Try As You Might: Childproofing Mistakes Parents Can’t Help But Make

Don't be so quick to adopt every childproofing "hack" you find on Pinterest.

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Childproofing your home? Unfortunately, you’re probably making a few mistakes.

That’s not to say those mistakes result from poor efforts. If you’re like many parents, the childproofing process started right when your child started crawling. You secured your cabinets, covered sharp corners, picked up covers for all of your outlets, and took other essential steps to childproof your house. You thought carefully about every potential danger, purchased the most expensive products you could find, and made to pay close attention during every playtime.

Yet accidental injuries are the still the leading cause of fatality among children, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of these accidents occur in the home, and many are preventable.

“Our adult world is designed around convenience, and there’s never been a convenient baby.”

—Peter Kerin

Childproofing is an expensive, time-consuming process, but even when you’re careful, it’s easy to make costly mistakes. But by changing your approach, you can effectively ensure your child’s safety (while eliminating a major source of stress).

We spoke with Peter Kerin, a Minnesota childproofing expert and owner of Foresight Childproofing, to learn about some of the common missteps that parents make when taking on their first childproofing projects. For instance…

1. Using pressure-mounted gates without reading the directions.

The first step that most parents take when childproofing their homes: installing gates. It’s a good impulse, but Kerin says that some of the most common gates simply aren’t up to the task.

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“The biggest mistake that people make when trying to childproof is that they use a pressure-mounted gate at the top of stairs,” Kerin says. “First of all, any pressure-mounted gate has special restraining caps that you’re supposed to screw in.”

Many parents don’t install those extra screws, which creates an obvious safety hazard; a child leaning against the gate could dislodge it, causing a serious accident. And even when they’re properly installed, pressure-mounted gates are designed for convenience, which isn’t always a good thing.

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“Some gates swing in both directions,” Kerin adds. “You never want a gate that opens towards the stairs.”

Hardware gates can be safer, and while they require a more involved installation, Kerin says that they’re well worth the extra effort. The Consumer Product Safety Commission agrees, noting that at the top of staircases, parents should only use gates that screw directly into the wall.

2. Getting childproofing “hacks” off of social media sites.

We know, we know; we love life hacks as much as the next online publication. We’ve even employed a few childproofing hacks in our own homes. But according to the experts, that’s not such a great idea.

“People are starting from a positive place,” Kerin says. “Parents go to Pinterest and they see these childproofing ‘hacks,’ so they want to try them out. Unfortunately, so many of them are not appropriate. They actually introduce dangers.”

“Most of the traditional foam padding, children pull off, to be honest. The simple solution for childproofing a coffee table is to put it in the basement.”

—Peter Kerin

Kerin says that, as a rule of thumb, anything you use to childproof your home should be made specifically for that purpose. While you might have trouble finding time to run to the store while raising your child, you should make the time—don’t just rely on things you find around the house.

“For instance, [parents might] take pipe insulation, which you can buy at Home Depot, and use that to cover hard corners,” Kerin says. “Well, the kids pull it off, and children are known for being oral; anything they have access to, they’re going to put in their mouths.”

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“You need something that isn’t a choking hazard. Something that adheres well, and doesn’t give much of a gripping profile, so that kids can’t get a hold of it easy.”

Even when properly installed, childproofing corner guards aren’t a perfect solution. Kerin has another suggestion for keeping kids safe: Don’t expose them to those corners in the first place.

“Most of the traditional foam padding, children pull off, to be honest,” Kerin says. “The simple solution for childproofing a coffee table is to put it in the basement.”

3. Using hair ties to keep children from invading cabinets.

This is an understandable mistake; you’ve got dozens of hair ties sitting around, and they seem to get the job done. Wrap a few of those around your cabinet handles, and you’re good to go, right? Not quite.

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Red Tricycle

“Some kids will figure those out pretty quickly,” Kerin says. “The best solution are magnetic cabinet locks. They’re a little more expensive, and they take a couple of days to get used to, but they provide so much more safety than any other option.”

Many magnetic locking systems install in seconds, and yes, they’re fairly stylish. With that said, your first priority is to find something that works, not to impress visitors with your chic decor.

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“People put fashion in front of function,” Kerin says, “but these are common-sense precautions. Always prioritize safety over style or convenience.”

4. Installing the baby monitor right next to the crib.

“Parents need to take the monitor off of the side of the crib,” Kerin says. “Children can’t have access to that power cord. It’s an easy fix that doesn’t cost you any money.”

A study from Childproofingexperts.com showed that 60 percent of baby monitors are installed within three feet of the crib, potentially within grasping distance for a curious baby. More disturbingly, 80 percent of those baby monitors had visible warning labels, which implies that parents simply aren’t reading the instructions.

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Why would parents make this mistake? They’re likely not thinking from an infant’s perspective.

“Every parent has been an adult longer than they’ve been a parent,” Kerin says. “Our adult world is designed around convenience, and there’s never been a convenient baby.”

5. Not thinking ahead.

Before tackling a childproofing project, make sure you’ve got the right perspective.

“Let’s take the wide-view on this: Parents just need to be aware of their child’s development,” Kerin says. “They need to be looking six months down the road, if not a year or two.”

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In other words, if your child just started crawling, your home should be prepared for their first steps. While that might seem like overkill, kids develop quickly, and they don’t wait for parents to catch up.

“Fathers will often tell me, ‘Oh, she’s not doing that.’ Well, no, she’s 7 months old! But they develop like little superheroes. Before you know it, they’re tall enough to reach the counter. You want to be proactive, not reactive.”

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“What might be adequate for a crawling 7-month-old might by wholly inadequate for a 12-month old. Anything you look at to provide safety, it’s important that it serves its purpose for the duration of your need. For most children, that’s [up to] 3 years and beyond.”

That might seem overwhelming to new parents, but the good news is that you’ll have peace of mind throughout your child’s development.

“The unexpected benefit is it makes parenting easier,” Kerin says. “You don’t have to be as stressed out. You don’t have to be that hovering parent chastising them for their innate curiosity. Just be willing to embrace a small amount of inconvenience for the child’s safety and the parent’s peace of mind.”

6. Relying on outdated childproofing information.

“At a pediatrician’s office, I saw a brochure warning parents to childproof their telephone cables,” Kerin says. “But really, who has telephone cables anymore? It’s not bad advice, but it shows that there’s a lot of irrelevant information out there.”

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Make sure that you’re taking your advice from a qualified childproofing resource (or better yet, several resources).

We’re not excluding our own publication from this rule, by the way. While we researched this piece thoroughly, we still recommend visiting the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for an accurate, up-to-date childproofing checklist.

Not sure whether you’re doing something correctly? When in doubt, you can always call a professional. Kerin says that he’s always happy to answer parents’ questions, and organizations like the International Association for Child Safety exist solely for that purpose.

7. Trying to perfectly childproof an entire home.

In writing this piece, we’re not trying to scare parents into hiring professionals—and neither is Kerin, for that matter. We also can’t detail every single childproofing mistake, simply because the process differs for every household.

“When your child is born, that’s one of the best times in a parent’s life. I want parents to enjoy it.”

—Peter Kerin

The important takeaway is that childproofing is a big job that requires plenty of planning. There is, however, one crucial point to keep in mind: You don’t have to childproof everything.

“Parents, try to identify neutral areas,” Kerin says. “You don’t have to paint the whole home with the same brush.”

You can allow children to explore those neutral areas on their own, and if you’ve done your job, you’ll have peace of mind.

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“[Parents] will sometimes look at me and say, ‘I watch my child constantly,'” Kerin says. “My best response is, ‘No you don’t.’ And if you’re attempting that—as well-intended as that is, it’s misguided to think that that’s possible over the course of a child’s development. And it’d be stressful to try.”

The good news: When you’ve set up neutral areas properly, the hard work is done. It is, of course, quite a bit of work, but ultimately, you can relax.

“When your child is born, that’s one of the best times in a parent’s life,” Kerin says. “I want parents to enjoy it.”

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