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Babyproofing the Second Time Around

By Amalah



Hi! I have two sons who are within months of your two sons. My oldest (Grey) is three and a half, and my youngest (Thane) is almost six months. So far things have gone swimmingly — Grey is a loving, affectionate brother and Thane is a ray of sunshine. But Thane is starting to move. Already he’s rolling his way across the room. Crawling can’t be far behind. Grey was walking by 9 months. Thane is on pace or even faster.

My questions is, what the heck do I do about the “big boy toys”? Grey loves his Matchbox cars, small plastic figures and (worst of all) dice. Especially D20s (like these) which are pretty much designed to be a choking hazard. Pretty much all his favorite toys are inappropriate for an orally-fixated new crawler. And he carries them everywhere with him. They’re liberally scattered throughout our house. Making matters slightly worse, one of the most effective punishments for Grey is to make him be alone. He’s always wherever we are. So I can’t quite bring myself to tell him that all baby-unsafe toys must be confined to his room. He’ll never get to play with them!

How do I babyproof my house for a crawler in a way that is fair to his big brother? Do you have a plan?


My original “plan” consisted of asking a couple of friends how THEY babyproofed for THEIR second babies, and I guess their second babies should consider themselves lucky that they made it to their first birthdays, because mostly I got shrugs. It seems like it was a topic they stressed about once, then eventually gave up in the face of a zillion small toys containing zillions of small parts. “I pull stuff out of his mouth a lot,” one mom admitted.

And yet, they DID have good ideas.

She also said, however, that she designated and separated out the MOST dangerous toys (marbles, in her son’s case, and a game with small beads and pegs) and keeps them in her possession at all times. She stores them in a plastic bag in an unreachable drawer and her older son can play with them during the younger one’s nap time. She knows exactly how many marbles they own and when even just one is missing, because you KNOW that one marble will end up right in the baby’s path, looking all kinds of delicious. But since no one can exert that kind of mental energy about multiple kinds of toys, she said that she’s more or less stopped worrying about small wheels coming off of small cars and arms coming off action figures and concentrates on the stuff that is a choking hazard in and of itself.

So in your case…the dice. Round ’em up, count ’em up, bag ’em up. Keep them where Grey cannot get to them — maybe even in a secret spot that changes regularly, so he’s not piling up stepstools and boxes when you’re not looking (because what’s more fun than choking? broken bones! woot!). Tell him he can play with the dice when Thane is asleep, or when you’re there to closely supervise. Maybe he can only play with them on the kitchen table — not the floor, where Thane can find one that rolled astray. Maybe they can be his “restaurant toy,” if you need a good behavior bribe, or something.

(What? Bribe a child in exchange for a moment’s peace at dinner? US?)

My other friend — the first of us to have the second baby — went to Ikea in a fit of pregnancy nesting and bought a large modular bookshelf. One of those whole-wall deals, with lots of tight-fitting baskets and bins. She painstakingly organized her son’s toys by category and level of danger. Big plastic baby-friendly stuff went on the bottom, small stuff like metal cars and game pieces when on the top shelves. Of course, it took her older son five minutes flat to undo all of her organizing (and figure out how to climb to the top, though thankfully they’d bolted it to the wall), but she stuck with it. Eventually she attached photos and pictures onto the front of the bins that depicted what toys went in each one so he could help sort and clean up. It’s not perfect, and stuff occasionally gets mixed up, but she can at least be reasonably relaxed when her one-year-old yanks a basket off the bottom shelves and starts raiding the contents.

So I think we’re going to try a similar approach, now that Ezra is starting with the pre-crawl belly scoot. We don’t have anything TOO terrible, like dice or marbles (thanks to Noah’s sensory issues, he still mouths objects and we can’t really trust him with really small toys), but there are a few things that will likely disappear and become very, very “special big kid time” toys. (A bag of polished rocks, a wooden bead set, mini-Matchbox cars he keeps “winning” at preschool for cleaning up during the week that are KILLING MY SOUL, because he knows EXACTLY how many of these tiny identical cars he owns yet never remembers where he leaves them, etc.) We’ve always used bins and baskets throughout the house for toys, so I do plan to go through everything and 1) purge, 2) establish a choking hierarchy, 3) separate and move shit UPWARDS, and 4) label with pictures, explaining to Noah as best we can that we need to be extra careful about cleaning up so we can keep Baby Ezra safe. That boy does really love his baby brother, so I’m hoping he’ll get the “it’s for SAFETY!” message.

I still have the feeling I’m going to be pulling stuff out of Ezra’s mouth a lot. We’ll do our best, like we always do. Luckily I know (and already got to use! hooray!) the Heimlich. I’m REALLY hoping our commenters will have some awesome ideas of their own. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a Wii, five million electronic chargers, and a dozen empty wine glasses to find alternate homes for.

Photo by Daquella manera


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • cagey

    June 1, 2009 at 11:36 am

    *Obligatory Shrug*
    My kids are 20 months apart are now 22 months and 3.5 years old.
    Small objects were really a problem for awhile because my younger child was the “oral” one who constantly puts things in her mouth. Even now, at 22 months, she is still cramming all sorts of goodies in her mouth. I never had to worry much with the older one.
    Frankly, I just rounded up all the itsy, bitsy toys and put them away and that is what I recommend. A 3 year old just cannot be responsible enough to keep things out of reach. As such, marbles and dice are still an Impossible Dream in our house. Also, I recommend a fixed number of things for “inventory purposes”. Say, for example, you allot a total of exactly 10 cars, that way you can keep dibs on them. I also kept smallish toys stored in bins that could only be taken out during the younger one’s naptime.
    The short answer is just plain, good old-fashioned vigilance. It is not an easy answer, nor a pretty one.

  • michele

    June 1, 2009 at 11:52 am

    that is one great thing about pacifiers – they keep other things out their mouths while they are crawling around! but yes you do need to find a way to round up & quarantine all of the little stuff!

  • Lisa

    June 1, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    My boys are almost 4 years apart, and when the little one was born, Big Brother was well into the throes of Star Wars/Power Rangers/Beetleborg love, which, while yeah, they’re “action figures,” they still have little weapons and other little parts. He had a bucket (one of those ones you use to put beer in at outdoor parties)(Huh, what now? Shut up.) big and sturdy enough to keep Baby out, but small enough he could lug it from room to room. All of his “mans” and their accouterments HAD to stay in their “house,” and only come out one at a time while Baby was hanging around. When he was napping or otherwise engaged, the mans could be out and about, fighting their little wars.

  • Salome Ellen

    June 1, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    While I would never put an almost-crawler into a playpen, one great use for that old (but safe!) one your mother has lying around is as a protected play space for the OLDER child. Some little-bitty toys (Legos, anyone?) can only be played with where the baby can’t reach. But the playpen can be where the action is, especially if the older sib needs help getting in and out.

  • Steph

    June 2, 2009 at 7:34 am

    I have a 4, 3 and 1 year old, so I know exactly what you’re talking about! Fortunately, we have a finished basement that I’ve made into a playroom for the older two. All their toys are supposed to stay down there, though of course some migrate upstairs. So we also have routine pickups of the upstairs. And my youngest is always in my sight, or in the playpen.

  • Lisa

    June 2, 2009 at 10:37 am

    We have a 3.5 yr old and an 18 mo old, and did just what you described. First I purged most of the tiny part toys. We have the Ikea cube with lots of baskets. Everything is separated into categories. Everything the little one likes to play with is on the bottom two shelves. Now that my 18 mo old has figured out how to push a chair over and go for the upper shelves (and will climb the actual cube if given a chance), anything dangerous resides on the very top shelf and is usable only when the little one is napping. My 3 yr old is actually pretty ok with this arrangement, as he has finally figured out that if he waits till the little one is napping, he gets to play with his toy in peace and with Mommy, instead of spending all his time fending off the little one.

  • JoAnn

    June 2, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    We have a ‘family room’ that was easy to gate off with one of those extended gate things
    -anything in that room is baby safe and all other toys are kept out – serious bad ones like marble runs stay in a bedroom. That way the older kids can play right on the other side of the fence and still talk to us and see us. Other option would be a superyard -similar to the playroom, but put the big kids in it to play with scary toys.

  • Carol

    June 2, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    I must say that the bins with the pictures posted on the front worked wonders for my little girl. She can actually clean her room without help and everything stays organized. We have bins in the “play area” (different room) that don’t have pictures on them and they are in constant chaos.

  • Photomom

    June 4, 2009 at 9:21 am

    Why do those 5 inch princess dollies with rubber dresses come with little teeny swallowable shoes? We banned the shoes and small accessories, telling our 4 yr old she can play with them when her little brother (18m) is old enough to understand not to eat them. Lots of her stuff is WAY up high in the closet. What is funny ( or not) is that Grandma is one of the worst for getting her stuff that is not safe for the baby. He doesn’t put a lot of stuff in his mouth, but I can’t depend on that, or on my 4yr old being responsible for keeping it out of his reach. So I swipe stuff when Grandma brings it, and some stuff I have given back to her and told her no , not till the little guy is older.