unplug charger packs for cell phones and laptop computers when they’re not in use. “A cell phone charger is a live wire if it’s plugged into the wall, and your baby can get quite a shock, if not worse, if he puts the wire in his mouth,” says Rick Leviton, owner of Precious Baby Protectors. If you keep forgetting, find an outlet in a high, out-of-reach location from your child, and do all charging from there.
- Install pressure-mounted gates at the bottom of each staircase and hardware-mounted gates at the top. Never use a pressure gate at the tops of stairs - no matter how much you want to avoid drilling holes into your woodwork. To reduce the risk of falls, keep the barriers up until your child is at least two years old and 36 inches (91.44 centimetres) tall. Safety gates that meet the latest safety standards display a certification seal from the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA). Look for it on the frame or packaging.
- Mount flat-panel television to the wall, with electrical cords out of reach. Now more uncommon, but if you have a box-style television, place it on a low and stable piece of furniture that’s right for the television’s size and weight. Use braces, straps or brackets to secure it to the wall. Every 45 minutes, a child visits the emergency department because of a TV tipover, according to Safekids Worldwide. Likewise, bolt bookcases and chests to the wall with mounting hardware so they won’t tip if your toddler tries to climb on them.
- “To prevent electrocution and shock, use outlet covers on all electrical outlets within your child’s reach,” says Reider. The best outlet covers screw into the outlet and have a mechanism in which the cover slides over the outlet when a plug is removed, says Reider. Don’t use small plastic plugs, which are a choking hazard. “They can fall off and go directly into a child’s mouth,” he cautions. Check that all outlets in places where moisture may be present, such as bathrooms, basements or outdoors have a ground fault interrupter, which senses imbalances in the current and immediately trips the circuit.
- Cover sharp edges and corners on furniture and fireplaces with foam or rubber bumpers, advises Reider.
- Use window guards and safety netting to help prevent falls from windows, balconies, decks and landings. Window screens aren’t strong enough to do the job. Check window guards frequently to make sure they’re properly installed and secure. There should be no more than four inches (10.16 centimetres) between the bars of the window guard. For windows on the sixth floor and below, install window guards that adults and older kids can open easily in case of a fire.
- Keep your child out of your home office by locking the door or closing off the area with safety gates. Its tantalizing contents - from staples to paper clips - are choking hazards.
- Use smoke detectors on every level of your home, especially near bedrooms. An interconnected smoke alarm offers the best protection. When one alarm sounds in one part of your house, they all sound, so you and your family can easily make a quick escape. When there’s a fire, every second counts. To keep your smoke alarm in working order, change the battery at least once a year, on a memorable date, such as your birthday, unless a 10-year lithium battery powers the alarm, in which case, you won’t need to.
- Replace the entire system (regular to lithium-battery powered) every 10 years. Check that the battery is working once a month by pushing the test button when you turn the calendar to a new month by sounding the alarm.
Sandra is an award-winning freelance writer who delivers expert advice and the latest developments in health, nutrition, parenting and consumer issues.