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Building a Child-Friendly Home: The Definitive Guide
Creating a child-friendly home entails more than decorations, bright paint, and toys to teach and inspire. It also means creating a safe and secure space for the child to grow up in.
As children grow and explore, injuries from falling, pulling objects down onto themselves, and banging against sharp areas at home are more common than you may think. Additionally, our homes are full of sharp objects, tools, and hazardous materials that can be toxic when consumed even in small quantities. Household injuries are one of the more prevalent reasons that children under the age of three years old are likely to visit the emergency room.
It’s too easy for parents to underestimate how curious their children are. It may require multiple walk-throughs of a space before you can identify all the hazards around your home, as well as places that would be enticing for a child to try to climb.
Building a child-friendly home means identifying as many of these risks as possible and coming up with strategies to eliminate as many risks as you reasonably can. A study by the University of Alabama found that when first-time moms of children between one and three years old were asked to walk through a model home, they identified fewer than half of the potential child-safety hazards.
Nonetheless, even with the best childproofing possible, supervision is still the most important way to ensure a child’s safety. Watching over your child not only helps to protect them from hazards, mishaps, and injuries, but it also helps to teach them what’s safe and what isn’t.
Basic Goals of a Child-Friendly Home
A child-friendly home should promote safe exploration and learning while also making sure that children aren’t put in the way of unnecessary risks.
Some general signs of a child-friendly home include soft corners, reducing unstable objects, minimizing access to electrical outlets, and blocking off areas of the house where you won’t be able to supervise the child.
Throughout the home, it’s recommended to:
- Pad down sharp edges and corners with cushions and guards. The type of padding that you use can be important in this case. Be wary of simply taping foam to corners, as children can pull it off and put it in their mouths.
- For children older than two, be aware of anything that your child might find interesting to climb. This might be open drawers, an empty bookcase, a cabinet, or floating shelves on the wall. Anchor and support heavy furniture as much as you can.
- Use safety gates and doorknob covers to block off unsafe or unsupervised rooms or sections of the house.
- Don’t neglect basic household safety, such as working smoke alarms, to warn against house fires, as well as carbon monoxide sensors. Test smoke alarms every month and don’t neglect to replace the batteries when necessary.
- Make sure that anything that belongs to the child, which they will want to get, is within their reach. You can save a lot of accidents by not luring children to try to grab or climb for something out of their reach.
- Place plants out of reach and remove any poisonous plants from the home.
Making Rooms Child-Friendly
The formula for a child-friendly home tends to be consistent from room to room. However, some rooms, such as the kitchen and the garage, run more risks than others. It’s important to pay attention to what makes each room different so that you can identify the specific risks to eliminate.
Young children should always be supervised when in the kitchen, since it’s almost impossible to make a kitchen completely risk-free. Nonetheless, kitchens are particularly dangerous for toddlers and children who start exploring and grasping.
- Consolidate dangerous items into one cabinet and lock them up. We often put some of our most dangerous items in lower cabinet storage, such as heavy pots and pans, toxic detergents, drain cleaners, and other cleaning supplies. This makes it very important that lower cabinets are protected from children. This can be done with a magnetic lock or a latch.
- Lock the dishwasher at all times, and don’t add detergent until you’re ready to run it. Since ingesting detergent is such a common hazard, it’s important to make sure that the dishwasher remains locked and that you run it as soon as you put the detergent in and it is ready.
- Observe microwave safety around children to avoid burning or scalding. A mounted microwave is best when there are children in the house, since this keeps it out of their reach. It’s unwise to turn on the microwave and leave it unattended or leave hot food in it. Additionally, make sure that children are not close to you when you are removing hot foods from the microwave.
- Make sure children cannot turn on the stove. If your children are able to reach the stove knobs and are in the stage of reaching and grasping for things, then it’s wise to remove the knobs when you’re not using them. This will make it much more difficult for children to accidentally heat up the stove.
- Keep small appliances out of the reach of children. This is particularly important for any appliances that have blades, such as blenders or coffee grinders, or that are self-heating, including coffee pots and countertop microwaves. Additionally, keep an eye on any cords that are sticking out.
- Keep an eye on the placement of your kitchen knives. Keep kitchen knives out of the reach of children. This also means keeping the whole knife block out of reach, since kids may easily take a knife out of a knife block as long as they can grasp it. Make sure that knives are not only secured but out of reach of a child on a step stool.
Living rooms are often places where we keep our fragile accessories, entertainment systems, and the other odds and ends that constitute our leisure time.
While it can be tempting to deck out the living room with accessories and items of interest, such as coffee table books, vases and other ornaments to make our home feel beautiful and inviting, it’s important to premeditate how children will understand and use these items. Consider what mementos and items you have strewn around your living room. Anything that’s in reach of a child is fair game for them to pick up. Certainly remove anything that could be dangerous, sharp, fragile, or could hurt or injure the child.
- Avoid having any lighting in reach of children. Keep in mind that children will put anything in their mouths, and that includes the candles. Keep these on a higher shelf out of reach, or opt for LED and flameless candles to set the mood around your home.
- Consider all the glass within range in the living room. There are also hazards that you may not necessarily think of as fragile, such as glass photo frames which can shatter when dropped. Frames should be mounted on walls, displayed out of reach, or replaced with plastic as opposed to glass.
- Fill your room with safer accessories that the child can use, grab, and play with. Safer accessories can include but are not limited to: books, soft pillows, and blankets.
- Block off the fireplace and keep fireplace tools out of reach. Fireplaces mark unique hazards for children, as they combine dangerous heat with sharp tools, such as pokers and shovels.
- Pad over sharp corners, hard brick, or stonework.
- Close and lock the doors when not using the fireplace.
- Keep fireplace tools out of reach, including matches, shovels, and pokers.
- When possible, install heat-resistant gates for when the fire is lit to limit the exposure in the house to burning hot surfaces.
- Gas fireplaces tend to be safer since they cool down more quickly; however, some gas fireplaces use small decorative stones that can be choking hazards.
One of the best ways that you can improve the child-friendliness of your living room space is to offer children a dedicated place to be within it. Giving children their own spaces to enjoy will help keep them out of trouble while allowing them to stay near you.
It’s best if the space that you create for the children remains close to your own. This will keep them from taking over your space when they want to be nearby, and it will also help to put them at ease. For some, this might mean setting up a children’s’ desk where they can play and paint. Another example could be setting up reading cushions.
As far as safety walk-throughs go, hallways are easy to overlook, since we normally only think of them as a way of getting from one place to another. Nonetheless, there are a few particular risks in hallways to child-proof.
- Protect doors with doorknob guards, or make sure that they don’t close all the way. Finger and thumb injuries and amputations are among the most prevalent surgical injuries for children two or younger, and this most often comes from closing heavy doors on them. You can prevent this by making sure that doors that children should be opened have guards on them.
At the same time, doors that children will frequently use shouldn’t close all the way. One easy way to prevent a door from closing while it’s in use is with a doorstop or a towel draped over the top.
- Don’t forget to cover the hallway outlets. Cover all electrical outlets when not in use with plastic (non-conducting) safety caps. This also includes any outlet on a power strip as well. If your child has a history of prying up the basic plastic caps, look for press-to-release outlet covers which are even safer.
- Guard heat sources. Make sure that heat sources such as stoves or radiators have guards on them so that children can’t get close enough to burn themselves.
- Clear away the clutter. Clutter lining a hallway, whether it’s toys or chores, creates a tripping hazard for young ones. Try to make sure to put everything away and clear the hallway to give your children plenty of space to explore and learn to walk.
- Add in a night-light. For older children that can walk the hallways without supervision, a night-light can be a good way to put them at ease and help them navigate a dark hallway.
Most garages aren’t safe for young children to spend time in without supervision. They often contain sharp objects and power tools, as well as toxic materials for the home and lawn.
Additionally, the garage may not always represent our finest organizational skills. This is a place that often becomes cluttered with odds and ends that don’t belong anywhere else, and those piles could constitute a physical hazard if they fall on children.
- Lock cabinets and storage. Make sure that all cabinet storage and drawer storage is latched or otherwise locked so that toddlers can’t get into them.
- Store rope and string safely. Do not allow rope, twine, or even loose chords that can result in strangulation, to lie around or hang down from spaces in the garage.
- Store ladders horizontally. Ladders should be stored horizontally so children will not try to climb them and they won’t fall on anyone.
- Unplug and disconnect all power tools unless immediately in use. These are easier for young ones to turn on or accidentally operate than you may think. Additionally, if a tool has a safety lock, make sure to use it.
- Get rid of fire hazards. Fire hazards often come from clutter. This could include stacks of newspapers or magazines, as well as bags of old clothing or rags. Additionally, avoid storing flammable liquids such as gasoline near tools that produce heat, such as a hot water heater.
- Remove the doors from large appliances before storing. If you are storing a large appliance that isn’t currently in use, such as a refrigerator, chest freezer, or laundry machine, make sure to remove the door first and place it somewhere stable where it won’t risk falling on anyone. Removing the door from large appliances reduces the risk of children getting trapped inside.
- Lock cars parked in the garage. Car doors can easily crush young fingers. Additionally, the car’s interior often contains various hazards, such as small objects to swallow.
- Use garage door sensors. Childproof your garage doors with sensors that cause the door to stop and reverse when it comes into contact with something.
Bathrooms will be one of the rooms that your child uses the most. At the same time, bathrooms offer a number of places where children can bump and scrape themselves. There are also numerous drowning, slipping, and poisoning hazards.
- Use a rubber guard on the bathtub faucet. One common place that young children scrape themselves in on the bathtub faucet, which often has a sharp edge that can hurt a child that falls back on it. While young children should always be supervised in the tub, you can help to eliminate cuts and bruises from sharp edges by using rubber spout covers.
- Use sensors to check for scalding water in the bathtub. If you have a sensitive water heater, you might invest in an anti-scald device with a heat sensor or locks for the hot water knob on your tub to keep children from turning up the heat and accidentally scalding themselves.
- Keep an eye on slippery spots and places that collect puddles in your bathroom. A puddle that isn’t taken care of promptly can mean a heavy fall for your toddler.
- Keep the toilet lid closed to prevent drowning. You can install toilet locks to keep the toilet lid closed when not in use.
- Unplug hot beauty tools in the bathroom after use. This often includes hair dryers, straighteners, and hot curlers. These are tools that a child can easily turn on and cause burns.
- Keep toiletries out of reach or locked away, particularly those that aren’t child safe. Children are curious and will open things, play with different textures, experiment, and often stick things in their mouth. Many of our toiletries can be toxic when used topically or consumed even in small amounts.
- Lock away cleaning supplies in a cabinet. The ingredients found in most cleaning supplies, particularly bathroom cleaners that frequently contain bleach, can be toxic to adults and children alike. Lock these cabinets to keep cleaning supplies out of curious hands.
- Keep medicine and vitamins in childproof bottles and away from children. When consumed inappropriately, many medicines can damage your child’s development. Additionally, some medicine may be toxic to those who do not exhibit the condition that requires these medications.
Your Child’s Bedroom
Your child’s bedroom is one of the most important places to go all out with your childproofing. As they grow older, they will spend more and more unsupervised time in their room. It should be safe for them to explore within.
- Safely set up the crib. Read every direction when assembling your crib to make sure that it is structurally sound. Be aware of any suffocation risks in the crib or sleeping areas, such as too many stuffed animals. Additionally, a crib full of toys can make it easier for the child to climb out of the crib.
- Guard and lock windows. Windows in your child’s room should not be able to open more than three inches. You can ensure this by installing a window guard in your child’s bedroom to keep them from opening the window enough that they can fall through. Guards are also necessary for window seats and windows that are located close enough to the floor that they are at the child’s level.
- Install cordless window blinds. Over 200 young children have died from strangling on window blind chords since 1990, according to the CPSC. Make sure to only use cordless window blinds, to avoid a strangling hazard from the chord. If this is not possible right now, cut all loops and tassels that may make it around the child’s neck.
- Check that all furniture inside the room is secure. Falling furniture may hurt and crush children, this is particularly common with dressers. Dressers that tip over have been known to cause over 15,000 injuries each year. Heavy furniture should be anchored to the wall, and drawers should be secured so that they will neither tip over the dresser nor come all the way out of the dresser when yanked.
- Consider all glass and ceramics as potentially breakable. Most parents are very aware of when there’s glass inside of a child’s room, but that doesn’t always translate to porcelains and other breakable ceramics. Piggy banks are one of the main culprits since when they break, their contents tend to yield small coins which can block airways posing severe choking risks.
Each bedroom in a house will have its own set of risks, and hazards, depending on who lives in that room. Adult bedrooms will often be full of small objects that children might put in their mouth, as well as cosmetics, lotions, and fragile items. In many cases, children should only visit other rooms under supervision. Nonetheless, there are some key ways to protect them while they’re visiting.
- Stabilize and anchor all heavy furniture. All furniture in the bedroom needs to be stable and secured so that it won’t tip over.
- Use safety latches on drawers and cabinets that contain fragile, sharp, or dangerous objects. And lock them when possible, particularly if they contain fragile, sharp, or dangerous objects.
Backyards and Front Yards
The outdoors are full of potential obstacles and dangers for a young one, so it’s important to evaluate your yard on an individual basis to know the risks. Supervising your children is the best way to keep them safe outdoors.
- Water fixtures can provide a hazard for young children. It only requires one inch of water for a young child to drown. If you have a pond or water fixture in your back or front yard, always supervise the child when they are playing near or around it. This is true of natural creeks, streams, and ponds, as well as of landscaped water features and swimming pools.
- Put away all gardening and landscaping tools. Don’t leave out any outdoor tools, such as power tools, lawnmowers, and sharp tools. This may also include sharper gardening items, such as shovels. Lock them away and secure them somewhere that the children don’t have access to. Additionally, make sure that the child is out of the way, whenever you are using such lawn tools. Keep them unplugged when they are not actively in use.
- Keep the ground clear and fill in holes. Potholes present tripping hazards. Keep an eye on such holes as they pop up, since they can easily be made any time without warning by vermin such as moles.
- Set up a playpen in the yard. A playpen limits the area that the children can explore to in the yard, allowing you to examine the area for risks. While supervision is still recommended, this can be a more relaxing way to enjoy the outdoors with a young child.
Outdoor safety continues to be important as children become old enough for outdoor toys and activities, such as basketball games with their neighbors, jumping on a trampoline, and learning to skateboard or longboard. Instilling a sense of safety early will help your children make better safety decisions as they grow older and more ambitious.
Stairs are the most common places for a child to fall in the house, often resulting in an emergency room visit. Consider your staircase safety plans for the long-term, as it can take years before your children can safely climb the stairs on their own.
Baby gates are the most effective way of blocking a child off from using the stairs without help or supervision. For the most part, staircases should be gated off until children can learn to navigate them safely on their own.
There’s a lot to consider when it comes to choosing your child gate, However, not all baby gates are created equal. You should never use a pressure mounted gate at the top of the stairs. Top of the stairs gates should ALWAYS be mounted with engineered hardware. They should NEVER open over the stairs.
Size and height are both a key factor, as well as ease of access. Standards require that gates are not less than 22 inches in height with a floor-to-gate distance of not less than 3 inches. Many child gates are designed so that adults can open them with one hand. This makes it easier to carry larger objects or children up the stairs when you need to.
Finding the right gate becomes particularly tricky for those who might have open staircases in their home. In this case, you might require gate extensions to surround the mouth of the stairs. Expandable gates are also useful for irregularly sized doors, staircases, or staircase openings.
- Anchor your baby gates to make them more secure. This allows them to not only deter children from taking the stairs, but it also offers more solid support for children who tumble into or pull themselves up onto the gate. All top of the stairs gates must be anchored. Anchoring may require drilling into the banister or wall, depending on the kit that you’re using.
- Keep the stairs well-maintained. Keep an eye on stairs for areas where they might have rough patches, slippery patches, and therefore need maintenance. Keep an eye on splinters, loose steps, or loose nails.
- Install shields on banister gaps, lofts, and overlooks. Some staircases also have railing and banisters with wide gaps and spaces that a child can slip through and hurt themselves. If you have a banister with gaps, you can get a banister guard to protect children from falling through.
- Consider carpeting your stairs. Carpeting helps to make stairs less slippery and therefore less likely for a child to fall on. At the same time, carpeting offers some cushioning for if the child does fall or slip.
- Keep stairs free of clutter. Navigating around clutter can make even older children stumble or trip. In many cases, this clutter can be toys and other items that have ended up on the stairs.
By the time your child can start to climb up the gate, it’s time to remove it from the mouth or bottom of the stairs. When children can climb or get around the gates, they pose more of a hazard than a safety measure.
Maintaining a Space for Yourself
Having children often means that their stuff becomes littered in every space, and you find that you will never have enough storage.
Closed storage is a must to help you maintain the feel and appearance of your own spaces. This is often best as a combination of drawer and door storage that can therefore accommodate the different shapes and sizes that children’s toys run. Additionally, organizing children’s items in baskets and boxes on bookshelves can help keep everything organized.
There will likely be a room or two in your home that you cannot childproof. This is often an office that’s full of electronics and outlets, a sitting room that’s full of glass and fragile objects, or a workspace with dangerous tools or chemicals.
In this case, it’s best to limit access to these spaces, using gates where there aren’t doors to block access. It’s also important to supervise children any time that they’re in these spaces.
Finding a Balance Between Safety and Practicality
In many cases, providing safety measures around our homes for little ones can mean more work for us, as we may have to clear away baby-proofing devices to perform everyday duties.
One hazard can lead to another. If you don’t properly use and replace your child-proofing gear or return it to place after you use it, it can create a clutter that only makes another hazard. For example, you don’t need to lock every drawer in your home. This makes them inconvenient. It also makes it more likely that you’ll leave small parts lying around.
Instead of putting cabinet locks everywhere, reorganize your cabinetry so that all the hazardous materials and sharp objects are condensed into one or two cabinets that you can lock up.
In the end, direct supervision is ultimately more important than any other measure you can take to child-proof your home and reduce risk.
Tools and Devices that Can Help
- Night-Lights – Use night-lights to help children see in their own rooms or in hallways at night. This is a good way to help older children get to the bathroom without fear or tripping.
- Cabinet Locks – Cabinet locks help to protect children from hazardous and poisonous materials, particularly in the kitchen and bathrooms.
- Guards and Gates – Guards and gates are indispensable for keeping younger children from accessing areas that are unsafe. Guards also help to keep children away from stumbling hazards, sharp edges, or hot surfaces.
- Door Knob Covers – Most homes don’t need doorknob covers everywhere, but they can be very useful to keep children from accessing hazardous rooms, such as workshops, doors that open up to stairs, including basement doors, and other rooms that you would rather make off-limits.
Securing Potentially Dangerous Objects
One of the most dangerous parts of our homes are electrical equipment, including electrical outlets and power strips. It’s all too easy for children to wrongly unplug an unstable power chord, stick a metal object into an outlet, and risk electrocuting themselves. You can make this safer by using plastic protectors in your outlets or tucking them out of reach altogether.
Also, be aware of anything that contains a battery. Batteries are not only choking hazards, but they can also cause severe damage when swallowed. Many batteries, such as watch batteries, small batteries from an unsecured remote control, or those found in some toys, are small enough for this to be a common liability too.
Storing Things Safely for Children
Just as it matters how we store our own items, it can save us a lot of accidents by properly storing items that children will reach for. This includes putting all of their items within their reach so that they don’t have to climb for their things.
- Use hooks for storage. Hooks make items more accessible to children and can be positioned at the right height for them so that they don’t have to reach for things above their heads or among shelving where something might fall on them. Coat hooks are great for frequently-used apparel and outerwear, as well as bags and hobby equipment.
- Remove heavy or free-falling lids from chests. This is particularly for toy chests that the child will want to access frequently.
- Lock drawers into furniture. Make sure that all drawers the child will use won’t come all the way out of the furniture. Some furniture, particularly older pieces, will have drawers that can come all the way out. Children can easily drop these drawers on their toes and hurt themselves.
Creating a Safe Play Space
Once you have made the rest of the house safe for your children, it’s important for them to have at least some space in your home where they can safely play and explore. This space is best decorated to stimulate the child and draw out a sense of creativity and learning. Children respond well to bright colors and a variety of textures.
- Furnish their space with functional, child-sized furniture. Having furniture their size will help them feel at home. As they start to mimic what they see you doing in your spaces, this furniture will play a key part in their education and independence.
- Use playpens when space is limited. If you don’t have the space in your home to set up a permanent play area, you can use a temporary gate to create a playpen. This method allows you to restrict access to a room that may not be the safest for the child, while you keep an eye on them.
- Furnish with hardy materials. Play spaces may take a lot of abuse from children. They can quickly become messy when not properly cared for or designed.
- Hardwood flooring in a play area might be easy to clean, but it does risk being damaged when children drag furniture over it repeatedly.
- Carpeted play areas are going to quickly fall into disrepair with stains and other wear and tear. If you really want a carpeted space, it can be a good idea to use carpet tiles as opposed to a full length of carpet. These tiles can be replaced in pieces rather than having to replace the entire room.
- You can easily cushion hardwood or tiled flooring with a thick rug.
- When choosing rugs, opt for ones that are easy to clean and come in forgiving colors or patterns.
- Have a storage space for everything, including every toy. Have plenty of storage boxes or baskets and a place for everything, using drawers and boxes for small, many-part toys. Even older children should avoid having toys lying around where someone can trip on them. This also limits loss.
- Make sure that choking hazards are properly put away after use. Often yourself or older children use their own items that can be a hazard to little ones. Broken crayons, colored pencils, Legos, and other toys can easily become choking hazards. Try to keep these in their proper places, keep them neat, and put them away properly to avoid the younger children finding them.
Working with Multiple Children
As your children grow through different stages, you will have to learn and adapt to new risks in your home. Older children become more adventurous and experimental. They frequently like to climb objects, pull things down, and rearrange whatever they can. They are also more inclined to open things and search around as they explore.
While exploration is a good impulse for a young mind, it’s important to make sure that children have a safe way of exploring and expressing their sense of creativity, curiosity, and problem-solving. As they’re learning about their surroundings, this is also the time to teach them about what could possibly be safe and what isn’t.
When raising multiple children of different ages, some children may be at the earlier stage, where they require constant supervision; whereas other children may be at the more adventurous age when they’re determined to climb and explore.
In this case, it’s important to think through and scour all the stages of childproofing your home at once, so that none of the children are vulnerable to potential risks around your home. Nonetheless, when you are raising multiple children, behavioral aspects may become a safety issue as well, making supervision more important than ever.
Preparing Your Furniture
When choosing furniture for child-friendly spaces, opt for furniture with rounded corners. Try to eliminate as many jagged edges and sharp corners as you can. Sharp corners are a safety risk, since bumping into them could cause bruises, bumps, and even lacerations.
Choose furniture that does more than one job for the space it takes up. Tables can also offer storage. Consider storage trunks for furniture, as well as anything that has drawers. Additionally, heavy furniture is best, since children will not be able to knock it around as easily, push it over, or drag it across the floor.
When arranging furniture, avoid making areas that children can, and will, climb up on. If your home is an obstacle course, your children will take up the challenge, which runs the risk of children falling or furniture breaking beneath them. This is particularly true in the case of free-standing furniture, such as bookshelves, and anything that has been mounted to the wall, including mounted televisions. Make sure that all furniture is secure and anchored.
When it comes to upholstered furniture, use couch covers or fabrics that are easily washable and stain-resistant whenever you can. Fabrics such as leather, suedes, and high-quality velvets are also more difficult to stain, but can have other risks to watch out for, such as wear and scratching.
Child-friendliness will appear different in each and every home. Nonetheless, the key factors are to keep spaces safe, soft, and open for exploration. With the right supervision and careful consideration of the hazards in each of your spaces, your home can be a secure and comfortable place for your child to grow up.