Dear M. Dad: When my baby was born my wife and I spent a lot of time and energy babyproofing the house. Our child made it through infancy, but now that he’s a toddler, he’s getting into everything and we realize that we missed some key safety measures. Is there such a thing as toddlerproofing a house? And if so, how do we do it?
A: The thing about toddlers is that they’re absolutely desperate to explore their world. Of course, in toddlerese, the concept of exploring means touching, climbing, pulling on, taking apart, shredding, throwing, chewing, and more. Back when your son was an infant, taking things away from him or simply picking him up and moving him out of trouble would work most of the time. No self-respecting toddler, however, would be fooled by that. In their minds, babyproofed cabinets or anything that you take away or put out of reach is immediately worth extra points. After all, if it weren’t especially interesting, you wouldn’t have bothered to protect it so well.
Although your toddler may seem to be constantly on the move, he’s actually spending a lot of time watching how you do things like turn door handles and childproof locks, and figuring out how they’re going to do the same thing. If you have a particularly astute toddler not much in your home will be safe. Naturally, you want your child to explore, it’s how he’s going to grow and learn. That said, there are a few things you can do to create a safe space in which he can do all his learning.
Play yards are a fantastic investment for more inquisitive toddlers. Graco’s Pack ‘n Play is the industry standard, but a number of other manufacturers make similar toddler corrals. Of course, you don’t (hopefully) want to keep your child penned in for long stretches of time, but every so often it’s fine to put him “behind bars” for a few minutes so you can cook a quick meal or make a run to the bathroom without being scared of finding your living room in shambles a minute later.
Gates—the ones you used to keep your baby from falling down the stairs—are another great investment. When you’re looking, though, be sure that the gate can hold the weight of a toddler and doesn’t offer any attractive footholds your child will be able to use to make his escape.
Multi purpose latches, locks, and stove knob covers are great for locking ovens, refrigerators, any type of cabinets, dishwashers, washers and dryers, toilet lids, and even trash cans. One of my favorites is the Dream Baby’s Cable Lock. Safety 1st (safety1st.com) also has a great selection. Remember, if it can be opened, your child will try to open it (and may even try to climb inside).
Last but not least, toddlers are always trying to give new meaning to the expression “stretching their wings” and they seem drawn to windows and doors (even large doggy doors) like moths to light bulbs. So make sure you’ve secured all windows and doors that can be opened by little hands. You can use window locks or bars. If you go with bars, make sure they’ve got a quick release mechanism, just in case there’s a fine and you need to use that window as an exit.
As you go through the toddler-proofing process, keep in mind that not even the highest-tech gadgets (such as digital audio and video baby monitors) can ever replace good, old-fashioned parental supervision.