Once you become a parent, it can seem like danger lurks around every corner. And when it comes to your home, that’s literally true. For toddlers just learning to walk or curious preschoolers, your home can be a brave new world full of the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat. While many parents are haunted by the specter of stranger danger, it’s actually accidents within the home that carry the largest risk for young children. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reports that each year, 9.2 million children visit the ER with unintentional injuries1. For those ages one to four, the greatest percentage of injuries were sustained from falls, ingesting poisonous substances, burns, and being struck by objects. The vast majority of these incidents take place in the familiar terrain of a child’s own home. Accidents both at home and away are the leading cause of death in children and teenagers.
Kimberlee Mitchell, a former journalist and Child Safety Media Expert dubbed by People.com as the “child proofer to the stars,” is passionate about offering practical solutions and education aimed at lowering unintentional child injuries. In a recent exclusive interview for SafeWise, she shared her insight about the impact of child safety.
“Child injury is predictable and preventable. It is also among the most under-recognized public health problems facing our country today. The good news is child injury death rates have decreased 29% in the last decade, which I believe is evidence of the safety movement and prevention having an impact. Yet injury is still the leading cause of death for children and teens. More can be done to keep our children safe.”
—Kimberlee Mitchell, National Child Safety Expert
We understand you don’t want to dampen Junior’s enthusiasm for exploration, but a few sensible safety measures can protect your child from the most common injuries. We’ve created a room-by-room guide to securing a safe place for your offspring to pull, climb, and inspect every nook and cranny. We’ll begin with some baby proofing basics that are concerns in every part of your home, then give you a peek into the aspects of each area that require your attention. While we’ve devised a very detailed guide to making your home a safe place for your kids, it should be noted that there is no substitute for supervision. Even a well-secured space can contain hidden dangers, so keep your eyes open and read on.
The Basics of Baby Proofing
When to Baby Proof
Ideally, you want to batten down the hatches before tornado toddler starts to sweep through. Once babies turn over onto their stomachs, usually around five to six months old, crawling is just a few months away. Start some common-sense measures like securing furniture and installing gates before baby starts using every surface as a step up.
How to Baby Proof
There are a few ways you can get the lay of the land in your home and ensure you’ve caught the usual suspects for safety concerns. Child-safety experts recommend doing the following.
Limit Access to High-Risk Areas
Simply gate off rooms like the kitchen or bathroom where the greatest concentration of injury risk resides.
Get a Baby’s-Eye View
Crawling around on all fours may seem like a silly exercise, but it’s the best way to see what your baby sees. It’ll help you spot potential risks like enticing knickknacks or forgotten blind cords dangling within reach.
Focus on the Little Things
No, this isn’t a metaphor. Look for small objects near the ground that could become potential choking hazards. Think magnets, button batteries, and more. As a bonus, you might also spot all those dust bunnies you’ve neglected to vacuum up under the couch. Some things you just can’t un-see.
Put Away the Poison
This applies not only to the obvious caustic cleaning chemicals but also to the often overlooked items like poisonous houseplants. If you’re not sure which plants are safe, you can use this nifty online resource complete with photos from the Poison Control Center.
What to Baby Proof
If you’re just beginning the process of child proofing your home, it can seem pretty overwhelming. Thousands of products crowd the parenting market with a plethora of features that promise unparalleled protection. But do they deliver? Here’s a quick summary of each category of child safety products and some basic features to look for.
Latches and Locks
These simple mechanisms can keep dangerous chemicals and other potentially hazardous items under lock and key. Look for latches and locks made of sturdy materials that won’t give way easily or snap under stress. You’ll also want to ensure the latches and locks you choose are ones you can actually open. You know, in case you need that stuff sometime in the next three years. For maximum safety, move poisonous substances to higher cupboards and cabinets that are well out of baby’s reach.
You shall not pass! Play gatekeeper with products that are easy for adults to open but have a locking mechanism to deter toddlers. If you do choose a gate with slats, make sure they’re no more than 2 3/8 inches wide to prevent tiny heads from suffering suffocation. Take some measurements to guarantee your gate will adequately span the space you’re blocking off and don’t use older accordion-style safety gates. These products were pulled from the market for strangulation concerns.
Some child proofing gadgets can be life savers. Literally. Typically pressure mounted and adjustable, window guards should have quick-release mechanisms to allow for escape during emergencies.
Edge and Corner Guards
Protect your little explorer from the sharp edges of tables, fireplaces, and more with these soft covers. Look for guards that are non toxic and large enough not to become choking hazards if they get pried loose by curious fingers.
The little holes that accommodate your electrical appliances are unfortunately perfect for tiny digits. Remove temptation with outlet covers but choose ones that slide open and closed instead of the cheap plastic inserts, which can become choking hazards.
Look out below! Creepers and crawlers are constantly using furniture or an electronic device to get a leg up, but it’s a dangerous endeavor. If you have a heavy piece of furniture or electronic that isn’t secure, it could topple over and crush your child. It’s one of the most common injuries for young children, but it’s easily preventable with furniture anchors. Use two anchors and make sure they’re screwed into the wall studs so your little sweetie can continue trying to scale every surface safely.
Who to Trust
As you peruse the products for baby proofing your home, keep in mind that there are a few agencies that police child safety. Here are the most important ones.
Look for the JPMA seal of approval on child safety products to ensure they’ve been tested by this non profit safety association. For a directory of approved products and detailed guides, see the JPMA website.
CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission)
This government watchdog drafts regulations for products and is the agency that issues recalls. For an up-to-date list of kid and baby product recalls, see the CPSC website.
And finally, for the anxious and sleep deprived who’d rather not go it alone, there are child-proofing experts who will provide consultations and install products in your home. Consider hiring one to secure areas of high risk, like pools or outside window wells. You can find a state-by-state directory here. It’s always a case of better safe than sorry.
Room-By-Room Guide to a Safer Home
Hazardous and Flammable Materials
This involves more than just putting all those unused gallons of paint away. Secure cleaning products and other chemicals and lock down tools, especially those with sharp edges.
Keep your vehicle doors locked so when your little one decides to become the next Nascar driver, they won’t be able to put the pedal to the metal.
Buckets and Bins
Keep receptacles that could gather water turned over so they don’t become small water features that’ll attract your child and pose a drowning risk.
Basement and Laundry Room
Many people keep cleaning supplies in the basement or laundry room. Make sure they’re in an out-of-reach cabinet or behind a securely locked cupboard. And keep poison control on speed dial regardless.
Anchor these heavy appliances and ensure they’re locked so little hide-and-seekers don’t dive in.
Install several carbon monoxide monitors to ensure levels in your home are safe. There should be an alarm on every floor of your house, primarily near the areas where children and adults might sleep, as well as in the basement or wherever the furnace or gas appliances reside.
You’re probably not ready for the slamming doors that come with raising teenagers, and neither are your little one’s fingers. Use doorknob locks, hinge guards, doorstops, and other simple gadgets to prevent passage and protect.
Unless you want to go slip-sliding away, you should make an effort to secure floor rugs and loose carpeting. Grippers and nonstick pads are available to protect your floors and keep your feet from flying out from under you.
Restrict access to these steep challenges with a safety gate. You can also consider some common-sense measures like carpeting the stairs, but don’t forget the railings. A banister shield will prevent small appendages from getting wedged into those gaps between the rails.
Use sliding covers to close off those enticing little holes that seem like the perfect fit for small fingers.
That vintage crib may be the apple of your eye, but it’s likely dangerous for your baby. To ensure your crib meets current child safety standards, see the JPMA website.
Bedding and Stuffed Animals
Those stuffed animals and handmade quilts are adorable, but for young babies, they’re a suffocation risk. Keep the cozy bling out of the crib until your child is older and able to sit on their own.
If you’ve opted for a tidy box instead of open shelving, you’ll want to make sure your toy storage has hinge guards and doesn’t close automatically, trapping your tyke inside.
We have all done it. You were just out of reach for a moment, grabbing that butt paste. But that was the exact instant your baby chose to demonstrate an ability to roll over. Keep supplies at the table or move your changing pad to the floor once baby becomes more mobile to prevent falls.
A gorgeous mobile is the centerpiece of any nursery. It’s also dangling enticingly right above a baby who can now reach for it and pull it down. Move the mobile or raise it higher to keep it from becoming a hazard.
Get a toilet lock. Seriously. Because your kid might mistake that inviting bowl of water as place to play. Ewww! It’s also a drowning hazard.
Same goes for your medicines, health supplements, and yes, even vitamins. These chewables often look like candy, and too many kids make the mistake of eating a handful of pills. Don’t have the number for Poison Control in your phone? We’ll make it easy for you. Don’t worry. We’ll wait while you take care of this.
Many of the chemicals in hygiene products are as caustic as those in cleaning supplies, so clear the counter of cosmetics and keep your personal care supplies under lock and key. Hot irons or other appliances should be unplugged and stowed when not in use.
Turn your furnace down to prevent scalds from hot water and get a thermometer for the tub. Wet babies are slippery babies, so install a nonslip mat to help you get a grip. And never, ever leave your baby unattended in the tub, even for a second. And buffer that bath spout. It’s right at noggin height for your little bather.
Living Room and Bedrooms
Window guards can keep your little tyke from taking a terrible tumble, but you should also inspect blinds and window coverings for loose or dangling cords. This safety website will help you cut the cord and has instructions about how to retrofit your current blinds or curtains.
Tables and Furniture
Bookcases can look like a staircase to little feet eager for a climbing challenge, so be sure they’re secured to the wall with anchors. Guard against sharp edges on your tables and lower pieces of furniture with bumpers and edge covers.
Flickering lights and curious sounds emit from this enormous box, and most kids are eager to get up close and personal. Secure your TV with an anchoring system and NEVER, EVER place it on top of a dresser where it could tip and tumble onto your toddler.
This part of your home is hot stuff. Keep your little one from toddling into trouble by using a guard door and protecting any hard edges around the mantle with edge guards.
Smaller objects, glass figurines, and more probably crowd tabletops and shelves in your living spaces. Even if they’re not going to win you a bundle of money the next time Antiques Roadshow comes to town, you still want to place knickknacks out of reach. Once broken, smaller fragments could cut your child or cause them to choke.
Welcome to the digital age and the ever-expanding issue of cord management. They’re messy and unsightly but even worse for your child, they also pose a strangulation hazard. Get ‘em up and out of the way with ties or tape designed to keep your cords close and your child safe.
Maybe there are some cupboards you’re willing to let baby explore. After all, banging pots and pans is a sacred rite of childhood. Inspect yours and decide what needs to be moved or locked up. You should definitely consider securing the following items.
• Cleaning Products
• Liquor and Tobacco Products
• Sharp Objects
• Anything Made Out of Glass
• Plastic or Paper Bags
Stove and Oven
Shiny knobs are great fun to turn, and while it’s good motor practice, it is also a terrible risk for your tyke. Knob covers, stove covers, and oven locks are all helpful in keeping little fingers away from the heat.
Do you have a few of these on your fridge? Of course you do! Everybody does. But you’ll want to move them. Most magnets are small and easy to swallow, and the stronger ones can wreak havoc if ingested.
Vitamins and Supplements
We mentioned this one before, but it’s a risk worth harping on. Kids are used to eating vitamins. They’re cute and colorful, and they come in familiar shapes that look exactly like candy. In small doses, they bolster health. In large doses, they can cause iron poisoning. Make sure you’re the only person who can hand out the health supplements by keeping them out of reach.
Accidents happen, even to parents. Especially in the kitchen. There’s a gross bathroom emergency or a screech as someone tumbles down the stairs, and the last thing you’re thinking about is that pot you left on the stove. Keep a fire extinguisher accessible but be careful that it’s not within reach of your child. The fire retardant in extinguishers is toxic to ingest even in small doses.
Even if they’re out of reach, far back on the counter, you’ll have an adventurous climber sooner than you anticipated. Keep appliances like toasters, mixers, and coffeepots unplugged when not in use.
Some plants can be poisonous, and others have trailing vines that can be of concern. Keep plants up high and away from prying fingers.
Your kid probably doesn’t lick the walls much. Thank goodness! But if you have an older home (built before 1978), there could be lead paint chips in places you might not suspect. Get your home tested and see the EPA’s comprehensive guide on protecting your family from lead exposure.
Fido’s food is probably not the best source of nutrition for your baby, and it’s definitely a serious risk for choking. Closely supervise mealtime, and when your pet is done, put their food up.
All kinds of batteries are dangerous, but the small button batteries that are in many small electronics and toys are especially hazardous. Check to be sure all the things that talk and tick have batteries secured behind screw-on covers.
Whew! Feeling Overwhelmed?
Remember that child proofing your home is a process, one that you should start early and complete in stages. Every child and every environment has different demands, so take the time to assess your situation and your home carefully before you begin.
Once you’ve begun work to batten down the hatches in your home, remember that SafeWise is here to help. We provide in-depth reviews and guides for child safety products that assist parents in choosing the best solution for their needs. And while there are lots of sites that extoll the virtues of do-it-yourself safety hacks, those approaches can be faulty and sometimes downright dangerous. There is no substitute for quality products and expert, professional advice to ensure your little one stays safe and sound.