Hollywood celebrity Matthew McConaughey recently made the following comment about his 14-month-old son, Levi: “He’s getting bigger, more fun, smarter and craftier by the day.” Toddlers are great at keeping their dads very busy, and their growing craftiness can be a lot of fun, but it can also be a cause for concern because they can disappear very quickly, sometimes into very unsafe environments. Have you had that experience?
Too often, when talking with a new father, I’ll hear him discount the idea of childproofing his home–or maybe he’ll pass it off as the mother’s responsibility. Yet, I also know many dedicated fathers who feel very responsible for the ultimate safety of their children and of their entire family. That’s the traditional role as the head of the household and protector of the family — you protect everyone from harm.
Still, tragic accidents sometimes happen. Children are incredibly adept at climbing over railings, getting into cabinets, dropping toys in the worst places, eating or drinking harmful products, and finding new ways to challenge their boundaries, often in dangerous ways. If you’re a dad-to-be or you have an infant, you may think of your home as being very safe, however toddlers can quickly find areas you will need to childproof. To protect your children, it’s much better to prepare in advance for your little explorers.
I suggest you take steps to make your home safe at least by the time your child reaches six months old. The sooner the better! As your child grows, your life will only get busier and more distracted with care, feeding and trying to sleep. Even if your baby can’t crawl yet, getting ahead will give you time to adjust to the changes and develop new habits of closing gates and latching cabinets. Just make sure you’re not like the father who was downstairs making his childproofing list when the dog grabbed the day-old baby from the crib and ran outside with him as if playing with a new toy.
If your child is already past that age, then my “suggestion” becomes an imperative: please use the steps I have provided below to make your home safe. A child’s first three years are the most hazardous times of their lives.
Where do you start? On your hands and knees. A good first step is to crawl around your house and try to see the world as your child does. Look at everything up to four feet from the floor, and never underestimate your child’s curiosity nor his ability to climb and reach things. Also, it’s wise to do a new “crawl-through” every six months to see if anything is out of place or you need to make adjustments based on your child’s growth and development.
Childproofing is all about building a physical environment that is safe for young children, so this can be a good excuse to spend more time at the hardware store. (And it may keep you out of trouble while your better half is shopping for everything else.) Here’s a good start on safety measures for the do-it-yourself dad:
- Drawers and cabinets need to be secured with special latches, locks should be installed, electrical outlets covered.
- Bolt the stove to the wall; a child can open and stand on the oven door, causing it to topple over.
- If stove knobs are within a child’s reach, they should be childproofed; gas ranges are particularly dangerous because you may not be aware of a child turning on the gas.
- Keep the dishwasher, oven, refrigerator, freezer and clothes dryer doors locked. (There are locks designed to work with each of these.)
- Add a fan to the nursery to improve air circulation and reduce the potential of SIDS and carbon monoxide poisoning; be sure it is up high and out of baby’s reach.
- Toy chests should have hinges that are hard for a child to close — or no lid at all.
- Chests of drawers are among the most frequent causes of injury; they should be no more than three drawers high, as they tip over easily. Tall bookshelves can also be dangerous. Strap furniture to the wall.
- With all the hazards in bathrooms, it’s wise to use a lock or latch on the door until your child is older.
- Set your hot water heater down to 120 degrees Fahrenheit or lower to prevent scalding; at 140 degrees, water can produce a third-degree burn in three seconds.
- Install anti-scald valves to bathtubs and other faucets your child could get to. (The valves reduce water flow if the temperature exceeds 118 degrees.)
- Cover the bathtub spout to prevent your child from burning herself or hitting her head.
- Lock toilet lids. The size of children’s heads makes them top-heavy; they can fall in and drown in three seconds.
- Make sure doors can be unlocked from the inside and outside. Have an extra key nearby.
- Install ground fault circuit interrupters in all bathroom outlets.
Those are a few of the measures a father can take to protect his child, and it should keep you busy for at least a few days. To truly keep your home safe, this needs to be an ongoing mission, an ever-present awareness in your home. Being more conscious of the potential hazards in and around your home is just another step that will become second nature as a baby grows.
And once again, it should not be just the mom’s job — she already has enough to worry about. Dad, this is a great way for you to show your care, concern and commitment. Creating a safe environment is one of the best things you can do to ensure that your baby’s first years are happy and healthy.
Marjorie Wrenn is the originator and founder of Child Proof Advice. She graduated from college with a degree in child psychology, and is very involved in volunteering and advocating for children. Her efforts at Child Proof Advice are based on her belief that children are our most valuable asset, and her desire to help expecting and new parents protect and save the lives of their children. She lives and works in Charlotte, North Carolina. You can find additional do-it-yourself safety tips and products at www.childproofadvice.com.