How to Make Your New Home Safe for Babies & Toddlers
One of the leading causes of children under three visiting the emergency room each year is an injury at home. With this in mind, it makes sense for households with small children to make their residence as safe as possible, especially for families with little ones and those expecting.
Below we explore the need to childproof a home, where the most significant hazards within a house lie, plus provide a cheat sheet, resources, and answers to frequently asked questions.
5 Reasons to Childproof for Babies & Toddlers
You're a responsible parent and proactive in caring for your children. Simply reading this article proves that you're committed to creating a safe environment for your family.
Here are some compelling statistics that highlight the need to make a home as safe as it can be:
"Suffocation is the #1 cause of accidental death in children under four. "
- Deborah Hersman, former National Safety Council President and CEO
Preventable injuries most often kill children in the United States. As per the CDC, there are approximately 7,000 children (under 19) deaths in 2019, which equates to around 20 deaths per day.
Thankfully, this number is down significantly from the early 2000s, when there were 12,000 deaths per year for several years.
According to a Media Planet article by former National Safety Council President and CEO Deborah Hersman, suffocation is the number one cause of accidental death in children under four.
According to a SafeHome.org survey, 15 percent of parents started childproofing their houses when pregnant. Fifty-five (55) percent wait until their kids are infants and toddlers before childproofing their home.
SafeHome.org's study also revealed that homes with fewer childproofing measures are more likely to have seriously injured children who need emergency medical treatment.
Moreover, a third of parents believed that their child's injury would have been prevented if they had adopted more stringent childproofing measures.
The same study showed that fifty (50) percent of parents claimed to be as cautious with their second child as they were with their first. Twenty (20) percent indicated they were less diligent with their second or third baby.
9 Household Dangers, Where They Lie & Prevention
Children are naturally curious and imaginative. They see a jungle gym where you see a coffee table. They see a fort where you see sofa cushions. They may find themselves in hazardous circumstances as a result of their curiosity.
Below is a comprehensive list of the actions you can take to safeguard children in your home.
For more information, tips, and advice on the items listed below, please visit KidsHealth's 'Childproofing and Preventing Household Accidents' article.
#1 How to Prevent Falling, Climbing & Grabbing
At about the age of two, children can move about, fall over, and get into trouble in one way or another.
Additionally, toddlers will attempt climbing but lack the skills to avoid specific hazards. They'll use drawers and bureaus as jungle gyms, pull themselves up using table legs, and grab whatever they can find.
Here's what to look out for:
Don't give a baby or young child a walker. Every year, U.S. hospital emergency rooms treat thousands of injuries to children under 15 months that walkers cause. Babies in walkers can bump into things, roll into stoves and pools, make contact with heaters or roll downstairs. Try a stationary activity saucer instead of a mobile walking unit.
Avoid relying only on window screens to protect your children from slipping out of the house. Make sure your toddler doesn't fall through open windows by opening the windows from the top. Window guards should be childproof but straightforward for adults to open in the event of a fire.
Prevent youngsters from climbing onto window sills by moving items away from windows.
A small child should never be left alone near any stairway, even one with a gate. A baby may get a foothold on the gate and plummet down at the very top of the stairs. To keep your infant from reaching the top of the stairs, install a safety gate at your child's room entrance.
Toys, shoes, and other debris should not be allowed to accumulate on stairwells.
If your child can fit through the stairway rails in your home, they should be protected.
To provide a safer environment, don't buy pressure-mounted gates as they aren't as reliable as hardware-mounted ones. Avoid accordion gates, too, as small kids are known to get trapped in them.
Walk through the rooms your toddler has access to, and assess every heavy piece of furniture. Everything heavy that can tip over should be securely anchored to the wall. This includes bookshelves, entertainment centers, freestanding coat racks, end tables, ovens, refrigerators and dishwashers.
Newborns can suffocate or be smothered because they are unable to elevate their heads properly. Young children are better at controlling their heads but still face risks, especially in certain car seats, strollers, and bathing tubs. Avoid adding additional accessories to these items for more safety.
Never allow your infant to sleep in the car seat when not in a vehicle.
When laying down to sleep, place your newborn on their back on a firm mattress. Never set a baby on a blanket, fluffy rug, soft bed, or plastic-covered mattress. Never place a baby on a sofa, adult bed, or other soft surfaces to sleep.
Do not place any cushions, blankets, stuffed animals, or soft objects in your child's crib and don't use crib bumpers.
Ensure your child's crib mattress is the correct size and fits the sleeping area snugly. A baby can't become pinned between the bed and the side of the crib if there's a gap.
Ensure your baby's crib sheet is securely fastened to the mattress to prevent it from slipping off and potentially entangling your child's head. To keep sheets in place, crib sheet holders are available.
Sharing a bed with adults or children is not recommended for infants. Smothering is more likely to occur when two people share a bed.
Tie knots in plastic dry-cleaning and shopping bags before throwing them away.
Keep all store-bought garbage bags and Ziploc bags out of reach.
Deflated balloons should be kept out of children's reach. Clean up and dispose of the bits of rubber from popped balloons as quickly as possible.
You can't protect your kids from getting into dangerous scenarios all the time, but these easy to implement safety practices will help your children avoid being burned, getting shocked, and starting a house fire.
Make sure you have smoke alarms in every room and on every floor of your house to ensure the entire house is alerted to a fire. The batteries should be replaced frequently, usually twice a year. You should test them at least once a month. Smoke alarms that are more than a decade old should be replaced.
In case of a fire, plan two routes out of the home. Be sure to remind your family not to grab anything and decide on a family meeting spot outside. Practice your family's fire escape strategy and quiz children on what to do.
If a fire breaks out in your multistory house, having an extra ladder upstairs is a good idea if the stairs are blocked and it's needed to get out safely.
Keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and ensure anyone old enough to cook knows how to use it properly.
Keep candles, lighters, matches, and other combustibles out of children's reach (hidden away).
Keep children several feet away from fireplaces and wood-burning stoves. Additionally, radiators and electric baseboard heaters must be guarded against children's reach.
Teach your children never to throw anything into a burning fireplace and to stay clear of the spark screen. There are larger child gates on the market that are designed to keep kids away from fireplaces.
Ensure that all of your chimneys are frequently cleaned to prevent a chimney fire.
Check that your child's sleepwear is labeled as flame retardant before purchasing it (either polyester or treated cotton). Ensure sleepwear isn't too loose.
Check that any lamps or nightlights you use don't come in contact with any bedding, clothes or drapes.
At a minimum, keep a distance of three feet between electric space heaters and any potentially explosive materials.
If you're using a room vaporizer, go with a cool mist humidifier instead of a hot-steam unit to eliminate one more heat source.
Water at 140 degrees Fahrenheit will scald skin very quickly. Lower the setting on your hot water heater to 120 degrees or lower. Remember that an anti-scald device can be fitted if you don't have control over the water temperature (some rentals, for example).
Never place your toddler directly into the bath before testing the temperature of the water with your elbow or the inside of your wrist.
As a safety precaution, keep children away from the tub's faucets and fittings, so they won't accidentally turn on the hot water.
Make sure the bathroom's circuit breakers are grounded and that GFCI outlets are installed.
Make sure older kids in the house use hair dryers and curling irons with extreme caution around water. After each usage, unplug electrical devices in the bathroom and, when cooled down, store them in an area that is out of the reach of smaller kids.
Kitchen & Dining Room
Kids should not be permitted to play in the kitchen at all, but especially anywhere near the oven or stove top.
Baby walkers and movable activity center toys should be kept out of the kitchen at all times.
Make sure you know where your toddler is if you have to walk with hot liquids in the kitchen, such as a pot of boiling water you intend to strain.
Every time you cook, get used to turning the pot handles toward the rear of the stove to prevent a small child from reaching for them. This is a useful tip for meddlesome puppies too.
Installing a stove lock and locking burner knobs is an extra layer of protection. Anchoring an oven/stove unit to the wall will prevent tipping forward.
Microwaves are not safe for warming infant bottles, as breast milk or formula will burn a baby's mouth if it heats unevenly and forms pockets of hot liquid.
Tablecloths and place mats should be avoided to prevent a hot drink or dish being knocked over if a toddler pulls on them.
When not in use, make sure all kitchen equipment is unplugged and all wires are out of the way.
When storing cleaning supplies, install locks on the cabinets to prevent your child getting into them. Many household chemicals have the potential to cause burns. Cleaning supplies should never be stored in containers they were not originally purchased in.
Electrical Equipment & Appliances
All electrical outlets should have child-safety coverings.
Discard appliances and equipment with frayed or worn-out cables and damaged extension cords.
Use a twist knot or zip ties to secure surplus wiring from lamps or other electrical appliances to avoid choking hazards and pets chewing through wires. There are spools you can buy that are specifically intended to conceal extra cordage.
Small hands can access the backs of TVs and other electrical appliances if they're positioned within arm's reach. TVs should be mounted on the wall, if possible, and other appliances should be inspected for tiny-hand access areas.
Check for indicators of wear and tear on electrical gadgets on a regular basis. Any item that sparks, feels hot, or smells strange should be thrown away or repaired immediately.
Regularly inspect electronic toys for deterioration and replace the batteries immediately if leakage is found.
Every time you use your clothes dryer, remove the lint that has built up in the vent.
Don't run cables beneath carpet or rugs.
Electrical outlets and surge protectors should never be overloaded.
Outdoors & Vehicles
Playground equipment should be used with caution, as equipment on a warm summer's afternoon can get extremely hot.
When not in use, keep your child's car seat or stroller out of the direct sunlight to prevent burns from hot vinyl or metal.
When heading outdoors, always put sunscreen on small children. SPF 15 is the minimum, while anything over 50 offers the best protection. Make sure to reapply sunscreen every two hours or more, especially if you're in and out of water.
Keep infants less than six months out of direct sunlight entirely.
#4 How to Prevent Choking
Babies and young children learn a lot about the world by tasting things. The most common choking hazards include food, toys, coins, and other tiny objects that easily become lodged in the windpipe.
Keep in mind the windpipe can be obstructed by hard and smooth foods. Children under the age of four should not be given nuts, sunflower seeds, watermelon, pitted cherries, carrots, peas, celery, popcorn, hard candy, apples or pears.
You should either chop up or avoid these soft foods, including cheese cubes, hot dogs, grapes, and caramel.
Encourage children to eat in a seated position and to chew their food thoroughly before swallowing.
Teach your kids from a young age not to laugh or talk with food in their mouths.
During parties and holiday events, keep an eye out for bowls of nuts or candy that are easy for children to grasp or that have dropped on the floor.
Keep gum, sweets, and lollipops away from kids, especially if they're running around.
Adults should educate older children, who may not be aware of the dangers of feeding certain foods to younger siblings.
Toys & Small Objects
While domestic toy manufacturers are held to high standards in regard to choking hazards, many toys given to children are manufactured in China, where regulations are not as strict. Keep an eye out for these items:
- Birthday balloons
- Toys and dolls with small parts and accessories
- Safety pins
- Marbles and ball bearings
- Nails, bolts, and screws
- Broken crayons
- Jewelry (earrings, rings, pins, etc.)
- Small magnets
- Small bottle caps
#5 How to Prevent Strangulation & Entrapment
Strangulation and entrapment of the head and limbs may occur in surprising ways for children in a typical household. To keep your toddler safe, it's important to be aware of the dangers and where they exist.
Infants should never wear necklaces or headbands.
Avoid dressing your young child in clothes with drawstrings, which can get caught when they're playing or sleeping. Check for and remove any strings in your child's hoodies, jackets, shirts, mittens, shoes and pants.
Remove your baby's bib before he or she goes down for a nap.
Pacifiers should not be tied around your baby's neck or fastened to their clothes with a long piece of thread or ribbon.
You should keep your baby's reach away from overhead mobiles and remove any strings from other toys.
Hanging diaper bags or handbags on cribs might be dangerous.
Keep the child's bed or crib away from any window treatments like blinds or drapes.
Avoid toy chests that have hinged lids.
Cutouts in the headboard or footboard of the crib should not be used.
Avoid putting newborns to sleep on sofas or adult beds due to risk of being entrapped.
Bumper pads in cribs are known to be able to pin children against the crib's siding.
It's important to make sure the crib's slats are no more than 2.5 inches apart, as a child's head may be caught in anything that's much wider.
Electrical wires, phone chargers, and other cables should not be hanging or accessible in any way.
Check to make sure your baby gates aren't able to close on your child's head.
Cut off the ends of any window blind or curtain cords and apply safety tassels to keep them from dangling.
Keep an eye on your child at all times when in a stroller. Babies' heads might become awkwardly positioned or caught if they slip down too far.
#6 How to Prevent Poisoning
According to Poison Control, 99.2% of poison exposures are unintentional in kids under six and that there are 38 exposures for every 1,000 children (under six). These are startling figures, so make sure your home addresses the following.
Prescription and over-the-counter medications should be kept in a cabinet with a safety latch. Locking the cabinet is critical to prevent children from getting access to highly dangerous medication if, for example, they climb up on a countertop or chair.
All purses and bags, where medication is sometimes kept, should be out of the reach of children at all times.
Do not store medications in anything other than the original, child-resistant containers they came in. Keep in mind that your youngster may be able to get drugs out of a medical bottle or container. Packaging that is child-resistant does not imply that it is childproof.
Never prepare or administer medication to your child in the dark. It's possible that you're giving them the incorrect dose or even the incorrect medication.
It's best to use upper cabinets to store hazardous liquids and aerosols. Make sure all cabinets, housing cleaning or other chemicals, have safety locks.
As mentioned previously, all chemical cleansers should be stored in their original containers.
If you have children in the home and are cleaning or using household chemicals, keep a close eye on spray bottles, cloths and buckets.
Keep roach powder and rat poison out of the kitchen and bathrooms. Furniture and mattresses should not be sprayed with insecticides.
Supplies for the washing machine and dishwasher should be hidden away in a lockable cupboard. In comparison to other detergents, laundry and dishwasher pods provide a greater risk. Instead of using pods, consider using a liquid or powder detergent if you have children under six.
Securely store automotive fluids and gardening pesticides, such as antifreeze, windshield washer fluid and weedkiller, out of sight and out of harm's way in a garage or storage shed. Make sure you follow the directions on the packaging on how to keep the product stored.
Keep alcoholic beverages out of the reach of children and keep a close eye on visitors' beverages during gatherings. After the celebration, make sure there aren't any leftover beverages sitting around.
Store alcohol spirits out of the reach of children in a locked cabinet.
The following household items contain alcohol and should be kept out of the reach of children: hand soap, perfume and cologne, culinary ingredients (vanilla and almond extract), as well as mouthwash.
Keep an eye out for toys that have been recalled due to the presence of lead paint. The CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) maintains a list of product recalls that you can sign up for to get email alerts.
Keep youngsters away from cosmetics and other personal care products. Nail polish and nail polish remover should be used with extreme caution, since they can easily irritate children's skin and eyes.
Identify potentially dangerous plants in and around your property and regularly remind younger kids not to consume any plants they discover in your home or backyard, especially wild mushrooms, weeds, leaves, flowers, twigs and shrubs.
#7 How to Prevent Drowning
If you have a baby or a toddler, water safety is of the utmost importance. Drowning can occur in less than one inch of water in a matter of seconds. Because of this, baths, pools, hot tubs and even cleaning buckets pose a serious danger.
Take extra caution when bathing a newborn. Don't depend on an older sibling to monitor the infant when you have to answer the phone or go to the front door.
Never leave a bathtub, bucket, or any other liquid-filled container unattended.
A bathtub seat or support ring should never be used without the continual supervision of an adult. There is a risk of a seat flipping over or a child falling into the water while sitting in it.
Keep the bathroom doors closed at all times and buy toilet lid locks for every unit in the house.
If you have a pool, be sure to secure it with a self-closing and self-latching gate, as well as an opening mechanism that is out of a child's reach.
Know that adding a pool alarm or cover isn't a replacement for fence and adult supervision, but it can add an extra layer of defense.
Once your kids are done swimming, remove toys that may be left in the pool to prevent toddlers from being attracted to them.
For many people, inflatable flotation devices provide a sense of security when their children are swimming, but they can just as easily trap a small child upside down in the water. Floaties should never be used as a replacement for adult supervision.
If you bought a child's plastic wading pool, dump the water out after every use.
When not in use, remove the ladder from an above-ground pool.
Learn CPR and know the protocol, inside and out, for when someone is drowning or has appeared to have drowned and is no longer breathing.
The following are some key measures that may be taken to safeguard children from injuries caused by sharp items found in the home.
Knives, forks, scissors, and any other cutting instruments should be stored in a drawer equipped with a safety lock.
Put items made of glass high up in cabinets that are out of reach of smaller children.
Keep bladed kitchen equipment, such as blenders and food processors, securely stored away when not in use.
When loading and unloading the dishwasher, make sure that infants and young children are kept a safe distance away. This will prevent them from reaching into the dishwasher and grabbing sharp utensils or glassware that might shatter. Do not place knives, forks, and other sharp utensils facing upward when loading the dishwasher. When not in use, a dishwasher lock should be used.
Keep the trash can in the kitchen hidden behind a cabinet door that has a childproof lock and also keep the recyclable bin, that may contain glass and metals, out of reach.
Check to see that the mirrors are properly fastened to the wall.
If you shave with a razor, store it in a cabinet in the bathroom that has a lock on it and, likewise, store replacement blades in a secure spot.
Nail scissors and any other personal or grooming items that are sharp should be kept out of reach.
Keep all of your tools for gardening, automotive and household repairs, and yard work out of reach or secure them in a storage area that has a lock.
Check the swing set and any outdoor play equipment for corrosion, splinters and sharp edges and make sure any are removed.
#9 How to Prevent Firearm Injuries
Every year, dozens of children die due to unintentional shootings and even more are injured. If you own a gun and have children of any age in your home, you must do everything you can to protect them.
If you own a firearm and keep it in your house, always store it in a cabinet, safe, gun vault or storage container that can't be accessed by kids. Keys and combinations should be kept hidden.
Avoid storing bullets and firearms together.
Trigger locks and other gun locking devices will render the weapon non-fireable, which could prevent a tragic accident.
Cheat Sheet: 30 Common Childproofing Mistakes to Avoid
Parents work tirelessly to keep their children safe and while most are aware of the proper ways to secure electrical outlets, install safety gates and keep dangerous products like dishwashing pods and other chemicals out of the reach of toddlers, the dangers don't stop there.
Even the most cautious parents overlook something. According to a University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) study, first-time mothers find it hard to identify risks.
When first-time mothers of children between 12 and 36 months of age were shown a model house and asked to identify possible risks, they could point out about half.
The following list is provided by GreenActiveFamily. Please view their article, '30 Child Proofing Mistakes Even The Safest Parents Can Make' for more in depth explanations and advice on each item below.
- Putting down hot beverages anywhere your child may get a hold of them.
- Handles of pots and pans facing outward when cooking.
- Poor and unsafe food prep standards.
- Giving choking hazard foods to your infant.
- Emptying your pockets and leaving the contents accessible.
- Leaving your purse or wallet on the ground.
- Allowing your infant to play with toys intended for an older youngster.
- Failure to inspect toys for mold.
- Failure to check toys for damage, wear or toxic materials.
- Pacifiers not being replaced often enough.
- Allowing small children to play with balloons.
- Using dangerous baby equipment.
- Not checking recall lists while accepting hand-me-downs or purchasing used.
- Failure to take lead poisoning seriously enough.
- Not promptly draining the water after a bath.
- Not lowering the temperature of your home's hot water heater (as mentioned above, keep the max temp to 120 degrees Fahrenheit).
- Failure to install toilet seat locks.
- Allowing the home to get too dusty.
- Not putting audio alarms/alerts on doors.
- Failure to secure your pet door.
- Leaving food and water dishes for pets on the floor.
- Batteries are not taken seriously enough as a danger.
- Attempting to make the crib more comfortable.
- Pillow and blanket introduction at the wrong age.
- Leaving electrical wires near the baby's crib.
- Not anchoring furniture to the wall.
- Making use of tablecloths.
- Leaving pull cords from your window blinds dangling.
- Not checking safety equipment as frequently as you should.
- Believing that a childproofed house is secure - and hence reducing diligence.
Emergency Preparation Checklist for Parents
Although you can make your home safer, the most crucial precaution is to always keep an eye on small children. Even if your house is childproofed, infants and toddlers may fall, rush toward a hot stove or put a dangerous object in their mouths in a matter of seconds.
Your vigilance and preparation are the greatest protection for your youngster; thus, being ready is essential.
If you have children or are expecting a child, you should:
- Learn the Heimlich technique for babies and toddlers, plus cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
- Have the following emergency numbers in your phone and be sure caregivers have access to them:
- Poison Control - 1-800-222-1222;
- Doctor's phone number;
- Parent's cell and work numbers;
- Neighbor's and relative's number (if someone is needed to watch siblings, pets, etc.).
- Have a first-aid kit on hand and be sure that you understand how the kit's supplies are used properly.
- Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home, check the batteries regularly and have an escape plan.
As an expecting or new parent, you probably have many questions on how to make your child's environment safer. Below, we've answered several of the most common questions about home safety and children.
- At what age should I begin childproofing my home?
It's not a bad idea to start babyproofing at around three months before your due date, since many preparations can take some time. To ensure that your house is safe enough for a baby on the go, once they begin to crawl (between the ages of six and ten months), you'll need to do a second babyproofing sweep.
- What equipment and gear is needed to childproof my house?
Here's a list of some standard equipment parents will want to buy to make their homes safer for young kids.
- Anchors to prevent appliances and furniture from falling over, including TVs and stoves.
- Corner and edge bumpers for coffee tables, countertops and other sharp corners.
- Safety gates to keep children out of potentially dangerous rooms and from going up and down stairs.
- Cabinet locks and door knob coverings.
- Cordless window blinds and drapes to prevent strangulation.
- How much does it cost to toddler-proof a house?
According to a SafeWise study, the cost of babyproofing a home with two bedrooms ranges anywhere from $252 to $780; however, the actual price may be much more based on the specific risks within your home.
Price of childproofing a two-bedroom house:
- Baby-proofing general supplies range from $139 to $554;
- Baby-proofing for electrical hazards can cost between $56 and $169;
- Baby-proofing a bathroom will cost at least $57;