Those custom-made Roman blinds seemed like a fabulous idea—until the kids came along and started pulling at the cords. It turns out a lot of everyday objects become downright dangerous in the hands (and mouths) of wee ones.
When baby-proofing your home, awareness is key, says Don Marentette, director of Canadian Red Cross first-aid education programs. And that means parents should start by getting on their hands and knees to survey the landscape from a little person’s perspective. “Do that pre-scan thinking: ‘From the child’s eyes, what am I going to see? What am I going to grab? What’s there to put in my mouth?’” suggests Marentette. Here are some of the worst household hazards moms and dads commonly overlook.
1. Baby gates
Parents install gates to protect their crawling infants from stairs and other dangerous situations, which is great—as long as they’re used properly. “From my experience, 95 percent of the time, parents don’t follow manufacturer’s instructions, so they are actually creating a hazard in their home,” observes Nancy Reynolds, who owns and operates Babysecure, a child-proofing company in Montreal. When you use a gate that doesn’t fit the walkway, don’t install it properly or try to customize the gate (say, so a pet can get underneath), children can get hurt. In fact, a 2014 study published in Academic Pediatrics found that five kids wind up in the emergency room each day with everything from cuts to traumatic brain injuries because of incorrect use of baby gates.
TIP: Follow instructions and be sure to get the right gate for the job. For example, don’t use pressure gates at the top of stairs because kids can push them out of the way and take a nasty tumble. Retractable fabric gates aren’t a good idea either, since they are flexible.
Shockingly, Fluffy’s little water bowl is a drowning hazard for kids. And that dog kibble? One of those hard nuggets can easily block a child’s airway. The pets themselves can also cause injuries. “Dogs love to run with toddlers,” explains Marentette. “Slips and falls happen all the time because they’re both competing for the same space.”
TIP: Keep pet food and water gated off in an area separate from the kids, and keep a close eye on playtime. The Canadian Institute of Child Health recommends never leaving children alone with pets.
3. Detergent pods
Those colourful, chemical-filled pods we toss in our dishwashers and laundry machines pose a serious threat to kids who are tempted to play with them or put them in their mouths, which can result in chemical eye burns, cardiac arrest and comas. Despite widespread warnings, a 2016 study discovered a 20 percent increase in calls to poison control centres because kids were exposed to these pods.
TIP: Use traditional detergent or keep the pods up in a cupboard with a proper, child-safe latch.
4. Button batteries
Those small, flat, shiny batteries can be found in many items around the house, including children’s toys, musical greeting cards and remote controls. Dozens of Canadian kids end up in emergency rooms every year after accidentally swallowing them. Once ingested, the batteries can cause choking, serious chemical burns and poisoning.
TIP: Reynolds says children should never be left alone with anything that contains a button battery, including toys. When not in use, store these items out of reach. “Parents often think to tape down [battery covers],” she says. “But the tape will often dry on the edges and curl. That’s where little people like to pick.”
Some babies are tempted to chew on cables and cords, which can cause an electric shock. Kids can also yank on cords, resulting in heavy items, like lamps, toppling on them.
TIP: Place a piece of furniture in front of standing lamps. For any lamps on side tables, wind the cords around the legs. Cord channels are also a great option because they conceal the cords while fastening them to the floor.
Ever open the door to the dishwasher mid-cycle only to be blasted by a cloud of steam? This could have much worse consequences for children whose skin is thinner. And don’t underestimate your toddler’s ability to pry the door open from below.
TIP: Parents can get safety straps that prevent little fingers from pulling the dishwasher door open. Better yet, just run the dishwasher at night, says Reynolds.
Remember those coil doorstops you used to flick as a kid to hear the vibration? If you have any in your house, give the plastic tips a hard yank—some are easy to pull off. “That’s a choking hazard many people don’t think about,” says Reynolds.
TIP: Replace any flimsy coil stops with solid ones, which are safer and cost less than $3.
“If you have a crib or a dresser up against a window, and a child can get onto that, they’ll push that screen out,” says Marentette. “And that’s the only thing between them and the ground below.” They could also reach window covering cords, which pose a serious risk for strangulation if they’re longer than 22 centimetres.
TIP: Health Canada recommends using cordless blinds, especially in kids’ rooms. Keep the windows themselves shut, locked and clear of furniture. If you need air circulation, don’t open the window more than an inch. You can also gate the window, but most importantly, Marentette says, “Be aware of it.”