At 16 months, our boys are getting into everything. One has been walking over a month; he’s now running, reaching, and defeating baby gates. His younger brother is the fastest crawler I’ve ever seen, and a fearless climber. Between the two of them they manage to turn a house that was clean and organized during nap time to a post-Katrina disaster area. In my last post about baby proofing for twins, I focused on physical, choking, and nursery hazards. Now that our boys are completely mobile, I’ve come to an important realization.
No baby proofing is enough.
We have a kid-friendly house. Almost every floor is carpeted. We have walk-through baby gates at the top of each staircase. There are toyboxes full of toys, baby walkers, stuffed animals, and other distractions placed all over the house. The moment we look away, our boys ignore these safe playthings and go looking for trouble. Here are a few things they’ve been getting into:
- Things on the dining room table. Plates, bowls, silverware, and tubs of butter are just some of the items they like to pull down and create messes with. Our older twin loves the metal napkin holder, sans napkins. I have no idea; he just does.
- Beverages. The boys love drinks. Specifically, they love drinks that aren’t theirs: our open cups of coffee, iced tea, or soda. If they find your drink unattended, they’ll try to (A) drink it, (B) carry it to you, which usually means a spill, or (C) put things into it. Puffs and crayons are current favorites.
- Lamps and appliances. The flicking on and off of lamps is understandably magic to toddlers. Our boys are fascinated with it, and love to get their hands on any lamp within reach. Most of these are secure, but for the one in our living room, I’m sure the days are numbered.
- Toilets. All I can say is yuck!
- The dishwasher. Our boys have an uncanny ability: no matter where they are in the house, if the dishwasher opens, they know it and come running. There’s no upside to this: either the dishes are dirty, and shouldn’t be touched, or else they’re clean and, you know, still shouldn’t be touched. It’s no use. While the boys are up, the dishwasher stays closed.
- Kitchen drawers and cabinets. This is the newest obsession that required some action on our part. Some of our drawers and most of our kitchen cabinets weren’t latched. The boys found this out and quickly figured out where all of the cool utensils, pots, pans, and dishes were. I knew it was time to act when they’d completely unloaded one drawer and climbed bodily into it.
As you might guess, they’re pretty much getting into everything. So we’ve evolved a few strategies to keep emergency room visits to a minimum.
Toddler Safety Strategy 1: Drawer and Cabinet Latches
At last I gave in and spent an evening installing long-reach Safety 1st Cabinet Latches. We’d had a few of these in place already, but only for the most critical cabinets, like the one under the sink where we keep the cleaning supplies. Those were more about safety. Now, we had to install latches against the twins natural curiosity. Sure, letting them play with utensils and pots and pans is technically harmless, but one does get tired of constantly washing those things. Especially when there’s a toy box or storage ottoman with perfectly good toys just 10 feet away.
Do yourself a favor and get the long-reach drawer/cabinet latches. Otherwise, they’re very hard to install properly and with a short reach, you almost need one of your toddler’s little fingers to pop the latch open anyway. Which reminds me of a key rule for using drawer and cabinet latches: never let your little ones see how you open them. If they manage to figure it out (monkey see, monkey do, right?) then no cabinet is safe.
See how the latch at right has a nice, flat “hook” at the end? Often this will simply catch the top of the cabinet, which means you don’t have to install the little white plastic “catch”. Another good reason to get the longer latches: fewer holes in your cabinets and fewer chances for installation error.
Toddler Safety Strategy 2: Gated Access
The first thing we do to instill a bit of control on our day is gate off the stairs, so that the boys have to stay on the same level. Plus, it reduces the chances that they’ll tumble down the stairs. The problem with most baby gates is that they tend to induce adult injuries – both my mother-in-law and my wife fell over a gate across the stairs when we had the basic $10 Wal-mart kind. The Regalo walk-through gates are much better: they are pressured (don’t have to be drilled/screwed into the wall) but allow you to lift and swing open the gate to walk through. What a lifesaver! Ours started to get a little bit “creaky” over time, but I solved that with a shot of WD-40.
True, when you’re on one side of the gate and the kids are on the other (sometimes gripping the bars and crying at you), it does tend to make you feel like a bit of a prison master. But I remind myself that it’s for safety and containment, not punishment. And a side benefit is that if someone were to break into our house and try to come upstairs, it would be impossible to do so quickly or quietly. Not that we live in a bad area, but hey, it’s a rough world out there and we’re a bit on the paranoid side.
Toddler Safety Strategy 3: Claim the High Ground
There was a time when the boys were crawling (not walking) that nearly anything above ground level was safe. That’s no longer the case, now, as they’re capable of standing up and reaching on top of things. So we’ve had to establish which surfaces are within their reach, and which are still too high. Everything that’s unsafe, fragile, or valuable gets moved to the high ground. We make constant sweeps to recover errant cell phones, important papers, and other items that need to be kept out of reach.
Safety Trial and Error
If your little one just started pulling up on things and/or walking, there are some common-sense steps to take to make things a bit safer around the house:
- Top-heavy or tippable furniture. They’ll be pulling up on anything within reach. End tables, stools, and other tippable furniture should be removed or secured. In a pinch, you can sometimes gate these off to prevent your toddlers from reaching them.
- Hard or sharp edges. We learned the hard way (with a trip to the E.R. and 5 stitches) that even a sharp corner of a wall is dangerous to a bumbling toddler. Table corners are another concern because they’re often at a toddler’s head level. Low edges, such as the edge of a brick hearth or a single-step room transition, are also dangerous because toddlers can fall onto them.
- Cords, cables, and electrical hazards. Toddlers start reaching on top of and behind things to get at electrical cords and outlets. Devote a couple of “nap times” to securing cords with twisty-ties or rubber bands. And need I remind you about the dangers of mini blind cords? Get those things up and away from the floor.
I wish I could tell you that parents of toddlers develop a sixth sense for safety concerns and can spot all of them in advance. Sadly, this isn’t so. Toddlers are as unpredictable as the wind. The only way to know for certain that you’ve baby proofed enough is to let them loose and keep a sharp eye out.