Preventing a child from getting into trouble around the house takes more than just moving the poisons out from underneath the sink (even though this is a good idea). It requires the same kind of creativity and inventiveness that children use to get into trouble in the first place.
To a toddler, opening cabinet doors, climbing up and down stairs, and playing with things in the toilet is very exciting. Why? Because it requires a certain amount of dexterity and often results in finding something that is not always accessible. To a child, what's not in plain view or familiar, is interesting.
To help prevent a toddler from getting hurt while "looking for trouble" is to childproof. The key to effective childproofing is outsmarting an accident-prone toddler. Simply putting locks on everything in a home is not enough. Parents/carers must replace dangerous things in their homes with child safe items in order to satisfy their child's curiosity. Taking things away from a child will just frustrate him or her.
The first step in childproofing a home is always to identify the danger zones. Every house has a number of very predictable danger zones. They include:
- Kitchens (knives, chemicals, electrical equipment)
- Bathrooms (toilets, medicines, poisons, razors, slippery objects)
- Staircases (open rail banisters, sharp objects, heights)
- Living Rooms (electrical outlets, lamps, bookcases, VCRs, stereos)
- Bedrooms (dressers, lamps)
Once the danger zones have been identified, they should all be childproofed. This means reducing the chance of injury to a child by eliminating the danger zone. In kitchens for example, it means removing all chemicals, placing latches and locks on all cabinets, pantry doors, appliances, etc. that a child should not have access to.
An important part of childproofing that most parents overlook is not removing everything intriguing from your home.
Children have accidents because they are curious. Childproofing reduces the obvious dangers around a home, but it does not eliminate a child's curiosity. Be careful not to over childproof your home and inhibit your child's curiosity; frequently, this will drive a child to find things in your home that even you have not thought of - or cannot figure out - how to childproof.
Guidelines for childproofing your home
- Have one drawer or cabinet that your child can call his or her own. Place his or her favourite toys, stuffed animals or books in these hiding places. This way, when you are in this room with your child, he or she has something to do. In this case, it will be safe.
- For bathrooms, don't overlook some very serious danger zones. Medicine cabinets (especially if they are near the ground) should be secured with cabinet latches. Medicines themselves should be moved to another location in your home that a child cannot reach. While latches are very effective in preventing access to cabinets, they are not foolproof. In order to help keep your child occupied and out of trouble when you are in the bathroom, try filling up a lunch box or old shoebox with some baby-safe toys. This way, while you are getting ready, your child has something to do, too. In addition to not being able to get into your cabinets, you will be surprised how special your child will feel with his/her own box of 'toiletries.'
- In kitchens, remove all sharp edges and heavy objects from your child's reach, and secure all cabinets, closets and drawers with safety latches. Also, make sure that your child cannot access any appliance such as an oven, refrigerator or dishwasher. If he or she ever got stuck inside one of these appliances, he or she could suffocate. Because chances are great that you will spend a lot of time in the kitchen with your child, reserve one drawer for your child and keep light plastic utensils in it so your child can pretend he or she is cooking as well. Select a drawer or cabinet that is close to the ground so your child can help him or herself. This will be a place that is easily accessible and doesn't require an adult's help to access.
- Electrical outlets fascinate children and represent one of the greatest threats to their personal safety. One shock from a household outlet is enough to kill a young child. The utmost precaution must be taken to secure electrical outlets. However, parents must take special precautions to get outlet covers that totally restrict a child from having access to the outlet itself. Many commercially available products are not only inadequate, they present another danger to children; they are small objects that can be removed from the outlet and swallowed. The best type of outlet cover has a trap-door mechanism that closes when a plug is removed and cannot be penetrated by a child. Remember, once a child removes the plug, he or she must not be able to have access to the outlet. If he or she does, then this must be childproofed immediately.
- Staircases attract all ages of children from those who are not as yet walking, to older children who love to run up and down the entire flight. The most important thing you can do to make staircases safer for young children is to make sure that they do not have free access up and down, and that no part of a child's body can fit through the banister spindles. Place safety gates at the bottom and top of the stairs. Permanently secure these to the walls. Pressure gates are not intended for use near staircases. For banister spindles that are more than 10cm apart, clear acrylic is recommended for securing in front of the banister to prevent a child from falling through the spindles.
- From couches that kids can bounce on to televisions and other electronic equipment that turns on and off, living rooms are a veritable playground for children of all ages. Childproofing a living room should consist of eliminating the dangers of plants, electrical cords, freestanding lamps, easily breakable glass, fireplace utensils, etc. Kids have a fascination for remote control devices used with many televisions and stereos. Because these are expensive to replace if your child plays with them regularly, stop at a neighbourhood television repair store to see if they have any broken remote controls that you can give to your child as his or her own.
- While bedrooms are often considered safe by many parents, you must take special precautions to childproof closets, drawers, windows, wires and electrical outlets. Most often, children will hurt themselves by climbing on dressers, finding sharp and digestible objects on the floors of closets, and having fingers or toes caught in doors.
Following the guidelines above, your home will be a safer place for your child without inhibiting his or her curiosity -- and will give you a greater peace of mind! The key to reducing the chances of injury to young children around the home is childproofing before your child has a chance to discover the danger zones and always providing adequate parental supervision - even at home.