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Childproofing your home involves much more than simply adding a few cabinet locks and plug protectors. The average home is a minefield of dangers to babies, toddlers, and small children. Parents and caretakers must make considerations beyond the obvious in order to make their homes safe and happy environments for little ones.
Some of the ways to childproof your home can be done yourself, but others might involve things like repairs to an appliance or one of your home’s systems. In those cases, check out our Choice Home Warranty review and our American Home Shield review to see if they might be a fit for you.
Here is your comprehensive guide to childproofing your home room by room.
Make sure the door cannot close. It might make for a few awkward moments, but privacy should take a back seat to safety. Small children can easily get their fingers in the jamb—all it takes is a game of chase gone wrong. Keeping doors from closing will also keep children from colliding head-first with an object that can cause concussion, fracture, or both.
Door pinch guards can be purchased for only a few dollars each or you can opt for a simple DIY solution. By draping a towel over the top of a door, you can prevent it from closing. Move the towel closer to the hinges and you stop it from closing with a larger opening.
It can be a real challenge to keep a clean countertop, but not doing so introduces a host of new risks for your children. These recommendations will help you identify and avoid the most severe of them.
Be sure to clean up any spills instantly. Anything slick on the floor can lead to disastrous slips and falls. This includes water, lotion, shampoo, liquid soap, toothpaste, or anything else liquid or semi-solid that lands on the floor.
Never leave the toilet open either. Toilet seat locks aren’t particularly attractive or convenient, but with young children, drowning is a real possibility.
If you are bathing your child, never leave the child unattended. Always make sure you drain the bathtub or pour out the basin completely when you’re finished with the bath.
According to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, over 30,000 children are brought to emergency rooms for “tip-over” accidents each year. Children have pulled on stuck drawers and pulled heavy dressers or other furniture over on top of themselves. Siblings might even have given those dressers a push in an argument.
Furniture is heavy, and such a crash could have devastating consequences, particularly if the toppling furniture lands on a child’s head. All furniture in a child’s room should be fastened to the floor, the wall, or both.
Very young children need a proper crib that is also securely fastened to one or more of the room’s flat surfaces. The bars must be close enough together so that any children who sleep within cannot get their heads stuck. If your child can sit up straight in the crib, it would be a good idea to lower the mattress. In the past, many parents have selected cribs with droppable sides for convenience. These are now illegal in the United States. If you have one, replace it immediately with a fixed-side crib.
Windows in children’s rooms should have a window guard, only be able to open 3 inches at maximum, or both. The same applies to rooms with window seats and windows that are low to the floor. It’s far too easy for a child to open an unsecured window and fall out. Older homes might have windows with cranks. These should be removed and kept under lock and key. Not only are they dangerous because children can open windows with them that they shouldn’t, but most of these handles are metal and can be used as bludgeons in small hands.
As with the bathroom, small objects must never be left out. Crayons, small toys, and toys with small, detachable parts. Even some larger items should be kept locked up. Ceramic piggy banks are a prime example. They can be easily broken, and become both a choking and cutting hazard. Remember that children are inventive, so putting something out of reach might not be a real solution. If you remember building “dresser drawer stairs” as a child, or have ever walked in on your children doing the same, you know this to be true.
Children frequently bring toys into the living room or family room, looking for a more spacious area in which to play. If the toys linger after playtime is over, they pose a risk — not just to children, but to adults as well. An adult could even trip and fall upon a child. As usual, keep the small things locked up and always make sure toys are age appropriate.
If your living room features a fireplace, whether traditional or gas-powered, you should install fire and heat-proof gates in front of them. These gates should be tall enough so that your children cannot climb them to get at the fireplace itself. If you have a traditional fireplace, then you should have a locked cabinet for the fireplace implements. Crawling children cannot lift a poker, but a toddler can. Even if the toddler doesn’t mean to injure someone, including you, pokers are heavy and pointy and can be deadly weapons if misused however unintentionally.
Both kinds of fireplaces may have hearths and sides, not to mention chimneys made of raw stone or brick. Any children who trip and fall against such stone risk serious injury. Install fireproof padding on hearths and sides of chimneys to protect your children.
Televisions should be securely fastened to the wall if possible. If the television is not wall-mountable, then it must be secured to the flat surface upon which it rests. It’s also a good idea to use industrial strength Velcro strips, or similar items, to secure TVs to the wall even if they’re not screwed into the studs. Children can pull a television over onto themselves, and while most modern TVs are not heavy enough to cause serious blunt-force injuries, the screens can shatter. Those sharp edges can create severe cuts and scrapes.
If you have family photos within children’s reach, remove them. As stated, keeping things high-up may work for babies, but it won’t work for toddlers. Photo frames have glass in them, and falling glass creates cutting hazards. If you want to display family photos, digital frames can be had for about $20 even if they come with unbreakable screens. These are much safer, but they still should be kept out of reach.
The living room is also a place where electronic items get left. These include remote controls, phones, watches, tablets, music players, and the like. Many of these devices are powered by button batteries, which are among the most dangerous items to children known. Swallowing one can be fatal. Build a sturdy, lockable caddy for the family’s electronics, particular any that contain button batteries. You might not think of it, but a laser pointer for the family cat is powered by a button battery or batteries. Lock it up too.
If you also have an extensive entertainment system in the living room, you must keep the power bar behind furniture that is too heavy for any children to move. An in-the-open power bar invites children to remove the plugs and investigate the holes. If you must leave such power bars in the open or semi-open, buy covers specifically designed for covering such devices.
Invest in cordless blinds. Children can accidentally hang themselves on traditional blind cords or even dislodge the blinds themselves, which will create a falling-object hazard. This same rule applies to the other rooms in the house too.
Another thing to consider is a fish tank or fishbowl, should you keep fish as pets. Large fish tanks that hold 125 gallons weigh a half a ton. Ideally, they should be drained and stored away until the children are older. If you want them when your children are young, mount them only in wall enclaves or on the sturdiest possible stands.
No room in your home is as dangerous to children as the kitchen. In fact, it is wise to use a tall, sturdy gate to keep children out of the kitchen entirely when you are not in it yourself. Aside from providing the gate, there is a long, long list of items to do to childproof the kitchen.
The refrigerator must either be locked or latched with a complex enough latch that a child cannot readily open it. Refrigerators are full of choking hazards, such as grapes, cherries, and other small fruits. They also contain bottles of various types. These are broken-glass hazards. Also, many people keep beer, wine, or spirits in the refrigerator. Small children have zero tolerance for alcohol and can easily become intoxicated or poisoned. Adventurous children might also consider the door to be a swing, possibly for multiple people at once. They might tear the door from its hinges and severely injure themselves irrespective of the cost of replacing a modern refrigerator.
Some families also have members who require certain medications that must be kept refrigerated. These can be deadly if the wrong person takes them. In this case, the refrigerator should be locked instead of simply latched. There is no point in taking any chance at all.
Children love to open things, and low cabinets are a favorite. In such cabinets, children can get at cleaning products, dish soap, dishwasher tabs or pods, and cleaning utensils, such as steel wool, wire brushes, and other assorted cleaning-related items. Each door should be securely latched with a childproof latch. It would also be wise to put the items under the sink or in other low cabinets inside a locked box so that enterprising children who bypass the latch cannot access the toxic materials within. Even items with which you cook can be dangerous. Vanilla extract, for example, is a stronger drink than even fortified wine.
The stove is particularly dangerous. Even if you don’t consider the immense heat, children could pull on a towel hanging on the handle and bonk themselves on the head. The best option is to get a door lock for your oven. While not highly practical, your safest move to prevent children from accidentally turning on the stove is to remove the control knobs when the stove is not in use and store them in a locked box. The more common solution is to purchase a set of stove knob safety covers. When you are cooking, try to use the back burners only. Never leave pot handles sticking out or forward. There are stove gates, too, that are similar to fireplace gates and serve the same purpose.
The dishwasher should also be locked if possible. The chief danger here is that children can ingest the detergent. If your child opens the dishwasher while it is running, however, there is a scalding danger as well. Children can also climb upon the door if it’s open, which will not only likely break the dishwasher but also create a falling hazard for the children.
Keep the microwave out of reach. Microwaves are heavy, and curious children can open the door, grab on, and perhaps pull the item off of the counter. They can also put anything you can imagine inside and start it. Avoid disaster and keep the microwave out of the “line of fire.” If possible, build a lockable enclosure for it. Other appliances can be equally or even more dangerous.
Coffee makers are small and light. Hot coffee scalds. Fondue pots, toaster ovens, rice cookers, countertop grills, and many other items get red hot, or nearly so, and can cause grievous injuries to adults let alone children. Many also contain glass with all the dangers that brings. Never keep these appliances out and only ever use them when you are present. Never leave them unattended even if you set up child gates.
Your cutlery can turn instantly into a weapon. Children don’t know any better, so it’s entirely possible for them to cut someone else or themselves severely in seconds. Never keep a butcher block with knives on the counter. Always lock the silverware drawer. Never leave the dishwasher loaded. Always account for any cutlery you use. Children are not above hiding something shiny to play with later. Hide boxes of foil and waxed paper, too, because they have a sharp serrated edge that can be dangerous.
You may not consider it an appetizing place to play, but children can be fascinated with the garbage can. Keep it firmly secured and out-of-sight if at all possible. Most cans aren’t heavy enough to be injurious if tipped, but the contents could be. Aside from possible sharp objects in the trash, there might be muck that is rife with germs that can infect your child.
In short, your kitchen counter should have nothing on it, and everything that used to be on it should be under lock and key only to be taken out and used as needed and then locked away again.
Keep thoroughfares free of obstructions and debris on a regular basis throughout each day. Cover outlets with childproof caps. Limit any displays of collectibles, photos, and heirlooms to those that can be put behind unbreakable glass or in locked, clear boxes for display. The safest best would be to put valuable heirlooms, such as china, away in a box somewhere or transfer it to a locked room.
Stairways should be guarded by lockable gates at the top and bottom, and the carpet or anti-skid materials on them should be kept in good repair. Like hallways, they should be free from any objects or debris. Install brass nodules at regular intervals along the top of the banister to prevent “slide rides.” Ensure the posts are close enough together to keep any children from falling through or getting stuck. Alternatively, you can get some chicken wire and cover the spaces with that, which is both remarkably effective and cheap.
Children should be kept out of the garage at all times. Even if you come home as a family, use the front door to enter the home and then pull the car into the garage thereafter. If you have an automatic garage door opener, ensure the children don’t try to ride it as it goes up or down. You’ll also want to regularly test the safety features of your garage door. One way to make sure the door properly detects obstructions is to place a roll of paper towels in the path of the door. If it hits the roll and reverses direction, it’s working properly. If it doesn’t, you’ll want to have it serviced. Most modern garage door openers also feature an electric eye that detects when an object moves into the door’s path. Close the door and roll a ball through the path of the laser to validate that it works as intended.
The front door should always be locked, and there should be an internal cap on the lock so that slightly older toddlers cannot open the front door themselves and go wandering off. All of the home’s windows should be treated the same as those in the children’s bedrooms. If possible, avoid large windows that are easily broken and impossible to safeguard, such as plate glass picture windows.
You must take drastic steps to protect your children from any guns in your home. The safest way to prevent a gun accident involving children is to not keep guns in your home. For many people, this isn’t a realistic option. If you choose to have firearms in your house, find out what the law says in your state about what steps you need to take, then exceed them. At the very least, your guns should be:
Leaving shampoo where your child can reach it is inadvisable. Leaving a firearm where your child can reach it is inexcusable. Children can put themselves and others at unnecessary risk where they don’t have the capacity to understand the gravity of what they’re doing. If you have other children who visit your home, then you must inform their parents or guardians of the fact that you have guns if you do. It’s your duty to childproof your home to protect visiting children too.
Other weapons are still dangerous even if they’re not as bad as firearms. Swords, daggers, bows, and others are all weapons that can be dangerous if used improperly or in the wrong hands.
Teach your children that, should they encounter a weapon of any kind, they should immediately tell the nearest adult without fear of “getting in trouble.” You will know what to do. The children won’t.
Many yards have no boundaries, so even older children cannot tell which areas are safe and which are not. They can’t even tell which areas belong to them and which do not. Fences are a good way to mark property lines, but they are expensive. Some neighborhood associations even ban them as unsightly. You can get enclosed play areas for your children to enjoy the outdoors. Most of these will lose their usefulness with older children because the children outgrow the enclosures.
A driveway net can keep children from chasing loose balls and other items down the driveway to the road. It’s also useful in small yards for marking your property. There are also several impermanent products available that can serve as makeshift fences. These solutions are inexpensive and can be used to secure property boundaries and gardens. All you need is a few stakes and some zip ties. These items that are designed to be replaced fit the bill because they can be upgraded inexpensively as your children grow.
If you garden, you will have to keep track of which plants are poisonous in your flower beds and which are not. Your poison control center can advise you, but a quick list of dangerous plants includes: oleander, foxglove, rhododendron, and even azaleas. If you grow vegetables instead, remember that tomato leaves are mildly toxic. They won’t hurt adults unless they eat ridiculous amounts of them, but they can hurt children even in small quantities.
The same items that you use to secure a garden are also good for security the edge of a deck under the railings. Zip ties are great for securing these protective barriers on the deck the same way they are in the yard itself.
If you live in a rural area, you must also be aware of the possibility of wild animal incursion. If you live in the Southwest, for example, coyotes and peccaries could wander into your yard at any time. In states that border Canada, bear and deer could stop by for a visit. In the Southeast, it might be alligators. Other than installing 15-foot-high solid fencing, which is not 100-percent effective, there is little you can do to keep these animals at bay. Instead, you must know what to do if one appears, which is normally to go inside as quietly and quickly as possible.
It’s also important to keep your yard free from pests like wasps and other insects, rats, and other vermin. These animals pose not only a direct danger, such as stinging or biting, but they also pose a long-term danger: Disease. Some of these vermin are actually infested with other vermin, too, which makes them even more of a problem. An example could be a rat that has fleas. Hire a professional exterminator and a wildlife relocation expert to rid you of these unwanted guests.
No matter which outside animals or pests affect you, you should always try to keep an eye on your children when they’re outside. If you must direct your attention elsewhere, have older children watch their siblings who are under 5 years of age.
The above guidelines are general rules. As children age and can grasp age-appropriate concepts, it is possible to teach them to avoid certain pitfalls. Still, it pays to be vigilant when it comes to your children’s safety.
The crib should conform to all United States Consumer Product Safety Commission standards other than simply not having drop sides. Cribs should also be free of pillows, stuffed animals, bumpers, blankets, and toys. If you use a baby monitor, ensure that it and all of its electrical cords and the outlet to which it is connected is at least 3 feet from the crib.
You should also make sure that changing tables and infant bath materials are solidly constructed and lack any small parts upon which the infant could choke. Follow established guidelines for changing diapers and giving baths, such as amount of water, temperature of water, size of sink or basin, and after-bath procedures. Always prepare for diaper changes by having all the necessary materials and waste containers available. Otherwise, you will have to unstrap the baby from the table and go and get the stuff. Never leave the child unattended on the table even if you use the security strap.
Perhaps most important, build a fence around any exterior pool or hot tub. More than 300 children under the age of 5 years drown annually in the United States. Fences save lives. Nearly 10 times that many suffer near-drowning, and many of those children suffer permanent brain damage. Fences protect children.
Once children begin to crawl, they can explore on their own. The entire area of the house from the floor to 3 feet above it must be free from any and all hazards. Create play areas within the house instead of using baby walkers. If you have older children, teach them to keep track of their own materials and keep them out of the way of the crawling child or children. The 3-foot “free zone” should be a team effort.
It’s easy to remember to latch or lock cabinet doors, but parents sometimes forget sharp edges on table legs, the bottoms of chairs, and on low-lying furniture like futons. All of these sharp edges should be covered. If you have a glass coffee table, make sure it’s made from tempered glass, which cannot shatter. If it’s not, replace it.
While it is smart to keep pills of all sorts outside of harm’s way, it’s equally important not to take any medicines or vitamins in front of your children. Children imitate their parents. Even if they chew something relatively harmless, such as Vitamin C, they might chew far too much of it. Vitamin C produces diarrhea. Chewing too much Vitamin A can be lethal.
Toddlers can open doors whereas younger children cannot. Keep all doors to the outside and to restricted areas, such as garages, workshops, and unfinished basements, locked at all times.
Toddlers can also climb while younger children cannot. Remove stools, unsteady chairs, and other such furniture from the home. You’ve already secured the refrigerator and the television. Do the same thing to the stove, all bookcases, highboys and other dressers, and anything else that can be tipped or climbed upon. Don’t place anything that can be climbed upon near any staircases, balconies, or any other long drops.
Children learn quickly. Check all previous locks and latches. Your 5-year-old might be able to get past them now. At this age, you can begin to teach them why certain things are dangerous. Obviously, they will not listen to you at least some of the time, so you have to re-evaluate all precautions and not just locks and latches.
You should already have smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors on every floor of your home. They should be in places where they will be quickly heard. You can also teach children of this age about what to do if one of the alarms goes off. Practice getting out of the house together and meeting at a preset location. Check all alarms monthly and keep fresh batteries both in the devices and on-hand even if you have plug-in varieties. The most advanced alarms can ring for help themselves in the event of an emergency, and these alarms are not as expensive as you might think. Upgrade all smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in your home to these more advanced versions.
Now that they’re older, these children are also stronger. They can get into places where younger children cannot, such as old trunks or wardrobes. Check any of these kinds of items in your possession. If they cannot be opened from the inside, either discard them or modify them so that they can. Children love hide-and-seek, and an old trunk is an ideal hiding spot.
Because children this age can reach the countertops in the kitchen, it is doubly important to keep appliances away from them. They’re not old enough to understand how to use any of these devices safely.
With both toddlers and these older children, avoid putting hot foods near the edge of tables or counters. Never put anything hot on a draped tablecloth or placemat that can be pulled.
No matter how diligent you are and how many precautions you take, there will still be accidents. These can range from simple swallowing shampoo that you left on the edge of the tub to serious injuries from a fall.
Keep at least one fully stocked first-aid kit in the home. Ensure there is a strong medical disinfectant in the kit for cuts, scrapes, and bites. If your child has a life-threatening allergy, be sure the kits contain EpiPens. Take a first-aid class that includes CPR. Make sure all adults and any children old enough to take a class take it. You should also know all applicable emergency numbers, such as poison control, animal control, the gas company, and the electric company.
If you live in the country, keep a stock of antivenin in your first-aid kits for the rare instance of a poisonous snake bite. In areas where there are bears, having a can of bear spray is prudent. Of course, any of these items should be kept locked up so that children cannot accidentally spray themselves with bear spray or injure themselves with the items inside a first-aid kit.
The best thing you can do to determine how well your home is childproofed is to act like your children. Get down to their level. Crawl around the house so that you can see things as they do. If they’re toddlers, get some knee pads and go around the house on your knees.
Remember that childproofing your home is an ongoing task. Your consistent attention will ensure that you and your family can enjoy your home and maintain peace of mind.
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