If you’re the first-time parent of an infant, your house is probably the pinnacle of safety. You’re at the top of your baby-proofing game. All medications are locked up, your outlets are covered, and there’s not a sharp corner in sight. Your precious little baby is the safest pre-mobile child in the universe. You’re on top of it.
If you’re on your third kid like me, your baby-proofing situation might be…looser. You used to have locks on every cabinet, but then you moved and you didn’t bother in the new kitchen. Your first baby never even saw the car keys, but your third or fourth cut her teeth on the fob when you weren’t looking. I mean, it’s not like you keep a basket of steak knives on the coffee table, but you’re not quite baby-proofing the way you used to.
It’s easy to push aside the safety rules you once followed religiously as your kids grow up and nothing really terrible happens. But baby-proofing is not just for babies. Some safety rules just can’t be ignored, and certain safety measures should really stay in place until your kids are much older—and I don’t just mean the obvious stuff like locking up your meds, cleaning supplies, sharp objects, and lighters.
Here’s a little refresher course. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it should get your baby-proofing gears turning and remind you to do a little safety once-over to make sure your home is a safe place for the most important people in your life.
Beware button batteries!
Button batteries are the reason babies shouldn’t actually have access to your key fob. They can be found in lots of household electronics, including thermometers, medical devices, some toys, and even in the flameless candles you might have purchased to reduce the risk of fire. They can also be found in unexpected places like musical greeting cards. If a small child swallows a button battery, the results could be catastrophic—even fatal. If you think your child has swallowed a button battery, immediately take them to the emergency room. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so while you’re baby-proofing, identify and lock down those button batteries before they make their way into a little mouth.
Baby-proofing your water heater can prevent serious burns.
To prevent burns, the CDC recommends setting your water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. This buys children precious time to get away from uncomfortably hot water before suffering a scalding burn. Especially if you’ve recently moved to a new location, it’s a good idea to check the water heater, as many times 140 degrees is the default setting—and that can burn a small child in less than three seconds.
Keep safety gates on your stairs for longer than you think you need them.
Your toddler might have been successfully navigating stairs for a long time now, but did you know that it’s still a good idea to keep a gate at the top and bottom until your child is at least two, or they learn how to open it on their own? Staircase safety is an important part of baby-proofing. Until your toddler can open the gate, keep it installed. The exception to this rule is if you have a climber on your hands—if a child attempts to climb over the gate, it’s time to take it down. Remind older kids not to climb on the gates, too. Anyone can be injured if they use a safety gate incorrectly.
Anchor all of your dangerous furniture.
Dressers, bookcases, freestanding wardrobes, armoires or any kind of table with a television on it all need to be anchored to the wall behind them. Period. Injuries from falling furniture can be deadly. Yes, you’ll have holes in the wall. Yes, you’ll be married to the location of your furniture for a while. But your child won’t be crushed beneath the weight of a heavy piece of furniture, so suck it up and anchor it. All of it.
While you’re baby-proofing your pool, don’t forget hot tubs and ponds.
Everyone with a back yard pool should be well-versed in pool safety. A locking gate, a pool alarm, and a strong, safe cover made from mesh or safety netting should all be non-negotiables. While you’re making the pool safe, don’t forget to install an adequate cover on any other bodies of water as well, such as hot tubs, ponds and even baby pools. Drowning is a leading cause of death for kids, and it’s quick and silent.
Lock your car behind you.
This one is incredibly simple, takes two seconds, and could save your child’s life: Lock your cars. Hot car deaths don’t only happen to helpless infants strapped in car seats. Young children can become trapped in the vehicle when they open the door to play inside. Cars just aren’t safe play spaces, and locking it when you leave is an easy way to keep your kids safer.
Check for strangulation risks.
While you’re baby-proofing your home, remember that cords on blinds and long electrical cords can pose a serious safety risk if a child gets it wrapped around their neck. Even the most careful child can become entangled inadvertently. If it’s financially feasible, replace your blinds with cordless models, and if you can’t, make sure the cords are secured close to the top, never hanging where a child can reach them. You can order free retrofit kits from the Window Covering Safety Council.
Store firearms safely.
The safest home for a child is a home without guns. However, if you choose to own a gun and keep it in the house with children, it needs to be unloaded and locked up in a coded or fingerprint-identifying safe, separately from the ammunition. Your small children need to hear emphatically and often that they are never to touch any gun, ever. If you choose to teach an older child to shoot, don’t give the access code or safe key to any child of any age. Guns are designed to kill—they are not for children. And simply hiding a gun under your bed or in a box somewhere is NOT good enough; kids are snooping creatures.
Try baby-proofing your appliances.
Children have become trapped in laundry machines. Dishwashers provide access to sharp objects that would otherwise be locked away. Microwaves can start fires if the wrong things end up inside, and they can also heat things to a very dangerous temperature. Your stove is a potential hazard if you aren’t carefully making sure a child can’t reach to turn it on or pull something off the burner. Even hair tools can pose a serious burn risk to children. As you navigate your home, keep an eye out for potential appliance-related dangers and minimize them where you can.
Have safety conversations.
Start early, and do it often. Even tiny babies should hear things like, “Please don’t touch that outlet. That can really hurt you,” as you move them to a safer play space. Toddlers can understand, “That’s a pair of grown-up scissors. Let me get you some kid scissors.” Older kids should be well aware of the consequences of playing with anything flammable, sharp or poisonous.
Baby-proofing is important, but helping your child understand the value of making safe choices is actually the best way to make sure that they are safe inside your home and beyond.