n Latch all cabinets and drawers below the counter level. Mike Bost, vice president of Palmetto Childproofing, recommends and installs a type of latch that allows you to open the cabinet a little, depress a small plastic arm and then fully open the cabinet or drawer. He recommends latching all the cabinets, not just those with breakable or hazardous contents. Even if a cabinet holds only pots and pans, parents will tire of having kids in and out.
n The Chens have a microwave built into a lower cabinet. That’s a great space-saving trick — but not great for a toddler who loves to push buttons and see his reflection in the glass microwave door. The solution: Hiring a cabinetmaker to put a cabinet door in front of the microwave so parents can close off the oven from a little one’s grasp.
n Remove rows of cookbooks and other kitchen knickknacks from low, open shelves in the kitchen. Because parent and child will likely be spending lots of time in the kitchen during meal preparation, it’s simply easier to remove these things rather than constantly picking up after a toddler.
n Secure your pantry. Besides the hassle caused by kids getting into boxes of cereal or noodles, falling cans or broken wine bottles could cause real injuries. Use a knob cover if the pantry has a door you can close. In the Chens’ case, the pantry is accessible through two French doors. Bost recommended an overhead double door lock that slides in place to keep the doors from opening.
n Keep pet food and water bowls out of reach. While probably not toxic, dog food can pose a choking hazard to a small child, said Bost, who owned a childproofing company in San Diego with his wife, Kim, before they returned to their native South Carolina. Just an inch of water in a dog’s or cat’s water dish can be a drowning hazard, he said. Besides, do parents really want their kids drinking from Rover’s slobbery dish?
n As in the kitchen, latch bathroom cabinets and drawers below cabinet level. Pay special attention to drawers and cabinets that contain medicines and other toxic supplies such as toilet bowl cleaner or nail polish remover.
n Install toilet locks to keep toddlers’ hands, mouths and toys out of the commode. Locks keep the lid from being lifted, yet are easy for adults to get on and off.
n Consider a spout cover for the spigot in the tub. Bost installs a type that not only cushions the spout in case a child bumps it with his head, but also has a built-in thermometer that changes color as the water gets hotter.
n Plug all electrical outlets in rooms where your child will be roaming. Bost recommends spring-loaded outlet covers for outlets that get lots of use. The small plastic plugs commonly used are OK for outlets that are rarely used, he says. But they can be tricky to pry out, and parents often don’t bother putting them back in every time they use an outlet. Spring-loaded covers slide over the outlet’s openings when the outlet isn’t in use.
n Don’t let window blind cords dangle. If you open the blinds often or have cords that fall less than 4 feet from the floor, attach a small plastic cleat at least 4 feet up the wall and wrap the cord around the cleat. Dangling cords could pose a strangulation hazard.
n Are the houseplants poisonous? Many are toxic if a child chews or eats a leaf, so if you don’t know what kind of plants you have, take them to a nursery for identification. Then visit www.plantsciences.ucdavis.edu/ce/king/PoisPlant for a list of poisonous plants and their toxicity class.
n Examine your furniture for sharp edges or tip-over potential. If furniture has sharp corners, a padded corner cover could prevent an injury. If you have a big, heavy TV, consider strapping it to the table it sits on.
n Check out the doorstops. The springy ones with a white rubber tip on the end, which are common in most homes, aren’t best for baby, Bost says. Kids can take the white tip off the end and swallow it, and the tip-less metal spring that’s left will leave marks in the door. A better bet, he says, are hard rubber doorstops that are all one piece — nothing for Junior to take off, and they won’t hurt your door.
n Consider anchoring furniture to the wall — especially in a child’s bedroom. Tall bookshelves and dressers could be fatal if they fall over on a child. Because kids are often alone in their room in the early years, it’s always a good idea to anchor their dressers and bookshelves to the walls, Bost said. Kids often open all the dresser drawers and use them as ladder steps.
n How old are the banisters? Current building codes typically require banister posts to be no more than 4 inches apart, so kids can’t slip between them or get their heads stuck. The posts in a small banister in the Chens’ upstairs hallway were 6 inches apart in some areas, so Bost recommended installing a Plexiglas panel.
n Get the right gates. Gates at the top of stairs should always be bolted to the wall — that’s not the area for pressure gates. For areas with high traffic, consider pressure gates that have a doorway built in so you won’t have to be hurdling like a racehorse or unlatching a big gate every time you want to enter a room.
The Chens had celebrated Ethan’s first birthday the weekend before Bost visited, and colorful Mylar balloons were still tied to Ethan’s booster seat, their long strings dangling to the ground.
Cut the strings, Bost warned, because Ethan could accidentally wrap them around his neck. And when the balloons start to deflate, throw them out, he said. Deflated balloons could pose a choking hazard.
“Make sure you start developing an eye for stuff like this,” Bost told the Chens.
Throw away dry-cleaning bags as soon as you pick up your dry cleaning, he warned.
Kids easily can become tangled in the flimsy plastic sheeting, and their airways can become blocked if they inhale the bag.