As your baby grows into a toddler, a lot of things change around your house. Your regular safety sweep should be one of those things.
Sure, you baby proofed your home before you welcomed your little one into the world, but babies grow up. They become more interested in the world around them, and more able to move around and interact with what they see and touch. Your child proofing needs to grow and change right along with them.
There are many different strategies for making household safety sweeps efficient and effective. We highlight two different approaches here to help you organize the process. Whether you use these approaches or you choose to tackle home safety room by room, the important thing is to carve out some intentional time for re-considering your home through a toddler’s eyes, hands and mouth.
Regular safety checks are important not only for keeping your child safe, but also for keeping your day-to-day life a little less stressful. You can’t control everything in your children’s environment, but knowing you’ve got home base covered can soothe your worried mind.
Approach 1: Know the Danger Zones
Apart from injuries in car accidents, the main causes of injury or death to children involve one of the five elements detailed below. Keeping these main dangers in mind as you go through your house can help you spot potential hazards that might not have been so dangerous when your toddler was younger and less able to move, reach, poke and grab things.
- Water: Even if your toddler was head of his/her class at swim school, he/she’s still not safe if he/she’s left alone, even for a moment, even with only two inches of standing water. Whether it’s the bathtub, a bucket, or a swimming pool, stay within arm’s reach of your tadpole anytime he/she is near water.
Pro tip: If you’re not already in the habit of doing so, keep bathroom doors closed.
- Burns: Anything that generates heat or flame, including electric appliances and outlets, can be a risk. Chemical burns are also possible if you keep art supplies, carpentry or mechanical supplies, or strong cleansers in your house. Hot food and liquid can be fascinating to small children — usually because they see you eating or drinking it — so keep your morning coffee far away from your little sunshine.
Pro tip: Never carry your child and hot liquid at the same time. The multitasking gain is not worth the risk.
- Poison and choking hazards: Toddlers and children will continue to explore the world by putting just about anything in their mouths, and also by imitating what adults around them are doing. Keeping anything that is toxic out of reach is essential — think alcohol and nicotine, medicines, household cleaning and maintenance products, gardening products and personal hygiene products.
Pro tip: Even non-toxic items, such as cooking spices or body powders, can cause accidental suffocation if inhaled in too great a quantity.
- Falls: For toddlers the joy of walking, running and climbing is likely going to outweigh any understanding they may have of danger. And creative kids can make a jungle gym out of just about anything. Think through what might need to be gated, locked or secured, now that your child is getting stronger and taller. Cover sharp edges of furniture that burgeoning tumblers and jumpers may crash into.
Pro tip: Even if they seem way too heavy for your toddler to budge, furniture such as chests and televisions should be anchored so that they don’t tip over.
- Firearms: According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children in homes with guns are less likely to be injured by intruders and are more likely to shoot themselves or be shot by their friends or family members. What is the safest thing to do? Don’t keep guns in your home. If you choose to keep a gun, keep it unloaded and in a locked place, with the ammunition locked separately.
Pro tip: As awkward as it may be, it’s important to ask whether there are guns — and if so, how they are stored — in any home where your child may spend time.
Approach 2: Run the Checklist
The things that are the most dangerous are the things we don’t see — and usually what we don’t see are the things we have grown so accustomed to seeing that they just don’t register as a danger. Use this checklist and look with fresh eyes around your house. What have you not seen — or not seen through the lens of child safety — recently?
- Doors, drawers and cabinets: Are they latchable to keep little hands out, especially for spaces under the sinks, in the bathroom and laundry room, and in the garage or garden shed? How about your home office, crafting or entertainment areas, where sharp objects or fire starters might be stored?
- Bags and baggage: Do purses, briefcases, backpacks, suitcases and cosmetic or toiletry bags contain medication, scissors or army knifes, or anything else sharp or toxic?
- Furniture and appliances: What needs to be secured, anchored to the wall or gated off so that your child doesn’t fall off of it or tip it over? Where are the electrical cords and outlets, and are they secure?
- Balconies, railings, windows and stairs: Do you need to add or move any baby gates now that your child is more mobile? Is there any furniture close to a railing or balcony that might create a climb-and-fall risk?
- Floors: Are they slippery under your little one’s feet? Are there small objects on the floor that might end up in a small mouth?
- Remote controls, key fobs, musical books, toys and anything else with small or button batteries: Are the battery covers all secure and are these items well out of reach?
- Household décor: Could your child pull a tablecloth — or more importantly, whatever is on top of it — onto her? Are your window coverings cordless?
- Houseplants: Are any of your plants toxic? Are there any large plants that could tip over?
- Kitchen, fireplace and grill: Are the sharp objects and the hot spots all out of reach or covered securely?
- Pet products: Are the pet food, medications and grooming products all out of reach? Where is the water bowl?
- Trashcans and compost bins: Are those lids secure?
- The water heater: Is it set to 120 degrees or less?
- Safety equipment: Are smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, monitors and door chimes in working order? Does anything need a new battery?
- Essential numbers: Do you have the number for poison safety handy? Are there other emergency numbers (besides 911) that you should have stored?
Safety is Everything
If the first time you babyproofed your home felt like a big operation, toddler proofing may feel more like a triage. And it’s worth doing: Injuries are the leading cause of death in children ages four and under.
The main reason injuries happen results from children doing what they should be doing: growing fast, expanding their horizons and being curious. The best thing parents can do when thinking through safety in the house is to assume their child is capable of more than they think — because before too long, it will certainly be the case.