Childproofing: Crawling Your Way to Safety
By BOB TEDESCHI
Published: October 26, 2011AFTER we closed on our new house 10 years ago, we stopped by with the kids — ages 2, 8 and 12 — to show them the place. We were there for no more than 15 minutes when we heard a loud pop just behind us and looked, in horror, to find our 2-year-old holding a key pointed at an outlet.
I’m still not sure how she wasn’t hurt or killed.
Every family has its childproofing lapses. Most survive just fine, but the stakes are always high. To discuss the dangers, I spoke recently with three specialists: Colleen Driscoll, the executive director of the International Association for Child Safety, a trade association; Julie Vallese, a vice president of Dorel Juvenile Group, which makes Safety 1st childproofing products; and Don Mays, senior director of product safety for Consumer Reports. These experts underlined one lesson: if you get your childproofing advice from friends, don’t trust everything you hear.
That’s because childproofing has changed in recent years, both in the products offered and in the household hazards parents face. So, families with older children are working with yesterday’s ideas.
For example, our youngest child — our fourth — is 9, so we’re not too far removed from this topic. Yet those little plastic outlet covers that seem just fine to me are apparently now ruled unwise. Likewise, a video baby monitor sounds to me like a great new safety device. But I’m wrong again.
“We started seeing strangulations about three years ago,” Mr. Mays said, alluding to the monitor cords. “In one case, the very first day the child was able to stand up in the crib, the child grabbed the cord, got tangled and died.”
And even just a few years ago, flat-screen TVs were too expensive to put on every conceivable surface in the house — especially dressers. That is no longer true, and that’s a problem.
“If a child climbs on the drawers, that TV can come crashing down,” Ms. Driscoll said. “There have been lots of injuries and deaths associated with furniture and TV tip-overs.”
As for solutions, Ms. Vallese suggested starting early. “The best time to do this is before the child comes,” she said, “and before the craziness of being a parent sets in.”
Start low, too, she added.
“Get down to a child’s vantage point, and look around,” she said. “What they see is very different from what we see.”
Since parenthood will eventually bring you to your knees anyway, think of it as training. (At least this type of parenting pain can be mitigated: QEP kneepads are about $10.)
As you crawl around the living room, notice the outlets. Old-school baby-proofers like me used plastic covers because they plugged tightly into outlets, making them hard for babies to remove. The problem, my panelists said, is that the covers are also hard for parents to remove, so they are less likely to reinsert them if they expect to use the outlet again shortly.
And when a parent puts that outlet cover down, Mr. Mays added, it becomes a major choking hazard. (Use an empty toilet-paper tube to answer choking questions. Objects that easily pass through one can choke your child.)
To avoid such problems, Ms. Driscoll recommends outlet covers with horizontally sliding doors. They’re easier for parents to use, they needn’t be removed and reinserted, and they pose no choking danger. I found Safety 1st’s Swivel outlet cover easy to install and, at $2.25 each, inexpensive.
But, Mr. Mays warned, some retractable covers prevent plugs from fully engaging, which can lead to sparking and overheating with high-power items like hair dryers or vacuums. Another option is Leviton’s Decora tamper-resistant duplex receptacle, an outlet that requires no cover and costs about $2.50 at Home Depot.
When my children were younger, I fixated on the choking hazard posed by cords on our window treatments, but I overlooked the same danger from power cords. One remedy is a device that eliminates the slack in electric wires. (Safety 1st’s Cord Short’ner is about $4.)
Don’t use tacks to secure a cord, Mr. Mays added. Your child will yank them out, and they will naturally make their way to his mouth.
After your crawl, get up and stretch. Then grab a screwdriver and a bracket to secure the flat-screen TV to the wall. (The Safety 1st ProGrade flat-screen TV lock is $33.)
Next, secure any furniture more than 30 inches tall with wall restraints (Safety 1st furniture wall straps, about $6 for two). Screw the straps into a stud.
Now comes the most expensive childproofing task. Child-safety specialists now recommend cordless window treatments, and they mean completely cordless. Venetian blinds, in other words, won’t work because children can become entangled in the strings that control the slats.
For high-profile locations like living rooms, options include Hunter Douglas’s Vignette modern roman shades with LiteRise ($504 for the 30-by-40-inch model). For bedrooms, there are more basic alternatives, like Bali Today’s white fabric cordless cellular shade ($25 for a 23-by-48-inch window).
The kitchen is arguably the most dangerous room in the house — with sharp utensils, pet food, toxic cleaners, ovens and other items that figure prominently on the pediatric E.R. ledger.
The operative word here: lockdown.
For drawers and cabinets, Mr. Mays said, parents should use latches that automatically reset upon closing, because people are apt to forget. One option is Safety 1st’s No-Drill deluxe latch kit (about $31 for four). Instead of scraping your fingers on the cabinet edge as with old-style plastic latches, you use a magnetic handle to release the latch. Keep the handle in a cup on the counter, and the system will work fine.
Good as they are, though, these latches are a hassle to install (and though labeled “no drill,” the instructions recommend screws if your children are “persistent”). So, budget at least a half-hour for each latch set or hire someone to do it for you.
In the bathroom, get a toilet lock. Buy one that automatically resets and — especially if you have boys — make sure its components won’t be hard to clean.(KidCo’s is $15.)
Put doorknob covers in bathrooms, too, and keep the doors shut when they are empty. Here, at last, is a category that hasn’t changed much in the past decade. For standard doorknobs, the squeeze-and-turn covers work fine. (KidCo’s cost about $6 for two; its cover for door levers, about $8 each.)
People with two or three children may consider themselves old hands when it comes to child gates. I felt the same, until one of my children, at age 12, developed an attention span so short that she often forgot to shut the gate.
But resist the urge to get a self-closing model, Ms. Driscoll said; they are commonly pressure-mounted and so can become dislodged, and often have a threshold that people can trip on. (KidCo’s Angle Mount Safeway gate, a non-self-closer, costs about $70. )
Even if you follow all these childproofing steps, consider calling in a consultant. Every house poses different hazards — with fireplaces or wood-burning stoves, for instance — and first-time parents can’t see everything.
But at least you’ll have addressed most of the issues beforehand, so the consultant’s bill won’t be another thing that brings you to your knees.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: October 27, 2011
An earlier version of this article misstated the price of the Leviton Decora tamper resistant duplex receptacle as $20.