By Carol A. Cates, MSN, MBA, RN
Chief Nursing Officer
Odessa Regional Medical Center
We hit a big milestone at the Cates house over the weekend, my grandson started walking. For quite a while now he has been furniture surfing and pushing everything from toys to even his highchair around to support him as he would toddle around. He would even take a step or two to go between objects while furniture surfing, but not really any distance or into open floor spaces.
You could just see him mulling over taking those steps, and the “is it worth it” written all over his face as he thought about stepping away from a steadying object. This weekend though, he decided he was going to do it, and like most toddlers, once he figured it out, he’s not just walking, he’s running. My son sent me a video and my first thought was, “Yay!” My second though was, “Oh man, I need to move my house up 3 feet.”
Whenever it comes to kids and health care information, my first stop is always the healthychildren.org website. Healthychidlren.org is a parenting website sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The have tips and resources on pretty much anything you can think of kid related. The site is in Spanish too which really helps. The even have some chat ability so parents/caregivers can ask questions of licensed pediatric providers. That site was my first stop for baby proofing when my grandson was born, and with every stage as he gets more mobile, I go back to make sure we aren’t forgetting anything.
The AAP recommends several basic home safety precautions when it comes to babies and toddlers. One of the great things about these tips, is they don’t make your home safer just for small people, they make it safer for everyone in the household.
First, make sure you have smoke detectors through the house, they need to be on every level and outside of bedrooms. The need to be checked monthly, and if they have batteries, change them every year on a date you will remember (like a birthday or holiday). Develop a fire escape plan and practice it with every member of the family.
Put safety plugs that are big enough not to be a choking hazard in all unused electrical outlets. If your child won’t stay away from an outlet, block it with furniture. Keep any electrical cords out of reach and out of site. If you have stairs, carpet helps prevent slips and falls, but, make sure any carpet on stairs is well secured on the edges to avoid a tripping hazard. If you have toddlers or crawling babies, you need to have safety gates at both the top and the bottom of stairs. Avoid accordion-style gates, they can trap body parts on small people who like to explore. Watch floors carefully for small objects that can be a choking hazard for small children. Doors can also pose a hazard from pinched fingers to being knocked down and even cuts from glass from a child running into or falling through a glass door, so keep an eye on doorways and consider childproof doorknob covers, or even removing doors until children are old enough to understand their hazards.
Be careful of houseplants around small children because many houseplants are toxic. Poison control can help with plants to avoid. Also be careful of plants because they can be quite heavy and tip easily. Generally, with small children it’s best to keep all houseplants out of reach. Another thing to keep well out of reach is cords for window blinds or drapes. They can be a strangulation hazard when left loose.
Watch out for hard edges and sharp corners on furniture—coffee tables are a particular hazard. A neat trick I learned is to cut pool noodles to create an inexpensive cushion for hard edges and corners. Make sure furniture that can tip or be climbed is secured to the wall, and keep items pushed as far back as possible when it is placed on furniture so it cannot be pulled down on a child.
Finally watch out for plastic bags and trash. Any dangerous item like batteries, razor blades or spoiled food needs to go into a child resistant covered trash bin or a trash bin that is out of reach. Never let kids play with plastic bags. It’s a good idea to knot dry cleaning bags before putting them in the trash.
One of the best tricks for baby proofing I have learned is to get down on the floor with your toddler and see the world from their perspective. Look at the space around you and think about the environment from their eyes. So many things look like they would be fun to explore, to eat, or play with. If those things have any potential for danger, put them out of reach and better yet, out of sight.