Thursday, May 6, 2010

Questions Answered - May 6, 2010

How important do you feel baby-proofing is? To what extent is it necessary to baby-proof your home? What sort of things can you do to make sure things are off-limits? –Anxious

Millie Answers:

There are two schools of thought on baby-proofing: one holds that (other than putting the drain cleaner up high) you should keep your home as it is and teach the child to respect your limits, and the other that you should pad everything corner, plug every outlet and pack up and put away anything remotely fragile. I myself am a rabid baby-proofer.

For one thing, no matter how alert a parent you are there is no way you can be staring straight at your baby for every second of his first 6 years of life—and it’s when you’re blinking that he’s going to try bleach to see what it tastes like. For another thing, it’s perfectly possible to spend all of your time saying, “No, don’t touch that!” and it’s much pleasanter to focus on talking about the things your child CAN do than on what he CAN’T.

Start baby-proofing when you find out you’re pregnant. Get down on the floor (have help getting back up again, if you’re farther along than 5 months!) and look at things from a baby’s-eye-view. Babies and small children have one prime directive, which is Put That In Your Mouth; cat toys, shoestrings, LEGOs and loose screws are all fair game. This is also a good time to notice how disgustingly dirty your floor is (all I could see was the grime on the baseboards - what was I thinking, living in that filth?) and make an appointment to have your carpets cleaned.

Corral the remote controls in a basket out of reach, because those tiny fingers are remarkably dexterous and they WILL figure out how to get the batteries out even if you haven’t yet; likewise video games and any other battery-operated toys. Anything small, heavy or breakable that’s below the level of your shoulders should be moved up or put in an inaccessible location – because a baby’s reach FAR exceeds his arm length, for reasons physicists have not yet figured out.

If you have venetian blinds, cut the strings so that they a) aren’t tied together in a loop and b) don’t hang down within reach of a child. In fact, anything long and sinuous is a strangulation hazard, so be sure that electrical cords, cables, and necklaces are out of reach.

Buy the baby-proofing plugs and put them in the electrical outlets. They also sell latches that will keep a baby from opening a cupboard door (and sometimes you too), or you can tie them together if you have two handles near each other and a good strong dishtowel. Get a latch too for the refrigerator and freezer doors and for each toilet lid.

If you want to section off a portion of the house to keep kids out or pets in, consider a baby gate – but they’re not foolproof, some children will figure out very early on how to climb over them or dismantle them entirely. Baby-proofing is not a substitute for keeping an eye on the kid.

There are little things that fit over doorknobs so that if a baby tries to open the door the knob will spin fruitlessly but an adult can (usually) get it open. I didn’t use them but they’re a good idea if you have doors leading out of the house that don’t have chains or deadbolts installed. It’s a good idea for bathroom doors, too; a bathroom looks like Water World to a baby, but it’s not a safe place for him to play unsupervised.

They also make corner protectors, which probably look a whole lot nicer than the cotton-ball-and-duct-tape monstrosities I rigged up all over the house and are a very good idea when your baby starts to stand. If there’s a corner or an edge a kid WILL hit get a goose-egg or a split lip, it’s a law of Nature. A strip of duct tape over the opening to your VCR or DVD player may save you a lot of heartache later on too – it’s a bad, bad place to find a sandwich, believe me.

Stairs are a falling hazard and a lot of people use gates at both the top and the bottom to keep young children away from them. I had very good luck at teaching my babies (at a much younger age than you would expect) to scoot up the stairs backwards by sitting on a step, then raising their fanny to the next step and so on. They’d go back down the same way, sitting and scooting. I suspect my almost-24-year-old still goes up and down stairs this way.

Of course you DO move the drain cleaner from under the sink, and all other cleaning products and chemicals too. Same goes for medicines; anything toxic should go WAY out of a child’s reach, and have a child-proof cap too, even if it means you can’t open it either.

Take a quick look around the area when you go to someone else’s house with your baby. You may be used to being in your own home that it doesn’t occur to you that other places aren’t baby-proofed until you see Junior happily gumming a lamp cord.

When you’ve done what you can do, loosen up. No matter how carefully you prepare his surroundings, your child is going to figure out a way to stick an aquarium rock up her nose. That’s how they explore wonderful their environments (and fascinating new venues like the hospital emergency room). If you create a home where a baby is free to explore most of the things he can reach, then your “NO. HOT.” voice can be saved for imminent danger—and you can both relax.

Mollie Answers:

Another hearty AMEN from Mollie!

I had to have a room that was completely baby-proof since my husband traveled so much (day job AND reserves). He could be gone for weeks at a time, either sub-station testing or Naval Reserves. So each child's bedroom had a safety gate. It looked a little weird sometimes, but mommies have to bathe, poop, pee, talk on the phone, etc. and there are multiple segments of every day where a little one needs to be corralled.

When it was just Peter, it was easy since I had only one pair of feet running off to play. Things got challenging when Peter was 3 1/2 and Roger was a toddler. Usually, on the way to “The Oval Office,” I’d drop the boys off in Roger’s room, the safest place on the planet. I almost never had a problem with it, and frankly, the peace of the bathroom was worth the rare tantrum.

Peter needed to have a space of his own where he could play with things that Roger didn’t need to be near. Legos come to mind. A four year old will build with one, a one year old will choke on it; ergo; both rooms had gates! A little guy deserves his space just as much as his mommy does. Your house looks like a prison to some, but any parent will eyeball that space and imitate it pronto.

A caution on baby-locks. We all know this, but it never hurts to hear it again. If you want a child-proof latch opened, just let a two year old at it. Peter had ALL these devices figured out way before Roger was born. It took him less than a minute to figure out the lock on the door to the china hutch - we timed him. These guards only work for so long, so while enjoying the temporary peace, it’s a good time to teach the meaning of NO! One little girl I babysat during my teens knew the meaning of “Dutch” it was a contraction of ‘don’t touch.’

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