A few weeks ago, my friends brought their fifteen-month-old son to my house for brunch. We spent five minutes eating eggs and muffins and the remaining two hours chasing the bouncy toddler around as he navigated the labyrinth of dangers that is my living room. He careened across the floor, tripping over my shag carpet and narrowly escaping smashing his skull on the edge of my coffee table as he fell, but then quickly recovered … only to run headfirst into the sharp corner of a wooden chair. After a good cry and a cookie, he was ready for round two. He banged his fists gleefully against my plasma TV screen, then made a beeline for a power strip against the wall, sticking his tiny finger directly into one of the sockets. He wasn’t electrocuted, but his mother’s heart appeared to be: she stopped breathing, turned white, scooped him up off the floor, and couldn’t get him into his stroller fast enough.
After they left, I felt exhausted and more than a little guilty. Never had I considered how many pitfalls could exist for children within a 150-square-foot space. Then again, I don’t have kids, so how was I to know that the furniture I enjoy every day is actually a cluster of land mines? No one expects me to pad my house with pillows and padlock all my cabinets for a single meal, but responsible parents with young children should be able to identify any areas in their home that could endanger their kids. These childproofing essentials will help set you up for safety.
If the prospect of childproofing feels overwhelming, the best way to start is to take baby steps—literally. BabyCenter.com recommends getting down on your hands and knees and crawling around your home, looking at things from your child’s perspective. Then compile a list of potentially hazardous furniture, devices, and objects your baby could choke on that are within reach at that level, Also, keep in mind that as your little one progresses from crawling to walking, you’ll likely need to adapt your childproofing strategies to meet new criteria.
Cover All Your Bases
Once you’ve completed your overall assessment, invest in the following items to leave no stone unturned in your quest to ensure your baby’s physical well-being.
1. Outlet Covers
Cover all electrical outlets in your house that your child can access, but don’t use the standard removable two-pronged covers, as babies can easily put those in their mouths. Instead, buy covers with a sliding safety latch. In addition, use electrical tape to cover any connections between series of extension cords.
2. Safety Gates
If your home has two or more stories, you’ll need to install safety gates at the top and bottom of every stairway to prevent your child from taking a tumble on the steps. In addition, you should gate off the doorway to any room that contains fragile or dangerous items that you don’t want your baby tampering with. Gates that screw to a wall or door frame are much more secure than spring-loaded gates that contract to fit a space. BabyCenter.com recommends buying brand-new safety gates with a straight-slat design, bearing the seal of the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association.
3. Poison Control
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), approximately thirty children die from poisoning annually, and more than one million possible poisonings of kids ages five and under are reported. Keep your child from becoming one of these statistics by labeling all poisonous substances in your home with a Mr. Yuk sticker, which features the national toll-free Poison Help telephone number. Take stock of any cabinets in your house that contain these items, and put childproof latches on them.
Also, install a carbon monoxide detector in all the bedrooms in your house. Carbon monoxide, though odorless and colorless, is highly toxic and can appear in your home via defective fuel-powered appliances, such as ovens, furnaces, and water heaters.
4. Water Safety
The CPSC reports that children can drown in only one inch of water, and that approximately 115 kids under age five drown in their own home annually. To safeguard your tot against aquatic danger, install toilet locks in your bathrooms and never leave her alone in the tub, even if she’s sitting in a bath seat.
5. Furniture Bumpers
Pad the edges and corners of any furniture you own that your tyke could hurt himself on—even his crib—using these soft bumpers. Your living room might not look stylish anymore, but it’s still a much nicer place than the emergency room.
6. Fire Prevention
In 2002, the Federal Emergency Management Agency discovered that house fires injured or killed more than 1,200 kids. Keep your home fire-free by installing smoke alarms all over your house; change the batteries every year and perform regular inspections to make sure they’re working properly. It’s also wise to keep a fire extinguisher on hand to combat any sudden flare-ups.
7. Antiscalding Devices
Flames aren’t the only thing that can burn young kids—hot water can be just as deadly. To protect your little ones’ delicate skin, buy antiscalding devices for faucets and showerheads, and set your water heater at no higher than 120º F.
8. Window Wisdom
At least one window in your child’s room should open easily (in case of fire), but under all other circumstances, you shouldn’t crack it more than four inches, lest the baby slips through it. Another window-related hazard is pull cords, which frequently strangle small children, particularly babies of ten to fifteen months whose cribs are close to window hangings with a loop that they can tug on. Keep your infant’s crib across the room from the window, and replace all such cords with safety tassels. For more information, visit the Window Covering Safety Council’s website.
9. Safety Netting
Infants and toddlers are constantly at risk of slipping through openings, and when a second-story balcony is involved, the fall can be fatal. If your home has any kind of deck surrounded by a slatted fence, cover the inside with durable, fine-gauge safety netting, which is nearly invisible but will contain your little crawler safely.
10. Brackets and Anchors
You may think very heavy furniture in your home isn’t going anywhere, but you’ll need to use anchors and brackets to prevent your child from becoming one of the five thousand kids under age ten who end up at the hospital each year, according to the CPSC, because appliances, TVs, and other large items have fallen on them. Also keep in mind that toddlers love to climb on home furnishings, so keep an eye out for drawers, bookcases, and any other items your child might like to turn into a jungle gym.
Safe Baby = Happy Parents
When your infant starts showing you signs that crawling is imminent, don’t delay in battening down the hatches and childproofing your home. After all, crawling leads to walking, walking leads to running … and once you get to that point, you’ll have a hard enough time keeping up with your bundle of joy in a roomful of pillows, let alone one with exposed electrical outlets and metal tables. When you’ve navigating the complex world of first-time parenting, the last thing you want to have to deal with is taking your child to the ER—don’t you have enough on your mind as it is?
Updated December 29, 2010