The Common-Sense Approach to Baby-Proofing
Have you really not tackled baby proofing?! You have been my go-to girl for all things baby: sleep, solids, cloth diapers, etc. I searched the archives and ..nada. I have a very active 6 month old boy. He is already crawling and pulling up to standing (eek). I am feeling totally overwhelmed by all the products. What do I need? What can I skip? I should probably add, I never leave him unattended, but he is fast and has more strength than sense at the moment.
Confession time: The reason I have pointedly avoided the baby-proofing discussions is because I have NO IDEA how to write about it WITHOUT sounding like a lazy, negligent monster.
Here’s the extent of the specialized baby-proofing gadgets we purchased, and how they ultimately worked for us:
1) Outlet covers. Still in use, in just about every available outlet in the house. We went with the uber-basic plastic plug-in kind that break your nails off every time you try to remove them. Never, ever once saw Noah pay even the slightest bit of attention to the electrical outlets, but one time I caught Ezra crawling towards one with purpose in his eyes and a rouge metal baby fork in his hand. So I guess they proved to be a pretty good move in the end. BONUS: One time I went to plug in the vacuum only to discover that the cover had completely MELTED inside the plug. Turned out our new home had a completely overloaded electrical circuit that needed to be fixed ASAP before an electrical fire started. Forget the kids, that melted outlet cover basically saved our house. In summary: YAY OUTLET COVERS.
2) Blind pull covers. These were circular white covers for wrapping up dangling strings around blinds that still SUPPOSEDLY allowed you to raise and lower the blinds. We purchased these half for the toddler, and half for our cat, who likes to chew on our blind pulls and has actually destroyed more a few of them. Could never keep them from popping open every time we went to open or close the blinds, thus requiring us to re-wind the strings back up and oh, crap, I did it backwards and you know, I’ll just mash the strings in there and close it up with brute force. Noah figured out how to disassemble them around two-and-a-half, then we lost a couple of them and now we just sort of tuck and/or toss the strings from our blinds up and hopefully out of reach, like we did before. In summary: Get these only if you agree to never, ever open or close your blinds again. Otherwise, just scotch-tape the pulls to the wall, if you have to.
3) Cabinet drawer and door locks/latches, various styles/brands. My husband once spent an entire afternoon dutifully drilling holes for every drawer or cabinet in our kitchen that held anything vaguely dangerous. By that evening, EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. had broken in half or snapped clean off. I am not exaggerating, and I don’t know if he just installed them wrong or we should have known to avoid the plastic kinds or we simply have Bizarrely Powerful Drawers or what. But these were the most annoying, flimsiest things I have ever encountered and we simply decided to reorganize our cabinets and drawers to keep knives and cleaning products out of reach. In summary: HATE, especially because the locks were fleeting, but the drill-holes are forever.
4) Baby gates. At one point we had about five of them. All kinds, too. We had the retractable pull-out ones that basically roll completely out of sight, the tension-mounted ones that don’t require any screws or drilling to install (but ding the HELL out of your walls and paint, anyway), portable play-yard style boundary gates, and one super-fancy metal old-fashioned gate-type one that we inherited from the previous owners. In summary: That last one I mentioned was a pretty expensive gate, actually, but it also was the only one that one of my children managed to accidentally knock open. Then he fell down the stairs. Thanks, gate. The easily-moveable tension ones are great for bringing along to Grandma’s maybe less-than-ideally baby-proofed house, but once your child weighs enough they can TOTALLY knock them over if they want to. (HINT: THEY WANT TO.) The play-yard style “baby jail” is fabulous. Even if your kid will only tolerate it for five minutes at a time, it’s an INVALUABLE five minutes during which you can go to the bathroom without coming back to a bloody nose and chipped tooth. The retractable roller-type gates are a pain in the neck to open and close, and likely to baffle most adults who come into your home, but if you need to install a gate that DOESN’T include a permanent tripping-hazard even when it’s open, these are the BEST option. We will have three installed at the top and bottom of our stairs. They’re more for our dog now, but I still use them to keep the kids confined to a single floor a lot of the time.
5) Tub mat and faucet cover. We have a giant rubber mat in the kids’ bathtub to prevent slips and falls, and a cheerful rubber frog over the pointy metal faucet in case a little head or face decided to smash into it. (This really only became a real possibility once we were bathing two kids at a time and pushing/shoving came into play.) My husband wanted to get one of those things that visually gauge the water temperature by turned red when it gets too hot, or something, but instead we went with this really cool product called “MOM OR DAD’S HAND.” Simply stick it under the running water and ta-da! Instantly sense whether or not you need to correct the temperature! In summary: It works great!
And…yeah. I think that’s it. That’s all we’ve ever purchased, even with Ezra, who has NO FEAR and even LESS SENSE. No corner table guards, no toilet locks, no bubble wrap around every hard surface that kind of juts out at toddler head-level. SO MUCH of this stuff really depends on your specific house (and your kid) and how much shifting and moving of really dangerous items you can do, but we really shunned most of the pricey plastic “solution” doohickeys and went with simply moving things higher up, or putting certain things AWAY for good (easily-toppled glass-topped endtables, for example). Household cleansers or anything possibly toxic are all up OVER our sink now, or on shelves over the washer/dryer in the completely off-limits-to-children area of our basement. Lower cabinets and drawers are full of…tupperware, or plastic measuring spoons and dish towels. Same for the bathrooms. Nothing but towels and spare tissue boxes.
We’ve probably done more than our fair share of “no, no, no-ing” and setting boundaries VERY EARLY about what could be opened and what was off-limits. Yes, I expect my children to understand and respond to “no” and my tone of voice, reinforced by being RIGHT THERE to pull them back and gently correct them many, many times before the concept “clicked.” They are NEVER left alone in the bathroom or tub, and there are only now, after much trial and error and OH CRAP, a couple of rooms where I feel comfortable letting them roam completely free and semi-unsupervised. (Their bedrooms, basically.)
And yes, both of my kids bonked their heads, tripped on the stairs, fell off the furniture and gotten the occasional bloody lip or nose. (Not gonna lie. Mostly Ezra.) We keep ice packs and a very well-stocked first-aid kit in the house. Those are definitely must-haves. They’ve been black and blue and red and swollen and still occasionally manage to make me feel like a complete MORON for missing an obvious injury-waiting-to-happen. (This Christmas. Ezra + a stocking + one of those metal Pottery Barn stocking holders + BAM, HEAD, FACE.) They’ve occasionally gotten ahold of something they shouldn’t, like…scissors that were accidentally left out, or a bottle of spray cleaner that got put in the wrong cabinet. We have *knock on wood* never had to rush to the doctor or emergency room after a household accident. (Those are reserved for encounters with escalators at Barnes & Noble. YAY.)
Do your best to remove or modify the most obvious of dangers — the things that could be REALLY BAD, and you’ll know what these are, really — but recognize that a certain amount of bumps and falls are a completely okay and normal part of growing up. Cover up outlets, bolt tall furniture to walls, move sharp or toxic items far out of reach, keep dangerous appliances like shredders, toasters and blenders unplugged. (And if your doors lock from the inside, make sure you keep a key or lock-picker thing on the top of every doorframe. GOOD GOD, MY CHILDREN ARE EVIL.) Those rubber puzzle-like play mats are a nice temporary and moveable/adaptable solution for keeping hardwood floors semi-padded for swan dives off of furniture, though in our experience, 1) they will ALWAYS land six inches to the right of the covered part of the floor no matter what you do, and 2) our dog had a hard time distinguishing between “floor mat” and “outside potty area.”
But they really DO LEARN. They learn about gravity and why listening to Mama is important and what words like “hot” or “dangerous” really mean. Eventually. Feel free to improvise all you want in the meantime. But I promise, you won’t have to live in a house with empty bottom shelves and non-Feng-Shui’d higher shelves full of clutter, retrieving steak knives from a plastic tub on top of the refrigerator forever.
If there is a question you would like answered by Amalah on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org.