1 Test your smoke detectors
Child proofing isn’t only about children. Some safety changes are specific to the needs of little ones, but you need to make your home as safe as it can possibly be for all people, in order to make it a haven for your progeny.
Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on each floor of your house, including the basement. Ideally, they should both be electrical and battery powered (so if the power fails, the battery takes over; if the battery dies, the electrical still functions). TIP Make a date to check and/or replace the batteries every month (write it in your calendar right now). Also, keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and one in the basement.
2 Manage the air quality
Even if you can’t smell it, the air quality inside your home may be poor. Dust and other allergens might not bother you, but could aggravate a younger person who may have or develop asthma or allergies. Have your ductwork cleaned regularly, too.
3 Mind your pets
Some pets are carriers of salmonella (turtles and amphibians, for example), but even the cute family cat and dog could be hazards. Pet food dishes, even when empty, can be dangerous to exploring hands; they harbour bacteria, so keep them covered, or in a room toddlers can’t access (one cut off by a gate).
When an animal has recently had a flea treatment (think about those common and effective over-the-counter, drop-between-the-shoulder-blade varieties), the medication moves through Fido’s coat and can get onto furniture and even friendly humans. Give your pet the treatment at night, when your baby’s gone down for the evening, so the medication has time to dry thoroughly.
4 Secure all windows
We’ve all heard the stories of children inadvertently pushing against screens to disastrous result. Keep climbable furniture away from windows so kids aren’t tempted to explore. Metal window guards are your safest bet, but there are other products designed to allow windows to open only a crack. If you’re having new windows installed, choose ones with the opening at the top, above the halfway point, as double protection against accidents.
The cords on vertical and horizontal blinds can be choking and strangulation hazards. TIP The Children's Safety Association of Canada distributes free window covering safety kits. Call: 1-888-499-4444 or visit safekid.org for a room-by-room, home safety checklist.
5 Reconsider plants
Some are gorgeous but poisonous. Some need potting extras (gravel, mulch) that could make a child sick if eaten, and many of the best decorations (marbles, rocks) are choking hazards. All in all, best to wait till junior is old enough to be responsible for watering them.
6 Consider anything with a lid
Think toilets, toy trunks, blanket boxes, garbage cans, etc. Lids can be heavy and break or bruise little fingers when they fall. They should either be latched close with equipment impervious to kids, or slow to drop (many styles of toilet seats, for example, have a slowing mechanism so they can’t slam and don’t pose a threat to baby fingers).
7 Check your water
Tap water can get hot enough to cause serious burns. The first thing to do is set your hot water tank to a child-friendly temperature; between 48 and 54 degrees Celsius is recommended. Consider buying "anti-scald" devices for faucets and showerheads. They work by shutting off the water if it exceeds a pre-set maximum.
8 Watch for falling furniture
Some big pieces are just fine left alone. But add a curious, crawling child and all of a sudden, bookcases, shelving and armoires can turn lethal. Invest in brackets to anchor these pieces to walls. TVs are also a particular concern. The old school versions (deep backs and faux-wood panel sides, remember?) weigh a lot and can cause fractures and concussions if they topple onto kids. Even flat screens, which are top-heavy, have to be secured with straps if they’re not wall mounted.
9 Make your home a no-shoe zone
When kids are crawling, it’s obvious why you’d do this. It would be impossible to count the number or nature of germs and bacteria you can track through your home on your shoes. The fact that even older kids often follow the Five-Second Rule (popping into their mouths any delicious or disgusting things that have fallen to the ground for five seconds or less) makes outdoor shoes in the house a recipe for disaster. Or at least a few tummy upsets and infections. Here’s another reason: Lead from soil outside can be tracked into your home on your shoes. So even if your kids are past the stage when they might lick the floor, the no-shoes rule is a good stand to take.
10 Get a second opinion
You’ve done all of the above and your home seems safe to you. Hire a professional to inspect the place from a child’s vantage point and offer solutions to specific problems they find. Try babyproofers.ca. For $75, you get a survey of your space with a list of problem areas and solutions. The company also sells gates and other common safety items, and they offer installation services for an additional fee.