Parents worry endlessly about how to protect their children from stranger abduction and violence, but many overlook one of the biggest threats to their children's safety and well-being — their own home. Experts say that children between the ages of 1 and 4 are more likely to be killed by fire, burns, drowning, choking, poisoning, or falls than by a stranger's violence.
About 2.5 million children are injured or killed each year by dangers right in their own home, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). That's why it's so important to carefully childproof your home.
Because childproofing and other safety measures can seem overwhelming, we've created three checklists that let you see at a glance what to do before your baby arrives, before your baby crawls, and before your baby starts toddling and climbing. You'll also find safety tips in our articles about childproofing your nursery, kitchen, and bathroom.
Here are some additional recommendations — along with some revealing statistics — about what you need to do to keep your baby safe at home.
You'll find all kinds of gadgets for sale that can really help your home childproofing efforts. Or, if you can afford it, you can hire a professional childproofer to choose and install safety devices for you. But keep in mind: Gadgets are no substitute for your eyes and ears.
Scope out the territory
The most effective way to ensure your baby's safety is to take a baby's-eye view of your home. Get down on your hands and knees and see how things look from down there.
What's within reach? What looks tempting? Where would you go if you could crawl, toddle, or walk? This will help you figure out which cupboards, drawers, and other spaces your child might get into. As he starts walking and climbing, you'll have to reevaluate again, looking higher each time.
Carefully lock up or stow away every potential poison or other hazard, including cleaning products, medicines, vitamins, and knives. Another option is to use gates to limit your child's access to areas of your home that might contain dangerous items.
Keep an eye out for any tiny objects that your baby could choke on. Pick up any coins, marbles, beads, paper clips, and other small objects you find on low tables or the floor or in low drawers or cupboards.
Be watchful when you have visitors, too. No matter how carefully you've childproofed the house, Great-Aunt Jane probably hasn't applied your standards to her purse. Aspirin, lipstick, and other items that people typically carry with them are dangerous to small children.
(800) 222-1222 It's a good idea to protect electrical outlets with outlet covers. However, the removable little plug-in caps can easily end up in your baby's mouth. Instead, replace the outlet cover itself — at least those that are accessible — with one that includes a sliding safety latch. If you're using any extension cords in your home, you should insulate the junction points with electrical tape.
You'll have to reevaluate these precautionary measures as your child grows. Childproofing is an ongoing process.
Use caution with furniture and fixtures
According to the CPSC, at least 5,000 children under the age of 10 go to the emergency room each year with injuries caused when television sets, bookcases, and other furniture and appliances have tipped over on them. About six people die from furniture tip-overs every year, most of them children under the age of 5.
Large or heavy bookcases, dressers, and appliances are real hazards: Bolt whatever you can to the wall. Push items like televisions back from the edge of the furniture they're on or move them out of reach, and then secure them, too. Always put heavier items on bottom shelves and in bottom drawers to make furniture less top-heavy.
Babies start pulling up on furniture shortly after they start crawling. And when they learn how to climb, watch out! Some children scale counters, bookcases, and anything else they can grab on to. Take care to place floor lamps behind other furniture so that their bases are out of your child's reach.
Be sure to keep dresser drawers closed when you're not using them — they make perfect ladders. And be particularly careful to fully close file cabinet drawers, since pulling out one drawer could cause the cabinet to fall over.
Furniture corners are another common hazard, especially those found on coffee tables. Cover all sharp corners and hearth edges with bumpers to soften the impact if your child falls.
Unfortunately, if out-of-date or used improperly, safety gates can themselves pose a hazard to children. In general, look for gates your child can't dislodge but that you can easily open and close. (Otherwise, you'll be too tempted to leave them open when you're in a hurry.) For the top of the stairs, install a gate that screws to the wall rather than one that stays put by using pressure — it's much more secure.
It's best to buy brand-new safety gates, making sure they display a seal from the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA). Choose a gate with a straight-slat design rather than an older accordion-style gate with V-shaped openings, says Altman. "They can pose an entrapment and strangulation hazard."
Check ties on blinds and curtains.
According to the CPSC, the cords on window coverings are a frequent cause of strangulation of children under 5. The younger victims, usually between 10 and 15 months of age, are typically in cribs placed near windows with pull cords.
Window blinds pose a particular hazard because a baby's neck could become trapped in the cords that raise the blinds or run through the slats. A child can become entangled in a looped window cord and strangle in a matter of minutes.
If the crib must be near a window, either cut off the pull cords or use cord shorteners or wind-ups to keep them out of reach. You can also replace a cord loop with a safety tassle. Window blinds sold since November 2000 have attachments on the pull cords to prevent a loop from forming between the slats.
If you bought your blinds before November 2000, visit the Window Covering Safety Council's Web site or call (800) 506-4636 to order a free repair kit.