By Jennifer Seawell, MD, FAAP
Lessons in Childproofing
Congratulations!! You have survived the first few months with your new bundle. Now that you’re in the swing of the whole eat, sleep, pee, poop, repeat cycle, it’s time to start thinking about childproofing. There is a lot to think about when starting to childproof your home. Are cleaning products out of reach? Stairs inaccessible? What about outlet covers? Bumpers? I think the list might be endless.
But never fear forgetting something. Your little will be more than happy to show you if you’ve left something out. Here are a few lessons that my two have taught me about childproofing. Feel free to share your lessons as well.. Sometimes, we just have to laugh.
Quiet is bad
When my firstborn was a toddler, I decided to put away some laundry. The master bedroom was attached to the family room and I could see her from my room. Obviously a safe situation. I didn’t even hesitate. A couple of minutes into the laundry distribution project, I noticed I didn’t hear her. Now on full alert, I ran into the family room just in time to see her climbing. The coffee table had been pushed over to a tall glass cabinet and she had been very industrious in removing the pillows from the sofa and stacking them on top of it. Our cat, who was extremely wise, was sitting smugly on the top of that glass cabinet. The coffee table and pillows were to allow her to reach. Luckily I got there before she’d made it onto the wobbly pillows.
Lesson learned: If your child is being quieter than usual, check out the situation immediately. It is not a gift from above sent for your mental health and wellness.
Stair gates don’t always keep a kid from going up the stairs
Like many other great parents, we put stair gates up to keep our little one from climbing up the stairs and falling down. It worked great. We kept the gate locked, she stayed out of trouble. Until one day when she was 3 years old. We were all sitting at the table eating dinner and she had finished so we allowed her to go play while dad and I finished eating and had adult conversation (the luxury!!).
A few minutes later, we heard a small voice from around the corner which said “Mommy, Daddy, Save me, Save me!” The voice did not sound the least bit convincing and we chalked it up to her usual antics. Until a few seconds later when we heard the same plea again, more urgently this time… “Mommy, Daddy, Save me, Save me!”
This time we jumped up and followed the voice. Which is when we realized that upon the realization that going upstairs in the traditional method was not currently an option (stair gate closed), she would get up there by climbing up the stairs on the little 1 inch section on the outside of the stairwell. The part that CAN’T be child-proofed.
Lesson learned: Children can be very creative when their first attempts at destruction are thwarted.
Almost anything is more fun to eat than what they’re supposed to eat
Have you ever noticed that there seems to be a direct correlation between how badly you want them to eat something and their complete lack of interest? Green beans? No thank you. Dead bugs in the window sill? Sure, why not! Kids are goofy that way.
Also, their tiny toddler teeth are like razor blades of steel. My youngest once chewed thru 3 layers of hard plastic to get to the 3 tiny button batteries inside her sister’s finger light. In less than 1 minute. The finger light that she hid under a pillow till I walked out of the room because she knew she wasn’t supposed to have it. Luckily for her, she didn’t swallow them. But I just about had a heart attack. And I’m pretty sure the gray hair started then.
Lessons learned: Kids are smart. They are not wise. Also, consider trapping the green beans in hard plastic or set next to dead bugs in the window sill if you want them to eat them willingly.
Those hard plastic door handle covers keep more adults out than kids
As my kids both managed to come with more wiles than good sense, I was always terrified they’d manage to get out of the house or somewhere they didn’t need to be. So we got the door handle covers. Only not all types work the same. And apparently there is more variation between doorknobs and doorknob covers than we would have guessed. We were always super careful opening them so that the kid wouldn’t figure out where to press to get it to open. But this doesn’t always work. We knew we were in trouble when we caught a kid trying to pry one open with another toy. She’d found the seam and was going in for the kill.
Lesson learned: lack of dexterity is easily replaced with creativity.
They save their most dastardly plans for when the supervising parent is in the bathroom
A few months ago, my youngest (who is old enough to know better) decided to try to light my candles. You see, I love candles. They are pretty and warm and cozy and lovely. I used to keep several lovely smelling candles on my dining room table because it’s my place when there are too many mosquitos to sit outside to work on my computer. I’m a morning person, so I get up in the morning, make my coffee, light the candles, and get some writing done before the rest of my house is awake.
But clearly my enjoyment of the candles rubbed off on a certain young person. And clearly she had lulled me into a sense of complacency because it hadn’t stopped me from leaving the lighter on the table next to the candles. And one afternoon, she waited till she had her opening and decided to light those candles. Except that she couldn’t get it at the right angle to light them. And then made the brilliant decision to light the wooden pencils in the kitchen and walk with the on-fire pencil to light the candles. To this day, she still cannot tell me why on earth she would do this. Except that she is very sad that the candles are gone because she “apparently can’t be trusted.” (Her words, not mine… and she is apparently right… haha)
Lesson learned: Wax warmers it is. Kids and fire are bad combinations. We are lucky she didn’t set the house on fire.
Toilet paper dispensers do not flush down the toilet without a fight
Nor do other toys. And why would you do this? Add this question of the times to the ever going list you are collecting as you raise your toddler or preschooler. This discovery was made well into potty training. We just couldn’t figure out why the toilet wasn’t flushing. We looked and everything looked fine. We’d never seen her flush anything down. And she certainly didn’t admit to it. Eventually, we hired a plumber and found out that the little spring-loaded thing that holds the toiled paper had been flushed. I had replaced the original with a pretty scented thing and the original was in a drawer. We hadn’t noticed it was gone.
Lessons learned: Plumbers are expensive. Privacy is overrated.
Kitchen cabinets can be scaled
When my youngest was 2, I had gone outside to take out the trash. Looking up at our kitchen window, I saw something that was out-of-place. There, in the window, was a tiny cheerful face staring back at me. I rushed inside and saw her standing in the sink. No open cabinets or drawers. No chair pulled over. I got her down and figured her big sister must have helped her up there even though she insisted that she just went up.
Fast forward a few days to a different countertop but similar evidence. Nothing. Again, nothing out-of-place. Except for a triumphant tiny cheerful face. Until I caught her doing it one day when she didn’t think I was watching. (I’m sneaky that way… adapt or fail miserably in my house.) There she was, tiny little fingers gripped the top edge of the countertop. And tiny naked monkey toes quickly climbed up the smooth front of the cabinets.
For the record, I am pretty certain that this is not an inherited talent. I am not totally understanding how one can have the upper body strength to pull off such a feat. Eventually she got bigger and the thrill of the climb wore off. Although I still catch her standing on countertops from time to time to reach something she should ask for help to get. Independence is a double-edged sword.
Lessons learned: I gave birth to a spider monkey. Preschoolers have significantly more relative strength than I do.
If I sat and thought for a bit, I could probably come up with a few more wonderful lessons.. For example, putting all the contents of one of your clothing drawers onto one leg will cut off circulation. But I do think the examples could be endless.
In the end, childproofing is about risk management. You do the best that you can do to make the environment as safe as possible. But even with good childproofing, a determined child will find something interesting to do. Because eventually, you are going to fall asleep on the sofa. Or have to transfer the wet laundry to the dryer. Or use the bathroom.
So do the best you can. And keep your sense of humor. You are going to need it!!