When every human enters the world we each have a clean slate. We don’t know anything, everything is new and exciting, and we haven’t gathered the life-lessons to understand the repercussions of a mistake. This is the beauty of being a toddler. The world is a wonderland to explore. That exploration leaves a lot of responsibility in the hands of parents.
Safe Kids Worldwide reports that over 2,200 children die a year from accidents in the home, and over 3.5 million end up in the emergency room with injuries that occurred at home. Only motor vehicle crashes cause more toddler deaths and injuries at home, many of which are not only preventable, but completely avoidable with proper safety precautions.
The number of things that can cause a hazard in the home are surprising. Some often aren’t thought of, ignored, and rarely considered. This guide is compiled in sections that you can move freely and explore independently, but we recommend a thorough reading of each section. Make special note of the “Things Parents Don’t Consider” portion of this guide.
Everything Begins with Fundamentals
For some families and homes, the best approach to safety solutions is to hire a professional who can childproof the house. The professional walks people through danger zones and identifies all trouble areas unique to each home. Though the professional isn’t an option for everyone, it’s worth considering for busy parents.
Variables will be different depending on your home and child. Age and personality are important factors. Some children are more prone to curiosity, rough housing, and physical activity like climbing and running than others, but don’t wait for your toddlers’ personality to develop before starting your plan.
Debra Holtzman, a child safety expert and author of “The Safe Baby: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Home Safety and Healthy Living,” says that the best way to find potential danger zones for your child is to actually look at the home the way they do. This means getting on your hands and knees to crawl around the living room to literally see the home through their eyes.
General Tips to Remember:
- Always know where kids are and watch them. Don’t allow kids to wander unattended. This rule applies even more for bathtubs and swimming pools.
- Be vigilant to teach kids what not to do: no climbing, no eating objects or medicine, no playing with tools or liquids, no rough-housing near dangerous objects, et cetera.
- Be constantly aware of small details that cause trouble: pen and soda bottle caps, safety pins, jewelry, magnets, coins, and anything small that accumulates in the home. This includes cutting food into bite-sized, digestible pieces that aren’t too small or large.
- Install door knob covers and motion sensors so toddlers can’t leave the house without your knowledge.
- Supervise kids around dogs, cats, and other pets. Train your pets to properly interact with children.
Safety Pro Tip 1: All hired babysitters should have your complete trust and be fully capable of handling children. Live-streaming home security cameras come in handy here, because you can keep an eye on babysitters with your smartphone from wherever you are. Just make sure you’ve been given permission to do so.
Safety Pro Tip 2: If grandparents are watching kids, give them a crash-course on safety and rules. They last time they took care of a kid was probably whenever you were one, so they’re likely rusty. Bring them up to speed and remember that they won’t be as vigilant as you, because your children aren’t their kids.
The Bedroom Break-Down
Most of a kid’s time will be spent in their bedroom, your bedroom, or the living room and common dwelling areas of the home. In these areas you need to be the most vigilant.
The most common dangers in a toddler’s bedroom are:
- Cribs, bassinets and high chairs should be made after 1978. Before this date everything was lead based.
- Headboards and footboards should be absent of large cut outs. Slats should be less than 2-⅜ inches (six centimeters) apart.
- Secure the entire crib and all of its components. The mattress should fit properly without a drop side.
- The crib must be absent of anything that can cause a suffocation hazard, including large pillows and blankets, stuffed animals, and toys. Take drawstrings out of children’s clothing.
- Toys must be absent of strings or ribbons that cause choking hazards. Remove these from window blinds and curtains as well.
- Install window guards so toddlers can’t fall or crawl out.
- Properly secure dressers to walls with drawers closed so they can’t tip over.
- Make sure every dangerous item in an adult’s room is out of reach. This includes: scissors, pill bottles, coins, medicine, firearms, alcohol, and others.
- Place a smoke alarm outside of every bedroom in the home and abide by proper testing protocol.
Lock-Down the Living Room and Dwelling Areas
The living room is filled with trouble spots and many families spend the majority of their time outside of the bedroom here.
Purchase lamps that are difficult to knock over and place them in locations where they are less likely to be knocked over. Tape their loose cords to a baseboard or the floor so a tug on them won’t send the lamp sprawling down.
Their position should be as far away from toddlers as possible. You can even secure to furniture with velcro or other materials. Floor lamps are easiest to tip over, so generally avoid large-looming lamps.
Only the Family Congregates
Don’t let items congregate and pile up in the living room. This same rule should be applied to bedrooms, all dwelling places, backyards, and outdoor walkways. A pile up of toys, electronics, books, or any material will lead to dangerous tripping hazards.
The same for cords and furniture with sharp edges. Properly place furniture so it doesn’t pose a risk for family members and toddlers. Especially avoid tall furniture that can fall over and kill a child. IKEA furniture recently had an issue with this. Check with manufacturers after purchasing furniture on how to properly secure and build. Two children die every two weeks from large pieces of furniture falling over. Lock them down with brackets and never let a kid climb on furniture.
TV’s are for Watching, not Falling
The same issue that arises for furniture occurs for televisions. Properly secure them and eliminate all risk of a TV tipping over. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that 41% of emergency room trips were related to falling televisions and 65% of them resulted in fatalities. Employ the same remedy as furniture—use straps, brackets, and wall studs or other methods to secure.
Living room lockdown quick tips:
- Don’t smoke inside of the home.
- Remove all nails from the walls.
- Don’t have poisonous plants in the home.
- Safely hang all mirrors, paintings, and other items.
- Secure rugs to the floor and have anti-slip pads underneath them.
A Clean Kitchen is a Safe Kitchen
All items in the kitchen should be safely stored: knives, forks, pots, pans, and all cooking equipment. Keep equipment locked away and out of reach of children.
Install safeguards so kids can’t open the dishwasher or turn on the stove. Remove any chairs or stepping-stools that can serve as ladders for kids to climb in the kitchen. (This same rule applies for the entire house.)
Make sure all pot handles are inwards when cooking and place them on the farthest burner from the front so that kids can’t reach them.
Other kitchen notes:
- Cabinets should have child-proof locks.
- Have a fire extinguisher and know how to use it.
- A child’s highchair should have a safety belt with a strap between the legs.
- Keep magnets on the fridge and other small supplies that can be choked on out of reach.
- Properly store medicine, matches, lighters, alcohol, cleaning supplies, soap, and other dangerous kitchen supplies.
Better Bathroom Safety
The bathroom is similar to the rest of the home. Stow away dangerous materials, keep kids away from water, and never let them wander alone. A lesser known bathroom necessity is to never let the water thermostat be higher than 120° F (49° C). Any higher can cause third degree burns for kids.
Proper storage of items includes putting away: shampoo, razor blades, nail supplies, bathing and cleaning supplies, cosmetics, and others. They should be stored in a cabinet with child-proof locks and latches on drawers.
Equip your outlets with ground fault interrupters to protect against electrocution if an electrical appliance gets wet. Some older homes don’t have this, so check with electrician to inspect the home and your circuit breaker to double check. This is important for all members of the family.
Better bathroom quick tips:
- Leave toilet seats closed and place locks on them.
- Unplug and stow dangerous equipment like hair dryers, curling irons, electric razors, and others when not in use.
- Place nonskid strips at the bottom of bathtubs, and non-slip pads under rugs to hold them down.
All Things Outdoor
Walkways, stairs, patios, and all outdoor areas should be well lit. Whether kids are joining you outside or you’re walking into the house with toddler in hand or pushing a stroller—you want to see what you’re doing.
Similar to the home, clean your walkways of debris like toys, plants, or any material that’s outside. These outdoor playing toys and equipment should also be maintained—no sharp edges and no splinters. This includes swingsets, tree houses, and others. Make sure these fixtures are securely fastened and install a strong shock-absorbing surface underneath the swing set for kids to jump down or if they fall. (We all remember being a kid and playing the game of seeing how far you could jump off of a swing.)
MOST IMPORTANT OUTSIDE TIP: The pool is the most common place for toddlers and young kids to drown. Even more devastating, many of these drownings occur even when there is adult supervision. Make sure the pool has a climb proof fence that is at least five feet high within a closed gate with a childproof lock.
Remember: danger also lurks with kiddie pools and above ground pools. Some parents falsely assume that these pools won’t lead to a disaster because they are so small, but they are mistaken. If the pool is above ground, the ladder needs to be removed when it’s not in use. With kiddie pools, never leave a child unattended and allowed to play without supervision.
Miscellaneous Safety Questions
- Has the home been checked for lead, radon, asbestos, mercury, mold, and CO?
- Wall paint in older homes might contain lead. Is it peeling or crackling? Has a professional been hired to check?
- Do glass doors have markers that label they are doors so they aren’t mistaken for open doors? Do sliding glass doors have childproof locks?
- Are all windows secured with safety bars or window guards, especially the second floor windows?
- Is all furniture secured with wall brackets so that they can’t tip over?
- Have you checked to make sure that used and hand-me-down equipment has not been recalled?
- Are all beds and cribs away from windows?
- Do the top and bottom of all stairs have hardware mounted safety gates and stairways? Are stairs void of tripping hazards like loose carpet and toys?
- Do all railings have guards and banisters in case the kids can fit through them?
- Is the door to the basement locked with enough light on the stairways?
Guard the Garage, Including Electricity and Heating Tips
Safely stow all tools, products, and supplies that are used for car, pool, gardening and lawn maintenance. Recycling that has metal and glass should be out of reach with garbage cans always covered.
Pro Tip One: Never place bleach, detergent, or other dangerous household items in an incorrectly labeled package like a water bottle. You may do this to store something in an extra space, but family members and children can mistake the object for their intended product
Pro Tip Two: With hot water heaters, don’t store gasoline cans, paint cans, or any flammable material anywhere nearby. If it spills the fumes can ignite the pilot light on gas heaters and cause an explosion
Electricity and heating quick tips:
- Make sure potential electrical fire hazards like overloaded electrical sockets and wires under carpet have been accounted for.
- Cover radiators and baseboard heaters with necessary childproof screens.
- Gas fireplaces should have a secure valve cover and key.
- Fireplaces should have a screen or barrier in place when it’s not in use, and chimneys should be cleaned frequently.
- Electrical space heaters should be three feet (91 centimeters) from beds, curtains and anything flammable.
- Every phone in the house has a list of emergency contact information.
- The home has fire extinguishers (some say to place them on every floor and in the kitchen), and you know how to use them.
- Make sure all smoke detectors have been installed and tested, and equipped with working batteries.
- If the home uses natural gas to cook or heat, have an attached garage and CO detectors.
Things Parents Don’t Consider
Minor accidents that injure children can come from the unlikeliest of places. Events that some parents never even consider. A hot cup of coffee in your hand or on top of a table? That’s a potential hazard for spilling on a child. And the multitasking routine of carrying kid and coffee is not always the safest. Here are a few other examples:
Beware of Tablecloths and Food
Tablecloths can be pulled down and drop items on children. Food that is too small for the toddler is a choking hazard. Anything that’s coin-sized—between the size of a dime and a quarter—can be dangerous. (Examples: grapes, popcorn, raisins.)
Water Bucket Drowning
One thing people don’t often consider is that children can drown from water in cleaning buckets. This happens when a cleaning bucket with water is around and kids stick their head in, fall in and can’t get out. Nearly 30 kids a year die from bucket-related deaths, most frequently infants.
Don’t Buy Baby Seats
Parents buy baby seats because they think they will keep their kids safe in the tub, but oftentimes parents will leave their kids unattended. The seat then detaches from the tub and the baby gets trapped under water. This has caused hundreds of deaths and injuries. Remember the rule we’ve mentioned throughout this guide: never leave your child unattended.
Install Mounted Gates
Always install hardware mounted gates at the top and bottom of stairs. Mounting with screws into wall studs or railings is the best method. Without gates children can easily fall down the stairs.
Always Cover Electrical Appliances
Uncovered electrical appliances can cause shocks and burns. Easily removable covers can be a choking hazard or taking off, so install sturdy and reliable covers.
Don’t Sleep with Babies
A baby can suffocate if you sleep with it in bed. As much as you want your toddler close to you, a properly secure crib next to your bed is the best option.
Lead Paint in Door Frames
Make sure door frames don’t have lead paint. This can be present even underneath coats and coats of paint. Lead paint can also be found in walls and other parts of the home. You’ll have to have an inspector come through and check the home to actually know what risks are present.
Laundry Room Safety Tips
- Bleaches , detergents, and cleaning products should be stored safely and out of reach.
- Laundry detergent pods should be out of sight and stored in locked cabinets.
- Laundry chutes must have childproof locks.
Safety is a Constant Task
When children are young, they’re curious and excited about the world. As you can see, just about every room in the home has its set of obstacles and hazards that need to be accounted for. It’s easy to became overwhelmed with the large number of hazards to account for. Remember: other parents have succeeded before you, and they can help you get the job done. The key rule is to always be watching your child. If you have tabs on them, you’ll know if danger is present, even if all of the safety tips we’ve covered haven’t been accounted for.