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The Proof is in the Padding: The Downfalls of Childproofing

The Proof is in the Padding: The Downfalls of Childproofing

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. As is evidenced by a recent New York Times article by Ariel Kaminer, 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 fifteen 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, 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.

91 comments

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11:04AM PDT on Sep 15, 2010

My parents did no childproofing. I believe I remember there being a squeeze lock on the cabinet under the sink that I enjoyed playing with. It was never locked. My parents use the phrase "childproof the child, not the world". They showed us how to be safe by letting us make our own mistakes, not putting us in a padded room. Yes, we did get hurt, but nothing broken, nothing permanent.

1:59PM PST on Mar 10, 2010

thanks for article.

2:34PM PST on Mar 3, 2010

Thankss for article.

10:23AM PST on Mar 3, 2010

very informative

6:43PM PST on Feb 26, 2010

I never understood this obsession with child proofing all the drawers and cupboards. My son would entertain himself while I cooked dinner by playing with everything in the lower cupboards. That is where I kept my plastics and 'safe' items. One has to be careful in making the growing minds believe the world is locked up to them. Yes- put out of reach toxics and sharp objects- and make the world accessible to your child.

7:12AM PST on Feb 25, 2010

i THINK THE CHILD-PROOFING NEEDS TO GO WITH THE CHILDS AGE. WHEN THEY ARE BIG ENOUGH TO GET INTO DRAWERS AND PULL KNIFES OUT, THAT'S WHEN YOU TEACH THEM RIGHT FROM WRONG INSTEAD OF REMOVING THE OBJECT AND THEM NEVER KNOWING WHAT THEY ARE "ALLOWED" TO TOUCH OR PLAY WITH. GROWING UP, THINGS WEREN'T REALLY CHILD-PROOFED EXCEPT FOR THE ELECTRICAL OUTLETS. OTHER THAN THAT, WE WERE TAUGHT RIGHT FROM WRONG

9:41PM PST on Feb 24, 2010

"I did not have to be child-proof. My mom just kept me in a pen...."

thats hilarious Nellie, so true too! thanks for the laugh!

9:38PM PST on Feb 24, 2010

I believe both balance in any attitude and recognition of our kids' temperment is wisest, and here's why:

I could have taken a laissez faire attitude w my first kiddo as she didn't even go into the cabinet under bathroom sink until she was 5, and that was under duress! (I was sick and needed towels for cleaning up the floor; she was able to help but seemed to believe the boogey man lived within.)

She took all of our rules more seriously than we could have ever guessed. Now we're spending time undo-ing them with her. Lesson learned mommy.

Now that I've learned to balance my fears with actual safety issues in the household, along comes my new little one...he's a whole different story.

He is already into more trouble than I can watch for, and I'm a fairly vigilant parent. At nine months, he's pulling cords, putting his fingers into every opening he can find, and tasting everything.

So with him, I must recognize the ever present dangers really are dangerous and prevent the serious accidents as I am able.

Balance in all things. Balance.

8:14PM PST on Feb 24, 2010

well i certainly won't be going nuts about every single detail... i want my child to be able to play by herself with out me having to worry and be the said"helicopter parent"... i think certain things will be good to childproof and others are just too much!

3:26PM PST on Feb 24, 2010

My children are now 15 and 19 - I never did any real childproofing - however I found myself in Wal-Mart a few months ago assessing drawer/cabinet latches because my cat of 11 years has suddenly decided to open my waterbed pedestal drawers, and likes to ruffle up the clothing. Oh well, maybe she knows I may need the latches in the future for grandchildren!

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