Safety first: toddler proof your house room by room
Jeremy Wyn-Harris from builderscrack shares his top tips for keeping little ones safe in every room of your home.
We’ll spend roughly half of our lives in the comfort of our homes, so before you bring home the newest family member, it’s crucial to make sure it’s a welcoming, nurturing and safe environment for them to grow up in. Let’s take a look at some key improvements that can be made throughout the house to ensure child safety, before we delve into room specifics.
1. Throughout the home
Ensure the entire house is fitted with working smoke alarms, ideally photoelectric alarms. Test them regularly and replace batteries at least once a year.
Check all windows at risk of being run into are fitted with safety glass and mark large areas of glass so children can easily see them – stickers work well here. Fit security latches or locks to windows so children can’t fall out of them, especially on windows above the ground floor.
Insert plastic guards into all child-accessible power points. You could also ask an electrician to install higher power points in places where you want to leave appliances plugged in.
Use doorstops and latches to avoid doors slamming.
Dust mites, pet hair and dirt build up over time, making the floor a hazardous place for crawling babies, as well as older children who suffer from allergies. Don’t forget to get your carpet and upholstery cleaned from time to time.
Foam/soft covers on harsh corners, such as tables and kitchen counters, can prevent unnecessary head injuries, especially when children are going through that explorative stage. Covers can be removable too, so that your home still looks the part when you have visitors.
The kitchen is one of the most dangerous rooms in the house for a little one, and they should never be left in there unsupervised. Attaching safety latches to low cupboards is a simple, low-cost way to prevent children accessing dangerous items. The cupboards under the sink are usually the most important to secure, as that’s where most household cleaners are kept. You might also want to attach latches to higher cupboards if you have a little climber who somehow manages to reach everything!
Installing a safety gate to the entrance of the kitchen is a great way to keep toddlers out of this area. The key to an effective safety gate is to make sure it is firmly attached to the wall, rather than a spring-loaded type which can pop out of place and end up being the cause of an accident instead of preventing one.
Keep all sharp, heavy and potentially dangerous objects away from the edge of benches and tables, even if they’re out of reach of your little ones. Keep pot handles facing inwards on the stove.
3. Living rooms
The hub of the home, the living room is a place to recuperate and relax after a busy day, and this goes for our kids too. As adults we’re well aware (or most of us are) not to chew the remote or run into the sharp corners of the coffee table, but that can’t really be said for our little ones.
Be earthquake-secure. Fix all large items (bookshelves, TVs, cabinets etc) to walls, as well as any other furniture that could fall and cause injury.
If you have a fireplace, invest in a quality and sturdy fireplace guard. The key is to make sure it is securely attached to the wall, to avoid children pulling it over onto themselves, or pushing it and themselves onto the fire.
A well-positioned heat pump helps to regulate temperature all year round. Spring is a great time to install a heat pump, being a quieter time for installers.
Provide designated storage areas for all toys and games to avoid simple trips and falls.
4. Children’s bedrooms
These are perhaps the rooms our children use most frequently, so it makes sense to ensure they’re hazard-free.
Position furniture in a way that prevents a child from using it as a climbing zone or confidence course, and avoid putting furniture near windows, so kids can’t climb up and fall out. When transitioning your child from a cot to a bed, start with a bed that’s closer to the ground, so as to prevent injury during the inevitable tumbling out.
As with the living rooms, designating a box, basket or shelf to store toys and games out of the way prevents common fall injuries.
5. Bathrooms and toilets
These rooms are often overlooked when thinking about child safety, but they can be incredibly hazardous. Installing an external lock on the bathroom and, in particular, the toilet is the best way to keep littlies out of these rooms. It only takes five centimetres of water for a toddler to drown, so keeping them out of here when unaccompanied is essential. Position the lock high enough for adults-only access.
Floating shelves might be on trend right now, but be sure to also provide a secure place to store medicines, cosmetics and appliances you use daily, such as hair straighteners. Consider adding a lock or security latch on these cupboards, even if they’re out of direct reach, especially if your little ones are of the adventurous and cunning variety!
Medicine cabinets should be secure and lockable. It’s easy to absentmindedly leave pills on the vanity where curious little fingers can easily find them, so be sure to safely put away all medication immediately after use.
Non-slip surface finishing on floors can markedly reduce falls, as can non-slip surfaces in baths and showers. These are a great option if you’re up for a bathroom renovation, but fitting non-slip mats will also do the trick.
There should be very little reason for your kids to be in the laundry – unless you’re starting them on chores at an early age – but just in case they wander in on their own, there are a couple of key safety features to be aware of.
A set of cupboards positioned above the sink/bench in the laundry is not only a good use of space from a design sense, but also the safest place to store household chemicals and cleaners. Fitting safety latches to all low cabinetry is the next best option.
Ensure all the locks and latches of your whiteware are working properly, so that you don’t find anyone hiding in the washing machine next time you go to put a load on!
These are essentially a slide/climbing frame for kids, so a few precautions could save a lot of broken bones.
A wall-fixed safety gate at both the top and bottom of any internal or external stairs will significantly reduce the risk of a child falling. As I mentioned in the kitchen section, the key is for it to be firmly attached to the wall on both sides.
Ensure there are no gaps between balustrades or open risers that a child could fit through. There are strict regulations in the building code that require open-riser style stairs that are frequented by children under four to have no gaps that would allow a 100mm sphere to pass through, or 130mm for children aged four to five years. For any stairs with a fall greater than one metre, barriers are required to be at least 900mm high.
8. Garages and sheds
These are potentially one of the most dangerous areas in the house due to the type of things typically stored here. Keeping garages locked is by far the best way to keep children safe from vehicles, machinery, tools and chemicals.
Store all chemicals up high and never store them in familiar bottles, like old drink containers. Young children are often fooled by a brand or a colour, seeing it as a yummy drink rather than the poison that it is.
9. Back yard
Kids will spend hours out here – covered in sunscreen, of course – tiring themselves out so everyone sleeps well. But there are a few potential hazards to address before letting kids run wild.
Fencing any play area is essential. It not only prevents kids from wandering, but also keeps them off the driveway where, unfortunately, many accidents happen. Make sure fence rungs are correctly spaced and the fence is low enough to the ground to prevent a little Houdini from slipping through. A self-latching safety gate will help give you peace of mind.
Strict rules must be followed if you have a swimming pool. Any pool deeper than 400mm is required to be fenced, in accordance with the Fencing of Swimming Pools Act 1987. This includes many of the inflatable pools that became popular last summer, something most people aren’t aware of. The Act requires fences to be 1.2 metres high, fixed and childproof, with a self-closing gate opening outwards.
After the wetness of winter, you’ll undoubtedly notice any drainage problems in your backyard. If you spot significant pooling, it’s important to get this fixed.
Place children’s play equipment over a soft material, such as lawn or bark chip.
Many regions in New Zealand experience strong spring winds that often cause significant damage to trees. Avoid the risk of falling limbs and broken branches with regular tree trimming.
Installing non-slip paths – such as unglazed tiles, asphalt or concrete pavers – is a great way to prevent slips and trips.
Basically our homes are hazard zones and we should all wear hard hats and hi-vis. I’m joking of course, but adhering to these tips and tricks will certainly help to prevent your precious little ones from harm in and around your home.
Jeremy Wyn-Harris is the CEO of builderscrack.co.nz – a web service where homeowners and landlords can simply post the details of a job, receive interest from tradespeople and then select the most suitable for quotes. He’s a natural creative problem-solver, which comes in handy in his role as a father of three.
AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 43 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW