Having 3 children, 4 grandchildren, and one on the way, and most importantly one wife / grandmother, we have become acutely aware of many of the possible hazards that a small child can encounter within the household. I would like to say, we know it all, however, judging from the uncanny ability of any young child, they will find items and adventures that you could never anticipate.
My daughter in law had tried to research how to childproof a home, and was not overly impressed with the results. So she asked if we could develop an article that would summarize our experience in childproofing our homes for a new child.
One basic suggestion I would like you to consider throughout this presentation is to think like a child! Go back and try to remember how inquisitive and adventurous you were as a young child, and take it another step further. Children of today are even more curious, more interested and more aggressive than you were.
This article will assume that the child will start their journey in the home as a young infant, just home from the hospital, and will outgrow their need for a childproof home, at the age of 7. I am sure that a number of my family members will argue that a childproof home is probably a good idea, even for the adults.
However to limit this article, let’s assume that the child at 7 is conscious of most of the safety issues around the home, and will respect them.
What are some of the primary concerns and recommendations?
One of the basic safety issues throughout a home is a child’s tendency to fall, trip, or simply crawl into or out of a falling situation. Where are the most common areas that infants and children will fall?
- Open stairs / if you have open stairs, meaning there are either no stringers ( side pieces ), or risers ( rear of the tread ), then the infant and or child could fall through. This is a difficult type of falling hazard to minimize, due to the architectural details that are afforded by open stairs. Suggested solutions are temporary netting that is stapled or mechanically attached to the open areas, installation of permanent risers, or closely spaced balustrades to prevent the infant or child from falling through.
- Balconies / as with the open stair, this is probably an architectural feature, but you will need to close off the edge of any possible balcony that could present a falling hazard. Balconies are normally blocked off with approved building code railings and or balustrades. In most states, the maximum space allowed between the balustrades is 4 inches and the minimum height is 42 inches. However, children climb, so the 42 inches does not take this into account. You must assume that you will have an aggressive climbing child. Not to be overly cautious, but I have personally found that the ability to climb is important when evaluating any potential hazards that children could encounter within the home.
- All open stairs / all open stairs are subject to an infant or child falling down them. There are several manufactured gates and barricades for just this situation. In some instances these gates or barricades can be installed permanently, in other designs they are temporary. I prefer the permanent gates, that actually screw, or firmly attach to the walls of the stairwell. The temporary gates and barricades are designed to remain in place based upon tension or friction with the wall. If you have aggressive children, friction or tension can be easily overcome. Screws into the wall, therefore mechanically fastened, are less likely to give way. d.) Open perimeters of any dropped rooms, such as a sunken living room. My daughter has a home that drops off to a family room by approximately 30 inches. This drop off, when there were no children was not an issue, as soon as my granddaughter was born, it became a large issue. One of the solutions to this situation is the proper and creative placement of furniture around the room surrounding the drop off. Unfortunately, most furniture is easily climbed onto and over, therefore this is a limited solution. My daughter ended up constructing permanent wrought iron rails around the room to eliminate the falling hazard.
2.) Open cabinets / when you are an adult and not thinking about what is in your cabinets, there is no apparent issue or safety problem. However, open the cabinet doors below your sink. I bet you will find caustic cleaning agents as well as a host of other items that could present a safety hazard to an infant, or small child. Small children will open even the most firmly latched doors There are several different mechanisms that have been developed which cleverly make the opening of the cabinet doors next to impossible. I know, because, my wife normally has to open them if they are childproofed, because I become too impatient.
There is also a safety hazard with drawers. As with the cabinet doors there are several clever mechanisms that can be purchased and installed by the homeowner, to protect your child from opening these drawers.
Although, you may think that the lower cabinet doors and drawers are the only ones that will need childproofing, you are mistaken. I have witnessed my grandchildren climbing on the counters and easily accessing the upper cabinet doors and drawers. Children will become climbers, very early in life. Take the time to childproof all the doors and drawers in the home because your children will eventually access them.
3.) Countertop hazards / remembering that your infant will grow to become a climber they will easily access all of the counter spaces around the home. Review all of the hazards that exist on the countertops, such as kitchen knives, can openers, coffee makers, toasters, microwaves, etc. Once the child accesses the counter there are no limits. The minimum that I would suggest is to unplug the appliances that sit on the countertops. In addition, don’t forget those beautiful glass canisters that you have had for years. Not good, either replace them with plastic, or hide them. They will end up broken!
4.) Electrical outlets / every outlet around your home can be a wonderful receptacle for a toy, a piece of metal, a spoon, fork or knife. You get the point. Manufacturers provide small plastic covers that can be inserted into the outlets to stop any curious infant or child from experimenting with electricity. I suggest that every outlet in the home be protected with one of these small plastic covers, they are very inexpensive, easily removed when the outlet is needed by an adult and very easy to re-install by an adult.
5.) Lamps and light bulbs / every lamp and electric light bulb can be a hazard. It is important that all lamps that could potentially be knocked over, be removed from access by the child. It is recommended that easily toppled lamps or other types of lights, be removed or securely fastened down. The use of velcro to secure lamps and other items that could be toppled by a child, is highly recommended. LED lamps or light bulbs should be used in lieu of standard incandescent bulbs. The LED lamp will not get as hot, or present as acute a hazard as an exposed incandescent bulb.
6.) Tripping hazards / such as carpet runners, frayed carpets, high thresholds, etc. should be minimized. One of the easiest methods of reducing the tripping hazard of a high threshold is to lay down a heavy carpet over the threshold. In this manner the high threshold’s exposed edges will not be exposed to tripping and falling.
7.) Cords or hanging ropes / anything that could possibly become entangled around an infant or a child should be removed. Draperies with hanging cords, blinds with cords, skylights with adjustment cords or anything hanging that could possibly be entangled around the neck or other part of the body, must be removed.
8.) Exposed tools or equipment / all tools, equipment, saws, or other mechanical or electrical devices that could possibly be accessed, must be removed and locked up. Items such as simple screwdrivers, hammers, pliers, and power tools, must all be safety secured and out of the reach of any child. This is a perfect reason for the toolworker, in the home, to establish that out of the way tool shed or shop. What a perfect reason, you are simply protecting your children! Just make sure that tool shed has a lock.
9.) Weapons of any type / this is a totally obvious category, however, unfortunately children are hurt or killed by the improper storage of guns, knives, hunting bows or other type of weapons that adults in the home possess. This is a given, all firearms must be in a locked gun safe, unloaded, and with all of the ammunition in another safe, away from the guns. All other dangerous sports equipment, even your fishing tackle, could possess threats and danger to a young child. All I can say in this case, is use your head, if it explodes, cuts, stabs, pierces, etc. get it locked up.
10.) Stoves and heating elements / all of these heating elements, if accessed could cause issues and become hazards. Wood stoves that are exposed in the living area of the home, must be protected. Any type of electric or gas heater can cause burns and safety issues. There are special fences and barriers available that are designed not to limit the heat from the stove or appliance, but designed to eliminate access that would cause harm to a child.
11.) Heavy lidded items / such as wood boxes with a heavy lid that could fall on an infant or child, or even a toy box that does not have the proper safety lid. All heavy lids must have a mechanism that slows the descent of the lid from slamming down. This is very important with large and heavy lids, or even the top of a grand piano. The piano lid or top must be secured to make it impossible for it to slam down on anyone.
12.) Small items / remember that an infant or child, will put everything in their mouth. Anything that can be swallowed and choked on, must be removed from the child’s access. Marbles, screws, nails, small pieces from toys, batteries, etc. All of these items are possible hazards, remember they will try to swallow everything.
13.) Awareness of choking or allergy issues with certain special foods / although we are not medical doctors, please ask your pediatrician for their opinion on foods, snacks and other food items that could pose problems with allergies or choking. The obvious are dairy, nuts, fish, for allergies, but simple foods such as hot dogs or popcorn can also be hazardous. Remember to please check with your pediatrician for their recommendations and suggestions.
14.) Medicines and prescriptions of any type / it is so important that you be aware of all over the counter medicines as well as your prescription medicines. Children will try anything, especially if they witness you taking the medication. Locked medicine cabinets are suggested.
15.) Alcoholic beverages / like the medications, children who witness adults have a beer, wine, or other alcoholic beverages may consider trying to have them, themselves. Be aware that these are all hazards that need to have very limited access by adults only.
16.) Pet food / although somewhat humorous when thinking about it, but dangerous, if consumed is the dog, cat and other food that you leave out in the open for your pets. You do not want your child trying to eat what they see their pets eating. This also pertains to the boxes of kitty litter that you may have around the home.
17.) Open vents, wall or floor / any open vent that has openings in the louvers that will allow a child to insert their fingers or toes must be protected. There are several different types of vents and open exposed floor heating and cooling outlets that are not made childproof. It is important that access to this type of hazard is protected.
18.) Special concerns / such as unlocked sheds, barns, etc. must be analyzed and childproofed. I can still remember my grandfather’s barn with all of the hand sickles used to hay the fields, simply hanging up from their long blades in the hay loft. This is the type of hazard that can cause severe safety issues and be easily overlooked when childproofing the home.
19.) Open wells, open drainage ditches or inlets and outlets / all need to be blocked off with netting and or proper shielding devices to limit any ability for a child to crawl into or fall down. Again, easily overlooked when childproofing a home, but so very important to the overall safety of the entire property.
20.) Use of cleaning agents and chemicals / not only does the containers of chemicals and cleaners pose safety issues for a small child or infant, but the use of these chemicals in the vicinity of the child can cause very dangerous issues. The smells and toxicity of everything that you use, once the infant or child is in the house, must be evaluated and the safety of the small child considered.
21.) Use of proper materials such as paint, polyurethane and other sealers / must be considered now that you will have an infant and a small child in the home. Although we should all be very concerned for ourselves when it comes to the VOC’s , volatile organic compounds with paint and any other products, the importance becomes even more acute when introducing a small infant and child to the environment.
22.) Special hobbies or uses / if you have a hairdressing set up in the home, woodworking shop, fly tying apparatus or any other type of special hobbies or occupational equipment or tools, be aware that any use by an adult could be copied by a child. Children love to use everything that they witness being used by their parents or other adults. It is the awareness of these issues that is important.
Please note that this is not intended to present all the safety issues and concerns within the home. This list of items is presented to stimulate thought and custom awareness for each individual’s home, as they prepare to have a new arrival that will crawl, toddle and eventually walk around the home and property.
In summary, the childproofing of a home is an overall effort for each inhabitant to perform and consider. Each occupant of a home has their favorite pastime, hobby or special interest that could pose a safety problem to a small infant or child. As I had noted earlier in this article, think like a child, and make your home safe and secure for your new infant.
Good luck and congratulations.