Dear Mr. Dad: What should we do to childproof our house?
A: Once your baby realizes that he's able to move around by himself, his mission in life will be to locate--and race you to--the most dangerous, life-threatening things in your home. So if you haven't already begun the never-ending process of child-proofing your house, better start now. The first thing to do is get down on your hands and knees and check things out from your baby's perspective. Taking care of those pesky wires and covering up your outlets is only the beginning, so start with the basics:
Anywhere and Everywhere:
* Move anything valuable out of the baby's reach.
* Bolt to the wall bookshelves and other free-standing cabinets (this goes double if you live in earthquake country); pulling things down on top of themselves is a favorite baby pastime.
* Don't hang heavy things on the stroller--it can tip over.
* Get special guards for your radiators and move your space heaters and electric fans off the floor.
* Install a safety gate at the bottom and top of every stairway.
* Adjust your water heater temperature to 120 degrees. This will reduce the likelihood that your baby will scald himself.
* Get a fire extinguisher and put smoke alarms in every bedroom.
Especially in the Kitchen:
* Install safety locks on all but one of your low cabinets and drawers. Most of these locks allow the door to be opened slightly--just enough to accommodate a baby's fingers--so make sure the kind you get also keep the door from closing completely as well.
* Stock the one unlocked cabinet with unbreakable pots and pans and encourage your baby to jump right in.
* Keep baby's high chairs away from the walls. His strong little legs can push off and knock the chair over.
* Watch out for irons and ironing boards. The cords are a hazard, and the boards themselves are easy to knock over.
* Get an oven lock and covers for your oven and stove knobs.
* Use the back burners on the stove whenever possible and keep the handles turned toward the back of the stove.
* Never hold your baby while you're cooking. Teaching him what steam is or how water boils may seem like a good idea, but bubbling spaghetti sauce or hot oil hurts when it splashes.
* Put mouse and insect traps in places where your baby can't get to them.
* Use plastic dishes and serving bowls whenever you can; glass breaks and, at least in my house, the shards seem to show up for weeks, no matter how well I sweep.
* Post the phone numbers of the nearest poison control agency and your pediatrician near your phone.
Especially in the Living Room:
* Put decals--at baby height--on any sliding glass doors.
* Get your plants off the floor: over 700 species can cause illness or death if eaten, including such common ones as lily of the valley, iris, and poinsettia.
* Pad the corners of low tables, chairs, and fireplace hearths.
* Make sure your fireplace screen and tools can't be pulled over.
* Keep furniture away from windows. Babies will climb up whatever they can and may fall through the glass.
Especially in the Bedroom/Nursery:
* No homemade or antique cribs. They probably don't conform to today's safety standards.
* Remove from the crib all mobiles and hanging toys. By 5 months, most kids can push themselves up on their hands and knees and can get tangled up (and even choke) on strings.
* Keep the crib at least two feet away from blinds, drapes, hanging cords, or wall decorations with ribbons.
* Check toys for missing parts.
* Toy chest lids should stay up when opened (so they doesn't slam down on tiny fingers).
* Don't leave dresser drawers open. From the baby's perspective, they look an awful lot like stairs.
* Keep crib items to a minimum: a sheet, a blanket, bumpers, and a few soft toys. Babies don't need pillows at this age and large toys or stuffed animals can be climbed on and used to escape the crib.
* Don't leave your baby unattended on the changing table even for a second.
Especially in the Bathroom:
* If possible, use a gate to keep access restricted to the adults in the house.
* Install a toilet guard.
* Keep bath and shower doors closed.
* Never leave water standing in the bath, a sink, or even a bucket. Drowning is the third most common cause of accidental deaths of young children, and babies can drown in practically no water at all.
* Keep medication and cosmetics high up.
* Make sure there's nothing your baby can climb up on to raid the medicine cabinet.
* Keep shavers and hair dryers unplugged and out of reach.
* No electrical appliances near bathtub.
* Use a bath mat or stick-on safety strips to reduce the risk of slipping in the bathtub.
About the Author:
Armin Brott, hailed by Time as “the superdad’s superdad,” has written or co-written six critically acclaimed books on fatherhood, including the newly released second edition of Fathering Your Toddler: A Dad's Guide to the Second and Third Years. His articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, American Baby, Parenting, Child, Men’s Health, The Washington Post among others. Armin is an experienced radio and TV guest, and has appeared on Today, CBS Overnight, Fox News, and Politically Incorrect. He’s the host of “Positive Parenting,” a weekly radio program in the San Francisco Bay Area. Visit Armin at www.mrdad.com.