The Eternal Conflict Of Baby Proofing: Here’s What We Do And What I Recommend You Do, Too (please)

Like so many aspects of parenting (breastfeeding vs. formula, pacifier vs. whatever, daycare vs. staying at home vs. nanny, cloth vs. disposable diaper, co-sleeping vs. crib, etc), I have encountered much passion about the issue of baby proofing.

OK, fine, most of the passion comes from ME because I think it’s really important and it drives me crazy when I go to a play date at a new friend’s house and I end up spending the entire time preventing my son from incurring a head injury. If I came to your house it’s because I wanted to talk to you!

Though I was admittedly late to baby-proofing and no doubt inconvenienced many of my guests with mobile babies and toddlers (it’s really hard to foresee the damage your kid can inflict if he’s still mostly lying down and playing with his fingers), I have a lot of trouble understanding why some people just don’t do any baby proofing at all, EVER.

While chatting with a group of moms recently, one friend complained about how she spent much of her time at home preventing her active toddler from injuring himself. I asked point blank: why didn’t she baby proof? She explained that the world isn’t baby proofed and that since she takes her son everywhere, she wants him to learn. I was grateful that she explained her reasoning so well and I’m impressed her son is learning. I also totally agree with her and with the basics of this philosophy; of letting kids learn from their mistakes and of teaching kids to adapt to the adult world rather than tailoring your existence around your kids. I’m obsessed with Bringing Up Bebe, remember?

But I just CAN’T not baby proof. The process of making most of our house toddler-friendly has been gradual. And every single item I moved or safety product I purchased was specifically because I learned that my son does NOT learn from his painful mistakes, nor am I ready to allow him. And it’s not that I’m being overprotective or coddling or sheltering him. I’m sure a lot of people who see my son and I with any regularity are often startled by the freedom I give him. I often realize too late that I am the only parent at a play date not within arm’s reach of their child. At a tiny bay-side beach the other day I sat on a blanket while my son crawled to the calm water about 15 feet away. I watched for several minutes while he sat quietly in the wet sand and explored the ground around him with his hands until I realized I should probably be closer to him in case he decided to plunge his face in the water or eat rocks (which he later attempted THRICE). But I generally know how he might behave and how he might explore different spaces, so I trust that he won’t usually do anything too risky and wasn’t in a panic to be right next to him. Unlike at the jungle gym, where I know he likes to peer dangerously over any exposed sides from which he might fall.

One of the first big emergency scares I ever had with Baby was when he got his fingers stuck in the hinges of the door to his playroom and I couldn’t get to him. The door was almost closed from the inside with the safety gate in front of it. If I’d shoved the door open it would’ve pinched his fingers even worse. I crouched desperately at the door hinge and tried to push his fingers out as he screamed, yelling “Move back! move back!”. It probably lasted 30 seconds but felt like a hundred years. I made it into the room and his fingers were a little red and pinched but seemed intact. He cried for approximately 5-10 minutes, then resumed contentedly playing on the floor while I tried not to burst into relieved sobs. But before we finally installed a hook and eye closure a few days later to keep the door held open against the wall, I had to remove his fingers from the door hinge about a gazillion more times. He was obsessed with putting his fingers in the door hinge. Putting his fingers in the door hinge was the greatest game ever.

Well, not for me it wasn’t! And as much as I want him to learn from his mistakes, HE’S ONE AND A HALF. Isn’t it better for him right now to just have the opportunity to explore and play and learn in a safe space? Without hurting himself all the time? Because he doesn’t remember that door hinges hurt his fingers and I don’t think he’ll remember that kind of thing for at least 6 more months.

So here is my rough room-to-room guide for how to make your home as safe as possible. Because you really don’t want to spend every moment of every day preventing your child from hurting themselves. They’re going to hurt themselves anyway and that’s ok. I just think it’s part of my job to prevent that from happening if I can.

Before I start I want to mention a few important points:
1) The first advice I always remember hearing was to get down on all fours and explore my house as my baby would see it.

2) I sort of think this is bullshit and despite my anxiety and generally grating, all-consuming craziness, I totally never did this. I baby proofed gradually as I saw the kinds of things my son and his baby and toddler friends would do.

3) That said, before you even think of purchasing any baby proofing stuff, do use some common sense.

This includes:
– moving breakables like knick knacks and glass picture frames from end tables or coffee tables
– reducing access to long wires. If you can plug stuff in BEHIND heavy furniture, do it!
– moving toxic household products out of lower cabinets or lower shelves

4) It really is true that your child will be immediately attracted to every possible dangerous thing.

5) If you have plants in your house or do a lot of gardening, read up about plants that are bad for babies. Here and here are good places to start.

Living Room/General Living Spaces

– STAIRS. This is my biggest source of baby-related anxiety. When I was pregnant, I had such disturbing anxiety nightmares about dropping the baby down the stairs that I bought a baby doll and carried it down the stairs to calm my fears. (My son now plays with said baby doll.) When I went to a carpet store while pregnant to buy a runner for our stairs, a salesperson said “Can I help you?” and I said “I need something that will prevent me from dropping my baby down the stairs.”

I HAVE ISSUES WITH STAIRS. Gating your stairs can be complicated and/or expensive depending on how wide the staircase is, what kind of banister or railing you have, and how handy you are with a drill. This is something that I recommend you spend some money on if you can. Google “baby proofing” and the name of your town or county and I’m sure you’ll find people you can pay to do this. Otherwise, I like Amazon for the free returns if you have Amazon Prime or Amazon Mom. And the reviews are always very helpful.

I will be honest and say that we still haven’t bothered to gate the tops of two staircases, but we always keep the basement door shut if Baby is around and awake (with hook and eye closure up high, just in case), and we always keep our bedroom doors shut if he’s wandering around. But if he’s playing in the basement or on our main floor, I can cook or do some writing without checking every 30 seconds that he isn’t halfway up the stairs. We got a custom gate because one of the places we needed it was too wide, but for the basement we have this one and love it. My parents like to mock me by telling the story of how my father installed a stair gate when I was small and I immediately went over to it, opened it and walked through. But the gates I have are actually pretty hard to open. Grown-ass adults regularly struggle with them, and I’m sure by the time my son figures them out, he’ll be walking around well-enough that I won’t need to worry about him taking such a scary tumble.

ONE MORE POINT ABOUT STAIRS:

If you have access to any place (in your house or somewhere else) that has 1-5 stairs, let your baby explore them and try to climb down ASAP. Our 2 staircases are steep and sort of long, so I let my son practice climbing UP a lot, but I could never get him to practice climbing down. He learned how to climb DOWN from practicing on the 5 stairs on our deck in the backyard. Now he is good at climbing all the way downstairs, but I still wouldn’t let him do it without me a few feet behind him!

NEXT:

– Outlet covers. I had originally bought the little plug-in kind, then I neurotically double-checked the recommendations in my beloved Baby Bargains book and sprung for the Universal Plate Covers. They are expensive, yes, but I find them less ugly than the plug things and they were easy enough to quietly install with a screwdriver while Baby napped. I felt a bit foolish at first for replacing all the plate covers for these child-safe ones until I watched how much my son loves to a) put his mouth on the plate cover and b) pull plugs and plug covers out.

– Castors for the legs of tables or benches that can move! We have a lovely little toy chest on wheels. Before Baby was mobile it never occurred to me that he would want to climb it and that it would SLIDE AROUND. A friend with an active toddler recommended these castors to keep our bench in place. This type of product is a good idea for any piece of furniture you don’t want your child to push over to a window.

– Cabinet latches for your media cabinet. If you can, try to fit all electrical stuff in here. Because I promise you, your kid is going to want to suck on your entire surge protector like it’s a goddamn lollypop. And the wireless router.

– Always keep remote controls out of reach. Or at least put very strong tape over the battery plate so if your child does get ahold of the remote control, they won’t be able to get into the batteries.

– Sliding-door closets. We have this lovely product for preventing our son from getting his fingers stuck in our sliding-door closet. And it obviously prevents him from getting at whatever is IN the closet as well.

Kitchen

– Cabinet locks. You want something like this. It’s pretty easy for you to open but still difficult enough for your kid. No, it isn’t pretty. But neither is the idea of my son pulling a Le Creuset pot onto himself.

– Cabinet and drawer latches. Something like these. I’m not going to lie: these are a bit of a pain in your ass to install, but they’re worth it.

Once my son started moving around and trying to open drawers and cabinets, we installed the latches and I did a little reorganizing. All sharp items were moved to an upper cabinet. There were a few drawers and cabinets where we couldn’t install the latches or they were single doors. I moved all heavy cookware and my Crock Pot into their own double-door lower cabinet with a lock like the one linked above.

All glass storage and Pyrex stuff went into a different double-door lower cabinet with lock.

The two single-door cabinets that he can open contain light bakewear (muffin and bread pans) and linens (our cloth napkin collection). The other one has light steel mixing bowls and plastic stacking measuring cups, an old cheap light metal pot and a colander. He plays with this stuff and it’s all safe.

I haven’t bothered with one of those things that’s supposed to prevent your kid from touching the burners. He’s in there all the time when I’m cooking and when he gets too close to the stove a loud, stern “NO!” will usually do the trick.

I am thinking of getting locks for the oven knobs because my son recently discovered how to turn the burners on and thinks my sternly moving him away from the stove is a fun game. But I really don’t leave him unsupervised in the kitchen for that long so I probably won’t.

Bathroom

We haven’t bothered with toilet locks. We just got in the habit of keeping the bathroom doors closed and generally not letting him in with us.

But I did recently get non-skid bath rugs and I rearranged all the products in the vanity cabinet and bathroom closet so that anything toxic or dangerous is out of reach.

Baby’s Room

We did a lot in here for pretty obvious reasons. He’s certainly in here unsupervised for a few minutes at a time while I put makeup on and stuff. And I don’t underestimate his ability to climb and destroy.

– Outlet covers, obviously.

– Drawer latches for his dresser, obviously

– Keeping his closet door locked

– Keeping a doorknob cover on the main door

– Keeping anything dangerous out of reach. This includes keeping extra diapers on a high shelf just in case he decides to play with the plastic wrap.

– Bolting his bookcase to the wall and floor with “l” brackets in case he climbs it

– Ditto for the base of his glider chair.

– Ditto for the little side table that is sort of near a window. It’s screwed into the floor so he can’t push it over to the window.

We still probably need to look into getting window guards and bolting his dresser to the wall. Once we discover he can climb out of his crib, we will take care of that! I also anticipate he might figure out how to open his door even with the knob cover, so we might need a gate for his doorway to prevent him from escaping.

Our Room

– So far we never have Baby in our bedroom unsupervised, so we haven’t done any baby proofing

That’s about all I can think of. If you have doors you don’t want your baby or toddler opening, switch out your handle-style door knobs for a regular knob with a cover on it and a hook and eye closure up high. The baby proofing things you can buy for handles require the same amount of installation as just replacing the damn knob, so you might as well.

I’m sure the need for more baby proofing will arise as my son becomes more of a climber and I’m sure your needs might be different if your kid is more of a risk-taker. But so far, what we have has served us very well!

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One thought on “The Eternal Conflict Of Baby Proofing: Here’s What We Do And What I Recommend You Do, Too (please)

  1. Pingback: On Anxiety as a Parent (or, how I might need to start doing yoga or something) | babies and stuff

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