Beyond Baby Gates: Keeping Kids Safer at Home
Being smart with safety precautions at various stages and ages of a child's life
WITH LESS TIME AWAY from a caregiver’s gaze than kids enjoyed a few decades ago, children today may be the most supervised generation yet. Even with more caregiver supervision, one fact remains, kids are prone to accidents. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accidental falls and injuries are still the leading cause of death for children under age 14, and most accidents occur in or around a child’s home.
“While we can’t eliminate every possibility, our best defense is to make our homes as safe as possible,” says child-proofing expert Kenny Lynerd, owner of Child Safe Home Inc. in Cary, North Carolina. Here’s how to keep kids safer, from birth through the teen years.
Mention baby-proofing and most new parents think of baby gates and cabinet latches. While these items are important — baby gates should be screw-mounted at the top and bottom of all staircases — they don’t address all household hazards.
“Baby gates and cabinet latches are great ways to keep your babies and young children away from dangerous areas and items in your home. However, there are many other dangers in the home that you might not think of as a new parent,” says Annie Trostel, health education specialist in the Center for Childhood Injury Prevention at Texas Children’s Hospital.
Take the bathroom — a space brimming with potential safety hazards, from cleaning and grooming products to the water in the toilet. Use doorknob covers to keep toddlers out of the bathroom, and move hazardous products like rubbing alcohol, nail polish, polish remover, cleaning products, bath salts and perfumes into an upper cabinet — preferably secured with a latch. Use toilet locks to keep the toilet lid closed. Top-heavy tots can tip into the bowl and drown in just a few inches of water, Trostel says.
Childhood safety hazards don’t disappear once kids outgrow baby gates. Falls from second- or third-story windows send thousands of kids to the hospital each year, and parents may not think about securing windows when kids grow past toddlerhood. Never assume that a window screen can prevent a fall, says Stopat4, a child window-fall prevention organization. Its guideline for window safety is easy to remember: Kids shouldn’t be able to open windows more than four inches. This means installing window stops on windows within a child’s reach, or child-safe window guards for windows that you may want to open more than four inches. If you’re building a home or installing new windows, ask about built-in limiting devices to keep windows from opening wider than four inches. Teach children never to sit or play on windowsills, no matter how inviting they seem, and move all furniture that kids can climb onto away from windows, Lynerd says.
Make teens safety stakeholders by enlisting their help in assembling and maintaining one or several family first-aid kits. First, pick an easy-to-access spot for your kit — one that is simple to point out to babysitters and visiting relatives. Choose a durable, cleanable container — a small fishing tackle box or hard-side makeup kit works well. Find a list of recommended items for a family-size first-aid kit on the American Red Cross website at redcross.org, Trostel advises. Make sure to include less obvious items like a space blanket, tweezers and scissors. Don’t forget to complete the kit by adding needed medications for family members and phone numbers of emergency contacts. Take first-aid knowledge further by enrolling your teen in a first-aid and CPR course, and take comfort in the knowledge that your not-so-little kid is a lot safer, both inside and outside the home.
Malia Jacobson is a nationally published health and parenting journalist and mom.