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How Necessary is Childproofing?

How Necessary is Childproofing?

The obsession with childproofing had always seemed a bit ridiculous, another modern parenting anxiety that cropped up once people stopped having to worry about diphtheria or the draft.

When my child was in the infant-toddler stage of life, my wife and I found ourselves blessed, not only with an exemplary kid, but with a child who seemed to single-handedly disprove most of the cautionary warnings about childproofing. This was a child who, upon finding something like shiny ball bearings or a spent fuel rod on the floor, would inevitably investigate with the utmost amount of caution and consideration and then pass it over to “Mama” or “Papa” without incident. No chewing on car keys, no sucking on pens. We were blessed as well as spoiled. So when I found myself at one of those toddler parties, where all the parents seem to be ignoring the furniture and instead sitting on the ground, I received an education. I saw all manner of children source out all sorts of mundane materials of danger. One child ate a dime, another child pulled half a bookshelf down, and another slammed his fingers in a drawer. My previously smug conviction that childproofing was a lot of hype, became much less of a conviction.

There is an industry out there that caters to the needs of cautious parents and reckless babies alike. On a cursory glance through Amazon.com, I found upwards of 46 babyproofing/childproofing books espousing advice, tips, tricks, and absolutes about making your home environment safe for babies and children. There are also legions of babyproofing experts out there willing to make house calls and, for a sizable fee (sometimes upwards of $800), outfit your house with a myriad of plastic safety guards and confounding latches to keep everyone out of harms way.

I certainly find no fault with anyone wanting to protect their children from needless accidents or peril. The statistics are staggering (albeit not entirely consistent) with nearly a million children under the age of 15 suffering from some sort of semi-serious accident each year, with most of the risk residing with the under four set. Some people would say just employing a bit of common sense (i.e. don’t leave knives out, set up some safety gates, and keep all toxins and poisons well out of reach) would keep children reasonably safe. How much specialized knowledge does it really take? But there are always the freak accidents that scare the crap out of most parents and serve as morbid cocktail banter for months on end. This alone feeds the national childproofing obsession and fuels the unyielding state of parental anxiety and dread. Sensible people also like to say things like, “If you just watch over your child, then you could catch the accidents well before they happen.” The problem with this logic is that even the most eagle-eyed parent cannot catch everything, and the act of hovering over your child (some like to call this “helicopter parenting“) often stifles the child’s sense of confidence and independence.

I personally like to take a somewhat laissez faire approach to childproofing (within reason) but I also realize my situation might be unique. What do you think of the whole childproofing phenomenon? Is it sending the wrong message to our children? Is it a necessary evil or essential good? Does anyone have any creative recommendations or successful workarounds with childproofing that they would like to share with fellow readers?

Read more: Babies, Blogs, Caregiving, Children, Family, Parenting at the Crossroads, ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

20 comments

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1:02AM PDT on Mar 12, 2012

Know your child, know your own habits, and use a lot of common sense.

I only put childproof lock under the sink, where the chemicals are kept. And a child gate at the top of the stairs (it was VERY steep, and I have a very bad back, so no, I can't leap down stairs). Other than that, when baby is getting into stuff, assess the situation. If it's the pots and pans? Give the baby some wooden utensils for a makeshift drum set.

If the items are a no-no, teach them so. Then, when they go to other people's houses, they know that the knick knacks on the coffee table are "NO", and not to dump the magazine rack over.

I really didn't have a problem with electric outlets and what not. My son liked bugs. Plus what kid doesn't try eating a lightning bug once in a while anyway?

3:25PM PST on Mar 3, 2012

a long time ago mothers did not let a child out of sight? or other family would watch the baby if she needed to do something.

so the kid would never be out of sight and harm.

its because people let the baby go and do their own thing right? is that how it works?

11:15AM PST on Mar 2, 2012

things that will truly hurt your child (stoves, steps) make them safe. things that wont really hurt them, just watch them . My son is very cautious, but sometimes an accident occurs. You cant shelter them from every possible hurt, nor should you want to. They have to learn that sometimes things happen. My son, luckily, is bright and careful and listens well, but the only thing we "child proofed" were doorknobs into rooms we dont want him in alone, and cleaning supplies and meds.

12:55AM PST on Mar 2, 2012

The problem I see with childproofing is that it gives some parents a false sense of security. It's impossible to make an environment 100% safe.

With our 3 children, we used a common-sense approach: keeping dangerous/breakable items out of reach, and keeping a reasonable eye out.

One thing that seemed to help was to provide a lot of opportunities for exploration and novelty--which is, I think, why children tend to get in trouble--they're exploring the cupboard under the sink, or checking out that interesting shiny thing on the floor.

But the most important thing is what several others have already mentioned: know your child. Our oldest was a climber; the middle child was an explorer (yes, we did use a leash on occasion--the glares were much preferable to losing our toddler-houdini in a shopping mall--he could get out of his stroller and disappear within seconds); the youngest was a taste-tester (interestingly, he's still the most adventurous eater of the three).

9:23PM PST on Mar 1, 2012

I agree with people who've been saying it depends on the child. My oldest thought the word No meant please be my guest, you really want to get into THIS!

My son (#2) was deaf when it came to the word no and climbed like a mountain goat. He pulled a series of shelve out perfectly as a set of stairs to the counter and then to the top of the refrigerator when he was less than 2.

My daughter the youngest, literally had to put her little hand on the hot stove top to find out hot meant hot not oh, go ahead, it's electric so it will still cool off instantly! Then it was time to touch the inside of the oven according to her.

I turned it up to broil, 500 degrees and waited. When the light went of I carefully opened the door and held her hand so it didn't land on something. She told me it was hot. That was the extent of the no-means-yes phase for her.

Of course like her older brother and sister I tried to explain why sticking a hair pin in an electrical outlet was not good. She's the only one who listened.

Every child is different. with some about 20 percent is fine. Other are in the 85 - 95 percent range.

4:07PM PST on Mar 1, 2012

While I agree you should protect babies, I truly believe education is more effective than locks! Children should know the consequences of their actions -- in an increasing degree as they age! Otherwise they are adults and still needing watching!

3:39PM PST on Mar 1, 2012

Some kids are climbers they end up in places a monkey couldn't get to like the top cabinet in the kitchen. Some kids like to put things into holes meaning a coat hanger into an electric socket or beans into ears or head into stair banister or fingers into a gumball machine. Some kids like to jump down out the window or down a stairway. Some kids like to open bottles. Some kids test everything for taste including different colors of dirt or the dogs tail.
I've seen everyone of these from various kids. The electric socket explorer decided to suck on the wire while he was at it and had a very prominent scar on his mouth. Mine was a bottle opener and could open anything in a few seconds including any childproof caps.

3:32PM PST on Mar 1, 2012

While I did slightly more "baby-proofing" for my daughter than my mom did for me, I think that there are many different kids in this world, many dangers and many parents, no one size fits all solutions. Just don't try to convince the world that only your way will work.

3:32PM PST on Mar 1, 2012

The whole child proofing thing is often carried to extremes. A child eventually needs to learn about the dangers in his/her environment and learn how to self protect. Too much helicoptering prevents growth.

2:52PM PST on Mar 1, 2012

In agreement with Ra S. Depends on 1)kid but also on 2)circumstances e.g. time of day = more/less neighbours around to notice if anything wrong, or how many strangers walking by from the nearby hospital), parent needs to know the neighbourhood & its rhythm.

When I saw parents having to be careful with their kids I was puzzled. So and so simply explained to her tot while they looked at the thing not to touch e.g. knife, electrical outlet. The child understood. Where those other kids slower, I thought, baffled? 2nd kid, same gender: nothing works: patient explanations with full eye contact, having kid say what to do vs. not do i.e. we leave sharp knives alone, only adults use Q-tips, letting her carefully feel the sharpness, allowing minor consequences. Kid #2 is intelligent, just determined, maybe more curious & not as swayed by parental approval/disapproval, timeouts, losing privileges, firm disapproval (results in tears so probably understands it's serious).

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