8 Surprising Child Proofing Tips

My son is two years old now, but my wife and I started child proofing our home before he could even roll over.

We read articles on the Internet, purchased all kinds of fancy gadgets, and even hired a professional company to come evaluate our home and install some equipment (this costs a fortune, by the way.)

Here are some surprising things I learned from the process, as well as the reality of having a tiny human running around our place.

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First, a safety note. This is your family’s safety we’re talking about. You shouldn’t get all your info from a web article (even mine). Read up, do your research, and hire a pro if you’re unsure. And see tip #8 below; it’s probably the most vital one!

1. Watch for ladders

You see a lovely set of vertical drawers. Your toddler sees a ladder to a fascinating counter top. Credit: Gado Images.

For a toddler, anything can become a ladder. Our pediatrician told us the story of a parent who came downstairs to find their 18 month old on top of the refrigerator. Their kid had opened kitchen drawers, climbed up those, and then used the fridge handle itself to make it all the way to the top, like a tiny mountain climber summiting Everest.

Kids love to climb, and they love to find creative solutions to the problem of not having a ladder. When you’re child proofing, make sure to think of things which could become a ladder, especially in dangerous areas. Drawers are a great example, both in the kitchen (especially when multiple drawers are stacked on top of each other), or on a dresser.

Large items can become ladders, too. Light chairs are easy to drag around and use for climbing. Ditto for laundry hampers. And if you have a folding step-stool beside your fridge to reach high items in the kitchen, count on it being removed, unfolded, and used to access the counters when you turn away.

2. Some rooms just aren’t worth it

With water heaters, furnaces, and all manner of other hazards, childproofing a garage or basement may be a losing battle. Credit: Gado Images

When you start child proofing, you assume that there are solutions for every part of your home. But as you get farther along in the process, you realize that there are certain rooms that will never be child safe.

A home office, for example, is minefield of tempting cords, scissors, toner cartridges, clicky staplers, etc that by definition are going to be out and used all the time. And a garage has so many hazards that it’s impossible to even list them all.

The solution with these spaces is to close them off with a door gate, and then create a safe “space within a space” inside the room. For the home office, put an interior gate on the door, so no one wanders in there unsupervised. Then put a pack n play, bouncer, or other designated safe place in the room, where your child can hang out or doze while you’re getting things done.

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Essentially, you’re admitting defeat on the concept of making the space fully child safe. But you’re also creating a designed safe space, so you can still use the room with your kid.

3. “Outdoors” really means indoors

Outdoor gates are often sturdier, and are great for mission-critical places indoors. Credit: Gado Images.

In choosing products like gates, you’ll see some labeled as “outdoors” and some as “indoors.” What outdoors usually actually means in this context is “uglier but stronger.”

Outdoor gates have to stand up to the elements, be installed in concrete walls, and otherwise put up with lots more abuse than gates designed for indoor use. This means they’re usually far more rugged and functional looking, but also stronger.

This makes outdoor gates and products a good choice for mission-critical indoor places. Our pro company installed “outdoor” metal gates at the top and bottom of our stairs. They’re super strong, and the lock is so robust that even most Big People struggle with it.

They’re not as sleek and unobtrusive as the indoor models on our interior doors, but they’ve held up to years of being opened and closed 20+ times per day. If you want something really strong and rugged, consider an outdoor model, even for an indoor space.

4. All water is dangerous

Any open container of water can be a risk. Credit: Gado Images.

You might think that a few inches of standing water in a bird bath or fountain is safe. Or that your toilet can’t possibly pose a threat. But on both counts, you’d be wrong.

Any kind of standing water can be a hazard for young children. It’s compelling and fun to splash in, but if they face-plant into it and can’t right themselves, it’s a major risk.

Some people put locks on all their bathroom fixtures, but that seems really inconvenient. After a few weeks, you’re probably going to start leaving the locks open. And when you have people over, you’re going to spend an inordinate amount of time showing them how to unlock your toilet.

Instead, one option is to place interior gates on the bathroom doors. This allows you to block off the whole space, and make sure that you kid only uses it when they’re supervised. Likewise, drain or remove fountains outdoors (or encircle them with a big plastic fence), and get rid of any interior fountains or containers with standing water.

5. Child-proofing your balcony might make it less safe

Adding barriers to a balcony might not be the safest step. Credit: Gado Images.

One of our first orders to business was to child proof a scary balcony on the second floor of our home. We assumed this would include putting on Plexiglass or something else to block the holes.

The pro company explained that this is actually not the best approach. Since our house was built in the 1990s, it follows modern building codes, which dictate the proper spacing between pillars on a balcony. These codes exist for a reason, and they ensure that pillars are spaced close enough (4 inches or less, usually) that a toddler can’t easily squeeze through.

You can add all manner of products to cover these gaps even more, but these can actually create another risk. By attaching a big screen or Plexiglass panel to your balcony, you might be inadvertently creating a step which your child could use to climb up and over the railing. For that reason, the company told us that it’s often better to avoid adding extra paneling to a balcony, and to focus instead on other ways to make is safer.

The most important way is to avoid placing anything on or near your balcony. Never put a chair, couch, table, desk, or anything else against your balcony railing — again, these can easily provide a way for your child to climb up and over. Balconies should be totally sparse, reducing the risk of a climb-over, and also making them a less compelling place to hang out and play.

The exception here is with old homes. If your home isn’t to code and the pillars on your balcony are spaced too far apart, you’ll definitely want to work with a pro company to install paneling or a net. Expect to pay a fortune for this — around $900 for a small balcony. But consider it an important investment — a pro company can install the proper safety measures while avoiding inadvertently adding steps.

And with balconies especially (and with very young kids), follow my last point below!

6. Child proofing works great for your dog, too

Child gates work great for your dog. Credit: Gado Images.

If you have a family dog, you’re probably used to working hard to keep them out of certain areas of your house or yard. Maybe you’ve even used doggy gates to try and contain them.

Doggy gates are like child gates, but much lower quality. They tend to fall over more easily, and don’t hold up well over time. Ultimately, gate companies aren’t too concerned if your dog escapes the kitchen. But they’re very concerned if your child makes it past the product and into a dangerous area.

This difference shows up in the quality of the gates they produce, even at a similar price point. When you install child proofing measures, you might find that they double as the dog-containment system you always wished you had.

Even our crafty Bichon Frises haven’t figured out how to subvert a good interior child gate or backyard child proofing fence.

8. There’s no substitute for supervision

Ultimately, here’s the most important point. The term “child proof” is itself a misnomer. To paraphrase the Matrix, “Any system can be hacked. It’s only a matter of time.”

Toddlers are like ultra-smart, highly motivated world-hackers. They love a challenge, crave repetition, and know that off-limits places often contain the best stuff. That makes them the ideal candidates for defeating child proofing measures, no matter how sophisticated.

For that reason, don’t think of child proofing as a substitute for supervision. At best, child proofing buys you the ability to turn your back for a moment without finding all your pots and pans arranged in a playful jumble on the floor, or your car keys in the toilet. And it buys you a certain level of protection from obvious threats, like a steep staircase or a tippy dresser.

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In the end, though, child proofing just reduces risks — it doesn’t eliminate them. No gadget, lock, or gate is a substitute for the supervision of an equally smart and motivated human — yup, that’s you!

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