Toddler-Proofing Our House

I have been meaning to sit down and write this post for a while. I completely understand that this subject is only interesting if you need to toddler-proof your house … so it’s not for everyone. That said, I learned a lot and I want to share it because it may be helpful to some of you who have a similar need in your life!

I feel I should put a quick disclaimer that I am strictly sharing my own experiences here—not trying to give safety advice on a professional level. So if you have other helpful opinions, feel free to share them in the comments! This post is about what we’ve tried and liked (and in some cases, not liked very much—haha).

Spring loaded cabinet latches – If I could, I would prefer to have these in every drawer in our home. They are more old school, but I prefer them because you don’t need anything except your finger to unlock a cabinet. And they don’t seem to wear out. We have them in our bathroom and they don’t get on my nerves in our daily life at all.

We had to do the magnetic locks in our kitchen and entry cabinet (more on that below) due to the way they are built. One thing we learned is that we couldn’t use just one type of cabinet lock all throughout our home … we had to use a combination of different things.

Magnetic locks – These came highly recommend by many of my friends, so I will be VERY curious to read your comments. But I hate them—with all my heart. 

To be fair, I’d rather deal with them in my life than have Nova getting into our kitchen cabinets though, so they do the job. They are better than nothing for sure!

What I don’t love is that if you have these, your kitchen is ALWAYS baby-proofed. And you have to use a magnetic key (we keep two in our kitchen in specific places) every single time you want a spoon, a straw … or whatever. It can really slow you down.

It is something I have to remind myself many times a day that we need. And we do need them. We installed them just weeks after returning from China and Nova has become even more curious and sneaky since that time. They are a necessary evil, but evil nonetheless.

If you are about to baby-proof your entire kitchen, my advice is to try spring loaded locks first. I find them much less annoying because you don’t ever have to stop what you are doing and reach for a key.

Pro tip: If you have the time, maybe even try out both options before you buy them for your whole house. I wish I had done this before buying and installing all the locks.

Baby gate – Lucky for us, we only needed one baby gate in our home. This was not a big deal and hasn’t been annoying really at all. It blends with our stair railing and is not an eye sore like the baby gates of the olden days. If you look super closely at this photo you may be able to see that we had to add extra wood to our staircase to make the gate fit. 100% worth it, though!

I absolutely recommend one of these “fancy” baby gates that open and close, over the old school ones.

Other modifications we made:

Before we brought Nova home, we moved our bar from a cart in our dining room to elevated, closed cabinets. To be really honest, we are not storing as much liquor in our home these days (just the occasional bottle of wine that we drink immediately—LOL). So it’s nothing like the huge collection of bottles that we used to keep around. These days, we maybe have 3-4 bottles of liquor (not even that most of the time), plus all our bitters and bar tools. We keep these in an elevated shelf that has doors (next to where our rainbow glassware is). I would love to get back to making all those fancy cocktails sometime soon, but it’s just not something I’ve been focusing on as much this year. Oh, and Laura just shared a really great bar cart solution.

We moved all our glassware out of reach. We had a lot of it stored down low in our dining room before and we just moved it all up higher.

We also moved all our cacti with prickly spines into our basement area (which is Jeremy’s studio and we don’t spend time with Nova down there almost ever).

Because of our adoption “home study,” (which is just an appointment where a social worker visits your home, checks for safety and asks you 100 questions) we had it pretty well organized and cleaned. We cleaned out every closet, moved paint cans up high … things like that. Our social worker didn’t even look in the closets, but I was still so glad we had that incentive to take care of all that before bringing Nova home.

Cleaning up my office was HUGE. Before I did that there was a lot of stuff laying on the ground that wasn’t safe (it was our junk room where stuff got tossed every time we cleaned in a rush). Now having a designated spot for scissors, essential oils, tape … and the 100 other things I don’t want her to play with, has been a game changer.

Other than that we are modifying as we go. My general parenting attitude is pretty low-key. Now that I’m a mom I totally agree with the advice we received that every child is different and you don’t know what will be problematic until you know your child. For us, the MAIN thing was getting our drawers and cabinets locked because for the first month of two before we did that she was into them every day.

I let Nova use a lot of art supplies and I don’t always keep them 100% out of her reach. Like, if she really wants to get a marker … she can get one. We also let her use the grand piano anytime she wants. This is our personal preference because we want her to feel like these creative activities are fun and that she is always welcome to do them.

And on a personal note, before we brought Nova home we vowed to always care about people over things. We do have some expensive rugs, coffee tables and things like that. But we decided things are just things. This is an intentional mindset. Safety is super important, but I don’t believe you can actually prevent children from making messes and occasionally ruining things. So “letting go” in my own way helped me to be mentally ready.

I would LOVE to hear anything that has worked for you, not worked for you or helped make your home life safer or more enjoyable! xx – Elsie

Credits//Author: Elsie Larson, Photography: Amber Ulmer. Photos edited with A Color Story Desktop.
 
  • You obviously put a lot of thought into this!

    Where I live, babyproofing your house is really not that big of a thing. I have
    an almost-two-year-old and we only have baby gates and that is it… I am also no expert, and I only have this one child, and she follows me around wherever I go (and I take her with me everywhere. If I need to do chores anywhere in the house, I take her with me, but this is also something I do because she does not enjoy being alone.

    Of course my daughter sometimes grabs things I don’t want her to play with for safety reasons. But I was told by my parents and by other parents in my group of friends that it is important to help children understand why they can’t touch anything they like. The theory here is that If you protect them for things, for example by closing of drawers that contain stuff that might be dangerous for them, they don’t learn to understand why those things are dangerous to them. I am not sure if this is true, again, I only have one child, but for now it is working for us.

  • One of the most important things is to put a temperature control on your faucets, especially in the bathtub. It’s good for any age (I have heard of an adult fainting in the shower, hitting the faucet knob and ended up scalded with serious burns). It allows you to set your hot water heater to 120F or 140F to avoid diseases, but what comes out is much cooler. The ones here generally go to 40C, or 104F, which is really perfect, but you can push in a button and turn to make it go hotter (the thing is, it’s a little complicated, so a child or a fainting adult wouldn’t do it). A good friend’s daughter was severely burned in the bath when she turned on the hot water and couldn’t get out; the nanny was getting her clothes and had left her for a minute (yes, that’s bad too). It’s been 15 years, and the daughter has to get skin grafts over and over as she grows. Such an easy thing to avoid with a control. We even installed them in our AirBnBs.

  • Are you sure that your magnetic locks don’t have an unlocked mode? We have some basic amazon ones and you can totally flip a little switch and then they are unlocked, no key required!

    • “What I don’t love is that if you have these, your kitchen is ALWAYS baby-proofed.”

      That’s what I was going to say, too. It’s still not super convenient, but you can leave them unlocked if you’re cooking or doing something in the kitchen while Nova is sleeping or in another room.

      We have a 10-month-old, and although we have installed the magnet locks, we haven’t actually locked any of them yet except the cabinet with the cleaning supplies/chemicals. He hasn’t shown interest in opening things yet, but part of me wonders if we won’t lock ones that truly don’ have anything dangerous in them (i.e. knives, chemicals, etc.).

  • I don’t know about the magnetic locks you show here, but with the Tot-Lok brand there’s a little red tab you can flip that allows you to temporarily keep it unlocked. That was a life saver for me when I was cleaning during naps, etc. Then you just flip the tab back and it locks again as usual. It was like a little moment of freedom! 😂

    Also, when she gets taller and older, you can move those locks to the liquor cabinet for curious teenagers!! They could also be great for your Airbnb for cabinets you want to store things in but don’t want renters to have access to.

  • Childproofing is SO kid specific. We have an almost three and an almost five and I am continually adding more childproofing, as opposed to taking things away like my friends, because my kids are so curious and *ahem* creative. After they painted the kitchen floor, we added magnetically latched art cabinets (bummer) and after they used a bunch of spices to make a beautiful dirt landscape for their plastic dinos… that got a cabinet latch too. Whereas we had many friends who had just one locked cabinet (under sink, cleaning supplies). My advice is to constantly reexamine your kids to figure out what you need – do not assume childproofing is a one-time thing!

  • Agree with others, we have two brands of magnet locks and both have an unlock option with a button where we can keep them unlocked for a while which might be helpful for you when you are cooking. We are licensed foster parents and have to keep knives, meds ect locked (as we should!) but when there are no foster kiddos in our home I totally turn off the magnet locks on the knives because like you said, it’s annoying and my kids know not to touch! With that, there is hope, you don’t have to lock forever. My youngest is 4 and even the knife drawer is not an issue.

  • We used the magnetic locks on some furniture pieces that had cabinets where we stored fancy breakable things that we didn’t have to access very often (like the hutch in our dining room). We just kept the magnetic key in the drawer above the cabinets, and we got to avoid drilling holes in the furniture. For built-in cabinets we needed to access frequently we just used the plastic external locks that attach through the handles. We didn’t have many cabinets we needed locked up (mainly under the sink cleaning supplies, liquor cabinet, and where we stored the DVDs), they were inexpensive, easily removable, didn’t cause damage to the cabinet, and we could pass them on to friends when our kids outgrew them.

  • The only baby proofing we did before we had a baby was buying a few baby gates. For the first few months it was nice to have the baby gate as a way to keep the dog out of the way when we were on the ground with the baby, and then when he was old enough to move around, it was nice to keep him contained.

    We switched around our kitchen so he’s safe to play with everything in the cabinets and drawers he can reach; pots and pans are still some of his favorite toys. When he wants water he can go to his drawer and pick out whichever water cup he wants. We did lock up the soap below the sink, and put safety knobs on the stove. We anchored our lightweight furniture to the wall.

    He still likes to pull books from the bookshelf, so we moved our few irreplaceable books to a closet, and he can play with the rest. So far, he’s only torn pages of a couple of books, but it’s worth it for him bringing over books to be read; he likes hearing Yeats as much as any other book we have for him. (Which is to say, fun for three minutes before it’s time to play with trains again.)

    He loves playing in dirt, so all of my plants are in a spare bedroom. I hope I can bring out table lamps and tablecloths someday. We used command strips to adhere pictures frames to the wall, and since they don’t move anymore, he doesn’t mess with them.

    We also tested our water for lead, and set the hot water temperature lower.

    For any new parents or new parents to be, it seems daunting, but your baby grows in stages so you can childproof in stages, and you’ll almost have a handle on the current stage before the next one starts. 😉

  • YES to people over things — our phrase since our (now 3yo) has been on the scene is “okay, the house can be pretty, but it’s not a museum, it’s his home”. Love all these ideas and YES I hated those magnetic locks as well lol — fortunately they WILL be older someday and trustworthy! 🙂

  • You moved the cacti and prickly plants to the basement, but how do you keep her out of your other house plants? or is she just not interested? Really hoping to maintain my plant lady status with future kiddos 😉

    • Luckily she’s not interested at the moment. When she first got home she played the the rocks a lot (there are rocks covering the soil in some of our plants) but as the months went by she stopped and now I can’t even remember the last time she got into the rocks.

      I will say I still have to water plants only when she is napping or not looking because she will want to “help” (aka spill water all over the floor). She helps me water outside though….

  • I definitely recommend considering mounting tall furniture to the wall as well (bookcases and dressers). My kids are not climbers (well, 5yo definitely isn’t, 2yo is becoming more of a climber just lately), but it only takes one attempt to learn the hard way.

    • Yes! Definitely do this. When I was about 4 I (for some reason) decided to open all the drawers in the dresser in my room in ascending order (aka completely top heavy) and it fell on me! It was so scary for both me and my parents!

  • I love this! My 13 month old has reached a new level on what he can reach, and I need to step up my safety game. I keep 1 drawer and one cabinet free for him that has Tupperware lids, travel water bottles and measuring cups and he prefers to play with these more than his toys so I guess I’ll keep those free, for now! 🙂
    Thanks for sharing!

  • My daughter is almost 2 yo and «her thing» were-and still are-the electrical outlets… she is trying to put her fingers inside every time.
    To cover them we use the ikea protections.
    Well, every child is different, I guess 🙂

    • Yeah, I don’t know how interested older toddlers are in outlets, but our 10-month old is marginally interested. We got the plate covers that actually replace your normal plates and have a spring loaded sliding cover on most of ours. I didn’t want to have to deal with removing the little plugs and putting them somewhere if I wanted to plug something in.

  • We didn’t know that there are so many small items around the house until kids! Protection comes first!

  • We try to go pretty minimal, but the best thing for me was buying a large gate that was intended to be used as a circular pen, but instead blocking off the front half of the house – that way the kids have reign of the kitchen and family room, and I don’t have to go chasing them around the dining and living room and up the stairs. We have spring locks on a few cabinets (I’m with you on that style).

  • I didn’t realize how lucky we have it. Our daughter is turning 3 next month. She never had an interest in cabinets, kick-knacks, or outlets. She climbs all over the sofas but that’s about it. We did have to get 3 child gates w/ openings for the cats to keep her from falling down steps and getting into the litter box.

  • We switched out our metal fans for tall plastic ones. Our little one was kind of obsessed with standing in front of it and letting it blow on her. This keeps the little fingers out of harms way, and if she did happen to get her fingers in the grill it would hurt, but not be a life-changing injury.

  • In addition to cabinet and drawer locks & gates & all the above comments, we’ve been adding safety precautions as our little guy gets older and more curious. We installed door knob locks for butterfly style handles. TIP: install upside down which makes it more difficult for toddlers to open the door. Another super important life saver is to fasten lighter weight furniture to the walls with proper hardware. We found this out the hard way when our 15 mo old pulled down a foyer table which then fell on top of him. Fortunately only his toes got bruised but we felt awful. Window treatment cord pulls must be shortened out of reach as well to prevent strangulation. Might sound excessive but these things are known to cause devastating accidents.

  • For me, outlet covers are the most important item. Not that our kid has that much interest in them, but I’d rather have them covered. We used the type that don’t require a key but can be taken out with the plug, I love them.
    As for drawers… I thought of using something, too, but eventually, I preferred to just tell him what he could open and take out and what he couldn’t. This takes so-o much time and effort, but I think it’s worth it. Obviously, every kid is different and has a moment to understand and obey. And not every mom and dad have the time and/or energy to repeat that “no, you can’t open that” a million times a day 😀

  • Our daughter is about the same age as Nova and I would actually advocate for no locks on kitchen cabinets and just move anything dangerous out of the lower cabinets. It really is a very small period of time where they just pull tons of stuff out willy nilly, and then the fact that she has access to the cabinets has made her less likely to want to get into them all the time. She will occasionally pull out some muffin tins or bowls and play with them but she is old enough now to not just pull everything out and make a giant mess.

  • Magnetic locks! Be sure to buy another key in case someone locks your key into a locked cupboard – that happened with us and it was ME who did it! LOL!

  • This is so interesting – I forget that the other aspect of having kids is having to make sure things are safe everywhere around the house.

    Side note: I was watching an episode of The X-Files, and I’m pretty sure the only reason this woman didn’t get eaten by Tooms, the hibernating liver-eating man, was because she baby-proofed her toilet and it was locked. So, escaping monsters is just another perk! LOL

    Eva | http://www.shessobright.com

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