Things Your Parents Didn’t Tell You About Taking Care of Your Home: Childproofing Your Home
Childproofing your home is not just an activity limited to new parents – anyone who ever might have someone visit with crawling infants, toddlers, or young children in tow should give this subject some serious thought. And while there are very important and effective steps anyone can take to improve the safety of their home, the single most important thing one can do is to provide reliable supervision. All the cabinet locks, wall anchors, and plug proctors in the world can’t serve as a substitute for active supervision. Also plan to keep a fully-stocked first aid kit somewhere easy to get to, and familiarize yourself with how to use the contents. No matter how careful you are, kids tend to collect a medley of scrapes, bruises, small burns, and stings, so make sure you know how to treat common problems.
In addition to the guidelines here, take some time to look around for any other potential hazards, making sure to keep the floor and lower shelves clean of anything a child can choke on. If you can, sit on the floor and look around from a child’s eye view to find anything potentially tempting. If an item can fit inside a toilet paper tube, it’s a choking hazard. Crawl around on the floor and try to think like a toddler. Pull on the door handles, tug on the shelves, and give your home a “test run” once finished with any improvements you might be able to implement.
Kitchen and Bathroom
The kitchen and bathrooms are notoriously the most dangerous rooms of a house, for children and adults alike. A thorough safety review and treatment of these spaces can reduce the risks faced by your family and friends in these areas. Some basic guidelines include:
- Install safety latches on all drawers and cabinets, regardless of what’s in them.
- If you know something is toxic or potentially dangerous, like most cleaning supplies, medications, bug spray, vitamins, and sharp objects, put it out of reach and lock the cabinet it’s in.
- Store medications and other products in their original container, especially if the cap is child-proof. Pharmacies can provide child-safe caps on most medications, be sure to request them if not already being used.
- Make certain that houseplants aren’t toxic to your children or pets if ingested. Put the poison control center phone number (1-800-222-1222) somewhere visible, such as on your fridge and near the phone, just in case something happens.
- If you have open cleaning supplies, put them out of reach or take them with you before going to answer the phone or door, especially if you’ll be stepping out of the room.
- Try to only use the stove’s back burners, with pot handles turned away from you, to reduce the risk of your child grabbing and potentially turning over a hot pan or pot. Use devices like stove dial covers and oven door locks to keep your child from playing with the stove and oven. If your child’s old enough to set up a step-stool but hasn’t yet learned fire and kitchen safety, keep the stool stored somewhere secure, such as in a latched cabinet.
- Unplug and safely store appliances like hair dryers, hair straighteners, and electric rollers after using them, to prevent electrocution from them getting wet as well as potential burns thanks to curious tots deciding to play with them.
- Install toilet locks and keep toilet lids closed, at least until children are big enough to not fall in. Children are both top-heavy and clumsy, so can very easily lean over and fall into the toilet.
- Install anti-scalding devices on all of your faucets and showerheads and reduce the water heater thermostat down to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Children can suffer burns more easily than adults.
- Update outlets in the bathroom and nearby any source of water with ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), which will turn off electricity if appliances fall into the water.
- Put a non-slip rubber mat inside the bath and a non-slip bath mat just outside the tub, to help reduce the chance of your child falling.
Protect unused outlets with outlet plugs, also called outlet safety caps. Standard outlet caps are cheap and easy to use, but can be difficult to remove if you use an outlet frequently. Press fit outlet caps are slightly more expensive, but easier to remove, and will fit GFCI outlets. You can also use electrical outlet slide covers or safe plates, which have a small spring-loaded plate that will slide to cover the outlet when not in use. Slide covers are convenient for outlets that you use frequently, since you don’t need to remember to replace a plug.
Use outlet covers, outlet boxes, and power strip covers on any outlets that are in-use, especially if they’re lower to the ground. For outlet covers, you will need to check the type of outlet to determine which covers will fit – some fit both styles, but a few outlet covers will only fit one of them. Outlets are generally either standard style or Decora style. Decora style outlets have a square face and no hole for a screw between the outlets. Covers for standard outlets attach with a screw, while covers for Decora outlets clip on. For the purpose of installing covers, GFCI power outlets should be treated as Decora style outlets.
Avoid using extension cords if you can, especially permanently. If you keep a sharp eye out, extension cords can be useful when vacuuming, but if left unattended they present a hazard. Teething babies can easily get a cord in their mouth, babies learning to walk can easily trip over them, and children might pull on them, knocking over whatever they’re attached to.
If you need to use an extension cord permanently, avoid using one that’s any longer than you need. You can use a cord shortener, a device that you can wrap the cord around to secure it, on longer cords. Secure cords that run along the wall with tape or latches, and place cords that run across the room in duct cord covers. Store extension cords securely and out of reach when not in use. If you have an extension cord always plugged in, but not always in use, treat it like an outlet and use safety caps or covers on it.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), accidental drowning is the leading cause of death in children between the ages of 1 and 4. Children can drown even in a few inches of water, since if they fall forward they often have trouble getting back up, especially if they fell into a toilet or bucket. Take a class on how to perform infant or child CPR, just in case your child falls into water and is unresponsive.
As mentioned earlier, install toilet locks on toilets and keep lids closed. Also, never leave your child unattended in or around a bath, kiddie pool, or any other pool of water, even if the child is in a bath ring or flotation device, even for a minute. Make certain that your child’s outdoor play area doesn’t have any accessible pools of water.
Never leave a bucket with water or any other liquid unattended. Pour the water out of the bucket as soon as you’re done using it, then turn the bucket upside down for storage. Wading and kiddie pools should be drained after each use and stored upright, to keep rainwater from pooling in them and providing a hazard (this also discourages mosquitoes). Firmly secure and lock the lid to hot tubs and similar items when not in use. Enclose permanent swimming pools with a fence 4 feet high or higher, with a lockable gate.
Install safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs, and across any doorways into rooms with hazards. Don’t use gates that rely on expanding pressure bars for staircases, since a child leaning against one heavily can knock it over. Gates hardware mounted to the door frame are more secure. If you have large dogs who like to roam, consider getting a safety gate that’s also dog proof – some designs can be opened by a determined pooch. Brand new safety gates will be better than older ones, thanks to updated safety requirements. Make sure that any safety gate you buy has a seal from the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA). Gates with straight slats are safer than older accordion-style gates.
It is VERY important to secure bookcases, freestanding shelves, filing cabinets, heavy furniture, dressers, and any tall furniture to the wall with brackets, anchoring them into the wall studs. Children like to climb, and falling furniture is an extremely common source of injury. Store heavier items on bottom shelves or in bottom drawers, to reduce the risk of tipping. Televisions should either be mounted on the wall out of the reach of children or secured with television anchors, with remotes and audiovisual equipment secured somewhere the child can’t get to – a closable TV cabinet with a child lock is a popular solution. Put floor lamps behind other pieces of furniture, so that the child can’t get to the base. Keep drawers firmly closed when you’re not using them, to discourage climbing.
Doorknob covers can keep older children out of rooms and areas with safety hazards, like swimming pools, by making the knob harder to turn. Make certain that adults can quickly and easily open the door in case of an emergency, though.
Use edge and corner guards on the corners of furniture and other large, solid objects like the fireplace hearth. A running child can easily hit their head against an unprotected edge. Move furniture away from windows to prevent children from climbing on the windowsills. Screens aren’t enough to keep a child from falling through the window. If your window is double-hung, only open the top, to reduce the risk of a child getting through. Windows should only be opened at most four inches at the bottom. You can install window stops to prevent them from opening any further, and some newer windows will have window stops preinstalled. When windows are closed, make certain they’re latched. You can also install window guards over the top of screens, although make certain that you can remove the guards in case of an emergency.
Never install window blinds, shades, curtains, or drapes with looped cords, since the cord is a common strangulation hazard. Replace or repair blinds, shades, and drapes that were installed before 2001. Always lock blinds into position, even when they’re all the way up or down. Cordless window coverings are safer than designs with cords – these include blinds that can be simply pushed into place, shutters, and some curtains. Use cord shorteners on any blinds with pull cords, so that the cords aren’t in the reach of children. Avoid putting your child’s crib under or next to a window.
Chests, especially toy chests, should not have free-falling lids. The lid should either stay in place when opened, or be very light and removable.
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