Is your home safe for your children?
September is Baby Safety Month, so we spoke to a leading childproofing expert to find out how to protect your little ones from common hazards in your home.
For parents of young children, home feels like a safe haven from the outside world. But while there might not be any speeding cars or wild animals to avoid, there are still a number of hidden dangers lurking in your house.
In honor of Baby Safety Month, we spoke to Colleen Driscoll, Executive Director of the International Association for Child Safety. “Start your childproofing early because children quickly find trouble,” she says. “Be selective when shopping for childproofing products since there’s a wide range in quality. Price can matter with many products, but save frugal shopping for something that’s not related to your child’s safety.”
Driscoll notes that keeping your child out of harm’s way starts with the adoption of safe sleep practices because more than 3,500 babies die unexpectedly while sleeping in the U.S. each year. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends always putting babies to sleep on their backs before their first birthday, using a firm sleep surface, and avoiding any soft objects or loose bedding. For more safe sleep tips, visit the AAP’s website.
There are several other ways you can prevent injuries and accidental death in your home. Here are Driscoll’s top 10 childproofing tips.
- Anchor your furniture: Every 30 minutes, a child in the U.S. is injured because of a TV or furniture tip-over incident. To avoid this, Driscoll recommends anchoring TVs, stoves, bookshelves, dressers and other furniture to wall studs. “Even if your furniture looks heavy and seems like it might not be a hazard, it could become hazardous to a child who climbs on an open drawer to reach something,” she explains. “To reduce the risk of climbing, avoid storing toys or remotes on the top of furniture or TVs.” For more information, visit AnchorIt.gov.
- Install gates at the top and bottom of stairs: “Always use hardware-mounted gates at the top of stairs,” says Driscoll. “Pressure-mounted gates should only be used in doorways. You can also use gates to block off rooms and create safe zones in your home. But make sure you don’t create an entrapment risk by installing your gates too high, which is a common mistake. Spaces under gates should be three inches or less depending on the manufacturer’s instructions.”
- Secure rugs and windows: “Ensure rugs have slip-resistant mats and add cushioning to furniture and fireplace hearths to protect children if they fall,” advises Driscoll. “Don’t rely on window screens to hold a child. Install window guards that allow for exit in case of fire, and never place a crib or other furniture under a window.
- Store dangerous products safely: Every day, more than 300 children in the U.S. aged 0 to 19 are treated for poisoning in an emergency department and two children die from it. “You can prevent poisoning by storing medicines, cleaners, alcohol, toiletries and vitamins up high and in the original containers,” says Driscoll. “Don’t rely on child-resistant caps – they’re not child-proof!”
- Install cabinet and drawer latches: “Use them in your kitchen, bathrooms and other areas of your home,” says Colleen. “Don’t forget to secure cabinets that contain pots and pans because children will think of them as toys when they’re on the stove. Select self-locking latches that are easy to use and don’t require you to remember to lock the cabinet each time you use it.”
- Keep small objects out of reach: “Pet food, magnets, coins, button batteries and other small objects can cause choking,” says Driscoll. “Make sure they’re kept well out of children’s reach.”
- Secure window cords and power cords: Nearly one child a month dies after becoming entangled in a window-covering cord, so Driscoll urges parents to use cordless blinds and draperies. She also recommends securing all power cords so children can’t play with them. “In particular, place the baby monitor and cords more than three feet away from the crib,” she says.
- Cover electrical outlets and plugs: “We recommend sliding outlet covers and plug covers,” says Driscoll. “Also, use surge protectors with safety covers instead of extension cords.”
- Never leave children unattended near water: Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death in children aged one to four. “Children can drown in just a few inches of water,” warns Driscoll. “Never leave them alone while bathing, install lid locks on toilets, and never leave a bucket on the floor with water in it. If you have a pool, enclose it with fences that are at least four feet high to prevent access.” Visit poolsafely.gov for more pool safety tips.
- Prevent burns: “Set your hot water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent scald burns,” says Driscoll. “Don’t hold your child while cooking or drinking hot beverages, avoid placing hot foods on tablecloths that can be pulled onto your child, and use the back burners on your stove with the pot handles facing backwards so your child can’t reach them. For increased safety, install a stove guard.”