Whether our kids are crawling, toddling or even driving, it’s our job to keep them safe from the hidden dangers lurking at home.
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“Research shows that children are more likely to be injured at home than anywhere else. Part of that may be because kids spend a lot of time at home compared to other places,” says pediatrician Kimberly Giuliano, MD.
“It’s also because children typically have less direct supervision at home. At school, the teachers are always watching. And the coach is there during your child’s game or practice. At home, there’s more likely to be some alone time,” she adds.
Wondering what you can do to keep your child safe at home at any age? Here’s how to take your home from a hazard to a safe haven.
Childproofing: From 6 months to 4 years
Babyproofing becomes relevant when your child starts getting mobile — and Dr. Giuliano says rolling counts. Here are nine tasks to put on your childproofing list:
1. Use outlet covers.
Outlet covers are pieces of plastic that you plug into electrical outlets. They prevent children from playing with electrical sockets and reduce their risk for electrocution.
2. Put cleaning chemicals out of reach.
“Keeping chemicals both out of reach and locked away is best,” says Dr. Giuliano. “Child cabinet locks are not foolproof. A savvy toddler may be able to break them. Storing chemicals out of reach prevents an accidental exposure if somebody forgets to relock the cabinet.”
3. Install cabinet and drawer locks.
Lock all cabinets and drawers that a toddler or young child could reach. Cabinet and drawer locks prevent small children from accessing dangerous chemicals and implements, including:
- Kitchen and bathroom cleaners.Laundry detergents.Lawn and garden chemicals.Medicines.Outdoor cleaning supplies.Sharp objects such as knives, kitchen scissors or garden shears.
Child safety lock prices generally range from $3 to $20. Some options include:
- Cabinet and drawer latches: A latch automatically locks the cabinet or drawer when it closes. It attaches easily to the inside of most drawers and cabinets with screws. Pressing a tab releases the cabinet or drawer from the catch. But if your children see you unlock it enough times, they may figure out how to do it themselves.
- Cabinet flex locks: A flex lock attaches to cabinet handles or knobs to keep the drawer or cabinet door closed. A flexible tab and triple touch release features give added protection.
- Magnetic locks: A magnetic lock keeps doors and drawers shut and requires a key to open them. This lock is more difficult to install, and you’ll need to keep an extra key.
You can find these locks and other styles at any store with a baby section. Hardware and home improvement stores sell them as well, or you can order them online.
4. Avoid cords on blinds and drapes
Giuliano says blind cords pose a significant strangulation risk. “When they dangle, they can be enticing to a child — and they often dangle right at their hand and eye level.” To childproof your window treatments, choose blinds that:
- Don’t have cords.Have retractable cords.Have devices you can wrap the cords around to prevent them from dangling.
5. Anchor furniture
Don’t throw away those L-shaped brackets that come with disassembled furniture. If you have a little explorer on the loose (or plan to have one), you should anchor tall and narrow furniture pieces to the wall.
“Children, if they’re reaching up high, can pull furniture down on themselves. We see serious injuries and even fatalities from that,” warns Dr. Giuliano. “Even if children can’t reach the highest part of the furniture, they can climb up by stepping on something next to it or pulling out lower drawers and stepping on those.”
6. Beware of chests
While most child-unfriendly chests are no longer sold in furniture stores, you can still unwittingly buy one secondhand. “They can cause small injuries, such as pinched fingers or arms. They can also lead to more significant injuries like a fracture,” says Dr. Giuliano. “But the biggest concern is a child climbing inside the chest. The lid could close on top of them and cause suffocation.”
7. Lock your windows
Windows are a fall risk, especially if your child can stick their entire head out of them. “Screens may keep bugs out, but they won’t keep children in. They’re too flimsy for a child who’s using a bit of force,” notes Dr. Giuliano. “If the windows are lower, make sure they are locked and secured. And be careful of windows that raise up. They could slide and injure a child standing underneath them.”
To childproof your windows:
- Make sure windows can’t be opened wide enough for a child to crawl through.Open windows from the top if possible.If you use key-based window locks, keep the key nearby to have windows accessible during an emergency.Do not place furniture in front of a window. Children can climb up onto it and crawl through.Repair broken or damaged windows right away. If you can’t, board them up.
Some window locking options include:
- Window guards: A window guard has horizontal bars and side posts that go inside the window frame. The bars can withstand up to 150 pounds of pressure. In emergencies, you can quickly remove them by pressing a quick-release button. Window guards can cost around $50 for a single window treatment.
- Window wedges: Wedges are like “door stoppers” for windows. You can position them anywhere along the edge of the top window of a double-hung window or sliding window. The window then can only be opened to that height or width. This locking device requires no tools for installation and uses a simple adhesive to mount. Window wedges cost around $3 for a two-pack.
- Super Stoppers: This device is a 1.25-inch by 2-inch three-tiered wedge positioned inside of a large flexible suction cup. You press the suction cup in place on the top window of a double-hung window or sliding window. Doing so allows the bottom window or other sliding window to be opened only to the point of the Super Stopper. Super Stoppers are about $7 for a single stopper.
Window locking devices are available at stores with a baby section or home improvement and hardware stores. You can also purchase them online.
8. Keep your child safe around water
If you live near water, such as a swimming pool, lake or creek, it’s important to prevent your small child from accessing that water without you.
“Have a barrier between the rear exit of the home and the body of water. If you have a pool, get a fence that goes around the entire perimeter,” says Dr. Giuliano.
“And think about buckets, too,” she says. “Even if there is less than a foot of water or cleaning chemicals in a bucket, children, especially toddlers, can drown in it. They’re very curious and can peer over the edge and tip over. If they’re caught with their head down and feet up, a tragedy can happen within minutes.”
9. Be mindful about where you store medications
“Don’t just think about narcotics and abusable types of medication. Keep a close eye on everyday medicines, too. Even over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen can be harmful,” notes Dr. Giuliano. “Keep only small amounts accessible to the whole family. Store them in a safe, locked-in area, even if children are older.”
“It’s also common for people to keep medications inside purses. So whether it’s your purse or a visitor’s, keep it out of reach of young children.”
Childproofing: the tween years
Childproofing doesn’t end just because your kids are finally out of the put-everything-in-my-mouth stage. Dr. Giuliano recommends maintaining vigilance in these three areas:
- Match and lighter storage: “These items can be enticing and interesting to kids, but they pose a risk when your child doesn’t know how to properly use them.”
- Prescription and over-the-counter drug access: “If a child likes the way a medicine tastes and has access to it, they may see it as candy instead of medication. I would also put chewable vitamins into this category.”
- Water safety: Be wary about water safety until your child is a proficient swimmer. “No child under age 10 should be swimming without supervision. And people over the age of 10 should always swim with a buddy. If a child becomes injured or unconscious, it could be catastrophic if nobody’s there to witness it.”
Childproofing: The teenage years
And just when you thought you were out of the woods, Dr. Giuliano says the teen years require different safety measures. “Teenagers sometimes engage in risk-taking behaviors or want to experiment with substances. Or potentially even more tragic, a teenager may be experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts. Make sure they don’t have access to potentially harmful substances.”
Be mindful about where you store:
- Alcohol.Firearms.Prescription drugs.
We can’t keep our kids covered in bubble wrap, safe from all harm. But by combining a little planning, some child locks and a lot of common sense, we can prevent a whole lot of injuries and accidents.