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Childproofing Your Home

StreetWise Parents' Guide

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Childproofing Your Home

Each year millions of children are injured and some are even killed in accidents around the home. Most of these accidents can be prevented with a little childproofing.

Childproofing Your Home

Each year millions of children are injured and some are even killed in accidents around the home. Most of these accidents can be prevented with a little childproofing. Childproofing isn't hard, either. Completing the job requires only a little time and ingenuity plus a few inexpensive supplies. If children spend time with grandparents and other caregivers, those homes should also be childproofed.

Step One: Give your home a Child Safety Inspection.

The only tools you need are paper and pencil. Start by checking out every room in your home from a small child's eye level. Get down on your hands and knees and look for anything that can be a hazard. Think about what could be explored, tasted (everything can be tasted), or climbed on. Make a note of each (by room).

Step Two: Make a Childproofing Plan and Checklist.

Use the notes from your Child Safety Inspection to draw up a childproofing plan. Usually, a simple list of tasks to do is adequate. Group similar tasks together and indicate all locations where you need to perform that task. The Checklist below may help you draw up your own.

Using your list, make a shopping list for any materials you may need, such as electrical outlet covers, safety latches for cabinets, or safety gates for staircases. Typically, you will be able to find everything you need at a discount department store, home improvement center, or hardware store. Many specialty stores for infant's or children's furnishings also sell such safety equipment.

Step Three: Do It!

One Saturday afternoon or a couple of evenings is all the time it takes to childproof most homes. Check items off on your to-do list as you finish.

When's the right time to childproof a home?

The younger your children, the more important childproofing is. Ideally, expectant parents will childproof their home before the arrival of the baby. But all homes that have infants, toddlers or pre-school children ought to be childproofed. As children reach ages where they can understand safety practices with such hazards as electricity, cleaning supplies, medications, hot stoves and the like, some safety measures may be reduced. Maintaining other safety measures is always wise. For instance, keeping medications in cabinets away from food, keeping electrical cords secured, or keeping covers on unused electrical outlets can improve safety for all members in a family, including family pets.

StreetWise Childproofing Checklist

This checklist of home safety tips covers major areas recommended by child safety experts. Use the checklist as a basis for inspecting and childproofing your home. Also see the list of additional resources provided after the checklist.

  1. Eliminate electrical hazards.

    • Cover electrical outlets that are not in use. Simple plastic covers that snap into the outlet are inexpensive.

    • Hide power and electronic cords and cables. Wrap them up or tape them down.

    • Make sure that a cord can't be used to pull a lamp or appliance over.

  2. Check for strangulation hazards.

    • Secure cords for mini-blinds and drapes. Do not loop cords. A child can strangle in a looped cord. If your draperies or blinds came with looped cords, cut the loops and install safety tassels on the ends.

    • Raise the ends of all cords out of the reach of crawling infants and toddlers who might put them in their mouths.

  3. Protect against poisoning

    • Keep all medications out of a child's reach. A secured location such as a bathroom cabinet with a safety latch is best. For both child and adult safety, experts recommend keeping medicines in a separate location from food.

    • Keep household cleaners, bug killers, and other hazardous and poisonous materials in a secure location.

    • Secure cabinets and drawers with safety latches.

    • Make sure children can't get into the trash. Trash represents both poison and choking hazards.

    • Keep plants out of the reach of small children.

  4. Watch for choking and suffocation hazards.

    • Babies love to put things in their mouths—coins, buttons, small articles, small parts on toys. Place anything that can be swallowed out of reach of infants and toddlers.

    • Keep all purses out of reach, including those of visitors. Purses can contain choking hazards and medications.

    • Keep plastic bags such as dry cleaning, grocery, and clothes bags away from children. They are a suffocation hazard.

  5. Prevent falls and crushing accidents

    • Use safety gates at the top and bottom of staircases. Safety gates can also be used in doorways.

    • If windows will be open, install protective window guards, bars or grills. Insect screens are not sufficiently strong to prevent children from falling out. Protect ground floor windows as well as those on higher stories.

    • Children love to climb. Babies grab things to pull up. Furniture and appliances that can tip over need to be secured. Bookcases and bureaus are good examples.

    • Store fragile and breakables items up high and not on something climbable.

    • Look for anything that can pinch fingers, such as lids for a chest or the piano. Doors can also pinch fingers. Use door stops to prevent doors from closing all the way.

    • Toy chests that have top lids should have safety hinges and catches that prevent the lid from falling or slamming down. Children can suffer serious head, body, and hand injuries from unsupported lids.

    • While children are learning to walk, consider removing low tables or other pieces of furniture that have corners or sharp edges against which children might fall. Alternatively, pad the corners and edges temporarily.

    • Check railings on porches, balconies, decks, and stairs to make sure children can not slip through the openings or get their heads caught. Safety netting can be used to cover the railings.

  6. Be aware of water hazards.

    • Even small quantities of water, not just pools, can be a hazard.

    • Small children can drown in an inch of water, such as that which might be left in a bucket or pail or tub or found in an open toilet. Don't leave containers of liquid standing about.

    • Keep the lid of the toilet down while children are very small.

  7. Practice kitchen safety.

    • Keep children away from the stove and other cooking areas. Never leave infants and small children unattended in the kitchen.

    • Turn pot handles away from the front of the stove so children can't grab them.

    • Use the back burners on the stove when possible to keep children from reaching up and touching the hot element.

    • As soon as they are able to learn, teach children safety with sharp kitchen implements such as knives, with hot stoves and ovens, and with hot food. Supervise their early learning carefully.

  8. Teach your children fire safety and practice it at home.

    • Each year in the United States, children start 100,000 fires that cause injury. Many were started by children playing with matches, lighters, or similar objects. Starting early, teach your children about the dangers of fire. The United States Fire Administration, a division of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) offers an very good interactive website for teaching children fire safety. Children who read will enjoy the site on their own; parents can use the site with younger children by guiding them through the activities.

    • Do not leave matches or lighters lying around. Store them in secure places and closed containers out of reach of young children.

    • Use protective firescreens or glass doors with fireplaces. Do not leave open fires unattended.

  9. Lock up firearms and hazardous tools.

    • Secure firearms and ammunition in locked cabinets. Use trigger locks with handguns.

    • Almost any tool—not just sharp implements such as axes or chisels—can be dangerous for a young child. Store tools so that they are out of reach of young children. Consider storing sharp tools and power tools in locked tool chests or cabinets.

    • It's never too early to begin to teach children about handling and using tools safety. You may wish to start as soon as they show interest.

Additional Online Resources for Child Safety in the Home

Safe Kids USA – Information on a number of child safety issues ranging from fire and firearms to poison and play safety.

American Academy of Pediatrics – Tips and articles on issues related to child health and safety.

MEDLINEplus: Child Safety – Links to selected websites and articles on various issues in child safety produced by a number of expert groups.

Child Safety publications from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission – Publications include brochures, safety alerts, tips, and checklists on various child safety topics.