Can you babyproof the world?

In one of the parenting magazines  I was just flipping through (all right – looking for crazy stuff to poke fun at) here’s a “tip” I found:

“I fill a bag with shoelaces and outlet covers, then throw it in my purse.” Why? Because if this mom ever, God forbid, finds herself someplace that has not been baby-proofed, she goes around and does it herself. Oh, don’t mind me, I’m just tying shut all your cabinets and plugging up your outlets.

 I’m surprised the woman doesn’t walk around with foam rubber to wrap around the lampposts on the way.

Now of course, the idea of a kid getting into someone’s cabinet and chugging the Palmolive is very disturbing. But so is the idea that the world has to be baby-proofed. You can’t lock every cabinet and cushion every corner, and I’m pretty sure you shouldn’t even try. At some point – and I do mean point – a child learns: Corners hurt! Steer away! And thus begins a lifetime of trying to avoid careening into things.

Same with opening cabinets. It’s a lesson kids need to learn. Once they do, you won’t have to walk around with a bag full of shoelaces.

I know it’s hard to watch a kid all the time, and other people’s homes can be a little shop of horrors. (Let’s not even talk about all the breakable stuff.) But the truth is: To try to baby-proof the world is to expect too much of ourselves as parents, and too little of our children, who will survive most ouchies and learn from the experience. And they don’t really like Palmolive anyway.  — Lenore

53 Responses to Can you babyproof the world?

  1. Annika November 16, 2008 at 10:05 am #

    The full extent of our babyproofing measures were locks on two cabinets (for our convenience more than his safety) and lattice on the balcony (that was for safety). So far our child has not died or even managed to break anything.

  2. Tina Kubala November 16, 2008 at 10:19 am #

    My mom taught me, kids bounce!

    I’m STILL having trouble with careening into things. I swear those walls moved.

  3. Andromeda November 16, 2008 at 10:41 am #

    Leaving aside, of course, the danger that this mother’s child will also grow up to be horrifically rude.

  4. Andromeda November 16, 2008 at 10:43 am #

    Leaving aside, of course, the danger that this mother’s child will also grow up to be horrifically rude.

  5. Marcy November 16, 2008 at 10:46 am #

    We learned early that kids actually show you what needs to be watched. Better pay a little attention than do all that baby proofing. I am all for a well place baby gate (especially near the cat litter), but I have never understood padding corners and putting in all those outlet covers. When do you take the padding off? When the kid goes to college?

    I do believe in toilet locks, though. Plumbers are expensive.

  6. Mixed Nuts November 16, 2008 at 11:10 am #

    The worst I ever saw in a parenting magazine (this was a couple of months ago) was an add for baby’s first helmet–to be worn while they learn to walk. Heck, I guess I should be putting them on my older kids every night. They fall out of bed sometimes, and that’s a further drop.

    Egads.

  7. Rob C November 16, 2008 at 11:26 am #

    Just when you think you’ve heard everything…

  8. cagey November 16, 2008 at 11:38 am #

    My rule for safety is Death vs. Injury. If they would “only” get injured, then the activity is allowed. Sure, I don’t WANT my kids to break a bone, but I also want them to live their lives.

    And yes, my kids jump on our beds. Because it is FUN.

  9. solinox November 16, 2008 at 11:39 am #

    To heck with babyproofing. My triplets broke all the drawer and cabinet locks and climbed over baby gates by the time they were 18 months old. My youngest walked at 10 months, was moving furniture to climb on things at 12 months, ripped the baby gates out of the wall (literally pulled the bolts out of the wall), was able to open childproofed doorknobs by 18 months, learned how to open the tot-locks shortly after, and actually ripped a baby-locked door off the fridge completely (yes, the actual door came off the hinge!). What’s the point???

  10. BPFH November 16, 2008 at 11:50 am #

    “Tips” like that are why my wife and I deliberately let our parenting magazine subscriptions expire several years ago. We used three gates (stairs, bathroom, kitchen), one cabinet lock (for the poisons under the sink), and inconsistently, a handful of plug covers… and somehow, our kids are still alive, when if you were to believe those magazines you’d think it was a recipe for disaster and a clear-cut case of child neglect, if not abuse.

    (Mind you, I think the article that caused us to actually get rid of the magazines was one that made a blanket assertion that any child with a weight at or above the 95th percentile for his age was obese–no mention of the height, just the weight…)

  11. Carol November 16, 2008 at 12:00 pm #

    with my oldest, we had babygates on the stairs – that were wired shut. We watched him crawl over to the stairs, unwire it, get on the stairs and then turn around and rewire it shut.

    And i’d throttle someone that came to my house and babyproofed.

  12. Denise November 16, 2008 at 12:35 pm #

    I run into these type of parents ALL the time. Mind you, their children are older now…and as I have tried my hand at free range parenting, their reaction is one of HORROR.

    I suggested to one mom that our 12 year old daughters be allowed to go the water park across the street from my house by themselves.

    Mind you, it is geared for very small children, the deepest point being 4 feet. There are life guards EVERYWHERE.

    I even committed to dropping them off and picking them up, because heaven forbid they be allowed to cross the street.

    Well, she just about had a coronary, and after agreeing to let them go, called back 15 minutes later to say that she had changed her mind.

    Holy cow.

    How long and how much can we protect our children?

    If you haven’t taught them, at some point, to take care of themselves…what do you do?

    Sneak off to college in their luggage?

  13. carol November 16, 2008 at 4:43 pm #

    I lived with my grandma when my oldest was a baby/toddler. My grandma had an electric outlet right over a floor furnace grate. Katrina used to crawl over and grab the plug that was plugged in while her other hand was on the metal. No matter what I did that was one of her favorite tricks. I don’t think we had plug covers back then, or I just didn’t know about them. She actually got a small electric shock once. She survived. She did a lot of things my sisters wouldn’t let their kids do. She was an adventurous type and I didn’t have the energy to hold her down.

  14. Mad Woman November 16, 2008 at 6:03 pm #

    I have two children and have never babyproofed anything in my life. In fact, all my household cleaners stayed safely under my kitchen sink, without the benefit of a cupboard lock and I simply taught my kids that that cupboard was off limits.

    They are now 4 and 6 and just fine.

    Shoelaces and socket covers indeed. Geez

  15. flandrumhill November 16, 2008 at 8:12 pm #

    Paranoid child-proofing is probably one reason why so many kids sadly never get to experience the great outdoors. Parents know there’s even less they can control there: roots that might trip a child, insect bites, poison ivy, twigs that might put an eye out…

  16. mausfrau November 16, 2008 at 8:12 pm #

    I quit subscribing to one parenting magazine after the third article in six months about “rude” mothers at playgroup. I don’t remember the specific offenses–as I recall, I didn’t find most of them all that rude, but more often just indicative of somebody who didn’t know all the unwritten rules of playgroup… and I feel pretty certain that most of those rude, uncivilized people would not go around babyproofing other people’s houses. What really stuck with me was the advice in the article about how to “gently” let the offending mothers know they were being rude (read: either so subtly and indirectly that they won’t figure out they’re being reprimanded, or so transparently that any halfway perceptive person will be insulted and never come back to your playgroup), and how to ease them out of the group if they didn’t catch the passive-aggressive hint. Because it’s a GOOD thing to set an example for your children of how to be in charge of a clique.

    In retrospect, I realize that I really should have written a letter to the editor about those articles; the last time I had to spend a significant amount of time in a doctor’s waiting room, I thumbed through the same magazine and found yet another article about “rude” playgroup participants. Maybe it’s become a monthly feature. Ugh.

  17. Sandra November 16, 2008 at 11:17 pm #

    Mausfrau, I have found myself blackballed on the editor’s email lists of those parenting magazines. With all of their bunk regarding eating, sleeping, and safety, the duct tape industry saw an increase in their sales as I had to wrap my head in it just to keep it from exploding.

    Seriously, how did my 15, 10, 3, and 1 year old live outside of my womb??? It’s a miracle, if I based it on those “experts”. UGH! :)

  18. Tanya November 17, 2008 at 12:10 am #

    I had such a mama come over for a playdate once. She walked through our door and started picking up things that were ‘no no’s’. I think she must have picked up half our toys and really wanted to pick up the rest, but somehow restrained herself.

    I was insulted and also miffed at most of her ‘obvious’ choices. The top half of a pool cue? Really? Mia uses it as a walking stick.

    I think you soon realize if your kid is a ‘climber’ or an explorer and kinda watch them…let them know what the boundries are. I honestly don’t think ‘no’ is a bad word. At 2 1/2, Mia knows her boundries and listens when new ones are set.

    Isn’t our job as parents is for our children to need us LESS everyday instead of MORE and be confident in themselves in the world and not be afraid or disgruntled because EVERYTHING if off limits or a ‘DANGER!”? Ohhhh don’t even get me started on THAT one! :)

  19. A November 17, 2008 at 12:27 am #

    Have a friend who has struggled with OCD and anxiety her whole life. Now a baby enters the picture. She tries SO hard but it is difficult to ignore her instincts (i.e. mental illness).

    I feel compassionate towards over-protective parents. It is a LOT of extra work. They think it is necessary when in fact it isn’t. They FEEL it deep in their souls and that is a hard sensation to ignore.

    Advertisers and marketers know that anxiety is the seed which gets people to buy STUFF. They don’t care about what it does to our culture or society. Just like any industry which looks to steer society towards its own interests, the ‘child-protectionary complex’ does the same. It encompasses doctors (some of whom LOVE all those extra visits), law enforcement (keeping up the red-flags on predator’s and such), writers of magazines and books, manufacturer’s, et al.

    Pick up any parenting magazine and with scissors cut out all the warnings, danger, and death. What’s left?

    Who buys these magazines? People who are unsure, anxious, and looking for guidance…marks who want to believe. Without readers, there are no advertisers and the vicious cycle continues.

    For some historical perspective, take a look at soap and personal care ads from the 1900’s through 1930’s. They spread FUD: Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt…to their own profit.

  20. The Reticulator November 17, 2008 at 3:24 am #

    I worry that the kid who learns to never, ever take risks will grow into the person who will never risk anything to speak up when the next pogrom or holocaust is being organized.

  21. becky November 17, 2008 at 3:58 am #

    what if a kid gets into her purse and strangles him/herself with a shoelace? what then!!!!

  22. anglicanmum November 17, 2008 at 4:51 am #

    I babyproof sockets (had a friend who lost half her tongue after licking one as a baby), windows and balconies (two local children have been killed by falling off balconies) and remove chemicals (had a poisoning experience with dd that I don’t wish to repeat). I also remove beads, marbles etc from our baby’s reach, although the only person we know to have been harmed by a marble was dd’s 3yo friend who stopped breathing after choking on one – not a baby. But our kids play with marble shaped stones all the time outdoors.

    This seems reasonable to me and I don’t think I’m overprotective. What’s the big deal? We don’t have to be too judgmental about this. These are all risks that a baby is too young to understand and assess for themselves. As soon as a child is old enough to understand why we don’t play with bleach/climb balconies/run with marbles in our mouth/lick sockets (age 3 or thereabouts, I’d say) then babyproofing can cease. In the meantime, why not give yourself an easy time and avoid the constant nagging and unproductive redirecting of curious toddlers? I agree with the previous poster who said that there is a difference between a potentially lethal risk and a potentially unpleasant risk. Bouncing on the bed? Fine. Unpacking the baking cupboard? Fine. Eating dirt? Fine. Running around the un-corner protected table? Also fine. Climbing on the balcony? No.

    But babyproofing someone else’s house? That would be rude!

  23. David November 17, 2008 at 6:42 am #

    I have an expression: you can’t child-proof the world, so you need to world-proof your child. Which is porbably another way of saying you need to let your kids free-range so they can cope with what life throws at them.

  24. C L November 17, 2008 at 8:25 am #

    We put a cabinet lock on the doors under our kitchen sink….and it’s still there though our kids are 5 and 7 years old. Paranoid you say? Well, it’s actually still there because of the dog–she can open cupboards, and likes to eat soap, paint, caulking, etc. We have a door-knob cover on our bedroom door too, but that is just to keep the kids out when we are, um ‘napping’….

  25. Rob C November 17, 2008 at 9:33 am #

    “My youngest…ripped the baby gates out of the wall (literally pulled the bolts out of the wall…and actually ripped a baby-locked door off the fridge completely (yes, the actual door came off the hinge!).”

    Martha Kent, is that you?

  26. Kim November 17, 2008 at 10:41 am #

    When my son was a toddler we put those outlet covers on the outlets. We quickly removed them when we realized he was pulling them out of the outlet and putting them in his mouth! They were a choking hazard!

    We had the cabinet locks, but they were for the cats. Our son never bothered the cabinets, but the cats sure did.

    My son is now about to turn 7 and you know what he did today? He cooked dinner. Grilled cheese. By himself. I know some people who won’t let their 13 year olds near a stove! I was close by, but I didn’t help at all with the dinner…he did it all himself.

  27. MommyMitzi November 17, 2008 at 11:49 am #

    I have to admit that as a kid my brother and I would hide behind the couch and purposely stick our fingers into the sockets so we could get a shock. It was just minor shock (obviously–since we did it more than once!) but to think about that now is little disturbing! However, as a young adult I did have a friend who had a deformed mouth due to his chewing on a plugged in electrical cord as a child.

    That said, I’m definitely more of the world-proof your child rather than child-proof your world mentality and so far I’ve had exactly zero trips to the emergency room, zero poison-control calls and zero injuries that a band-aid couldn’t fix. My kids are 6, 4 and 4.

  28. Lani November 17, 2008 at 1:03 pm #

    I admit to using outlet covers and a couple of cabinet locks when my girls were very young – under 3 – to help them resist the temptation to mess with the outlets and the cabinets with things in them that could hurt (i.e. chemicals and cleaners). However, I also reinforced the no touch rule so that by the time they reached age 3 or so, and we moved to a new house, we never had to put those precautions in place in the new house. But I would have NEVER taken shoelaces or outlet covers to another person’s house. That is obnoxious!!!!!

  29. Jennifer November 17, 2008 at 1:54 pm #

    I used one lock under our sink, and my husband was more fond of the outlet covers, but I found them a bother. I could barely pry them out myself, lol.. It was just easier to teach my son not to touch those. I have scouted other’s houses while my son was a baby, but only for things like chokable marbles or meds (my grandparents had an open bottle of prescription meds in their living room.) But this is all just common sense and can be done discreetly.

    I think that’s the crux of the issue. Parents are discouraged (by these same magazines) from saying “no” or being very firm. Many books say you “shouldn’t bother to discipline under the age of 2″ (nonsense). So, what’s left? Padded cells, of course.

  30. Bernadette November 17, 2008 at 10:29 pm #

    I like to go into the “baby-proofing” aisles at the stores just for a good laugh. The e.r. visits we’ve had here included one child falling from the bed and cracking her head on the windowsill. Not falling from the 14 foot high steel playground slide in our yard. The slide serves as our testament to “free-range” parenting and a friend jokes that he’ll write a song about it entitled, “The mothers of Bouldin Creek wouldn’t like that.”

  31. bryus November 18, 2008 at 12:08 am #

    My mother put locks on her cabinets when we lived with her after our son was born. However, she did leave one cabinet unlocked. The one with all the Tupperware and margarine tubs. He used to get into that cabinet and spend an hour pulling everything out. He was never interested in the other cabinets because he knew that was the fun one.

    They do have a child-proof knob on the basement door because it’s a long fall down a steep staircase to a concrete floor if you do get it open.

  32. Ralphinjersey November 18, 2008 at 4:24 am #

    It’s people like her that may me glad we have locks on our door.

  33. Heatherj November 18, 2008 at 6:32 am #

    If someone came to one of my playgroups and tried to baby-proof, we’d all razz her! We have outlet covers and locks on the cabinets under the kitchen sink, but really, we don’t need them. One of these days I’ll get them off. You know, when there is a free moment! 😉

  34. sheilah mae November 19, 2008 at 2:48 pm #

    i’ve just read your article “let’s stop scaring our kids” in the october issue of the reader’s digest. i am also a mom of three teenage kids here in the philippines and i also believe that kids should explore the outside world without us. Like you, I am also protective of my kids but I permit them to explore and experience the outside world to be able to learn and be responsible for their actions.

  35. Mark November 19, 2008 at 4:26 pm #

    One funny thing about outlet covers, they aren’t needed anymore. There are shutter’d outlets and GFCI outlets, both of which eliminate any risk.

    However, at my aunt’s house in England SHE has push-in outlet covers. Now, the funny thing about that, is that because the outlets there are HUGE, they are required by law to be shuttered with the ground pin needed to open them up. It would be MUCH harder to get an object into the hot pin of of British outlet than to remove one of those covers.

    So why do they sell those covers there? Because there are parents who don’t realize their outlets are inherently totally safe due to the strictest electrical code in the world… and marketers would rather sell a product than educate people that their product serves no purpose!

  36. BMS November 19, 2008 at 5:17 pm #

    About 1 month after my oldest came home, I quit reading parents magazines. First of all, you only need to read one – they are all pretty much the same. Secondly, I was in a playgroup with several moms who read all the magazines – and the moms were scary. One woman came in with a new fear every week: “Oh MY GOD! I just realize that I gave her (a certain toy, nonorganic milk, you name it). I just found out that 1 child in Indonesia DIED from that! I’d never forgive myself!” She drove me insane.

    The funny thing is that for all her paranoia, she never believed anything bad about, say, TV. Dirt in the backyard – BAD. Unlocked cabinets containing towels – BAD. 5 hours of Baby Einstein a day was ok for a 9 month old though. I didn’t cry when she left the group…

  37. Lola November 19, 2008 at 10:30 pm #

    Mmmmh… Maybe it would be even safer to carry a baby-sized straight-jacket in her purse. Who knows, it can even become the next star product advertised in those magazines.

  38. Uly November 20, 2008 at 9:52 am #

    “My son is now about to turn 7 and you know what he did today? He cooked dinner. Grilled cheese. By himself. I know some people who won’t let their 13 year olds near a stove! I was close by, but I didn’t help at all with the dinner…he did it all himself.”

    Sheesh. I even let the five year old niece flip pancakes and chop unassisted. I mean, I’m with her and all, but only because she’s five and is prone to dancing around at REALLY BAD TIMES. If she can’t make a simple meal by seven or eight, I think I’d die of shame.

  39. Brigit November 20, 2008 at 9:17 pm #

    My daughter 3 1/2 started helping cook at about 2. She can almost make cornbread completely by herself. She even helped with Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners last year at 2 1/2 years old.

  40. Mary Antonelli November 21, 2008 at 1:01 am #

    Mom never childproofed the house when my sister and I were kids. Apparently my favorite spot was the
    TOP of the cupboards and fridge in the kitchen.

    We lived.

    I’m thinking of getting the cabinet locks and cord holders that they use to keep kids out of cabinets and from chewing electrical cords though.

    My cats love cabinets and one was gnawing on a USB cable the other day- Windows tried to install him.

  41. Tim November 26, 2008 at 5:39 am #

    Our theory is to house proof out babies not baby proof our house.

  42. kk November 26, 2008 at 9:39 am #

    For sure house proof the kids. you don’t want kids you can never take anywhere. Capboard locks are just an invitation to investigate, once i took them off my son showed no more interest in the kitchen until he wanted to cook and at 2 he was chopping with a butter knife and now at 3 does his best to wash the dishes. he loves it and i am happy to be bringing up a son who will be able to look after himself.

  43. Paul November 27, 2008 at 5:33 am #

    I like the words of Paula Poundstone: “I kid proofed my house, but they keep coming back anyways.”

  44. Trisha November 27, 2008 at 11:36 am #

    Where can you buy toddler-sized straight jackets? Seriously, though, I have a 6 year old girl, a 22 month old boy, and a newborn boy. I didn’t childproof with my girl, but my toddler loves anything to do with electricity. So I bought covers for the sockets for my peace of mind, since I live in Australia, and I have had a shock and a minor burn myself (as an adult though, on a faulty lamp).

    It’s especially hard now with the newborn because as soon as I start breastfeeding the baby, all heck breaks loose with the toddler. And I hate yelling ‘No!’ or running around after him when I have a baby attached to me, trying to have a meal. I also put a gate on the kitchen.

    My sister got a very bad burn from boiling water (for warming a bottle) when she was a baby, and cut her palm open with a pair of scissors as a toddler. She survived, but has terrible scars. My dad has scars from pulling a pot down from the stove as a toddler on his chest, and a scar between his eyes from getting hit by a swing in a playground.

    I agree with considering whether the consequences of an action would be lethal versus injury, but I go further and try to prevent permanent injury and scarring, as well as death. A broken arm isn’t great, but it’s an okay risk. A broken head, back or neck is not worth the risk.

  45. Julie November 28, 2008 at 4:18 am #

    I just found your website and read your excerpt (which I also JUST read this afternoon- and nearly choked on). She does WHAT?!? But I think she was referring to places like doctor’s offices and the grocery store, not ppl’s homes. Although I can’t tell which is more disturbing.

  46. gary November 29, 2008 at 5:18 am #

    sorry about going off topic. you need to know where your charitable dollars are going, investigate before you donate.. before funding ANY charity. please visit. MRMCMED.ORG (learn how charities misspend research dollars) and PCRM.ORG, read what the march of dimes spends (30 million a year) your money on, thank you for your time.

  47. Liz December 4, 2008 at 2:37 am #

    When I was a kid we lived in South America — 220 voltage, baby! Once when I was five, my dad had some sort of project involving electricity going in a corner of the living room (we were always rigging things with transformers so we could run some of our north american electronics and appliances). For some inexplicable evening one night after my bath, I walked dripping wet into the living room and picked up the live end of a reversable transformer that was plugged in, and received quite the shock, to put it mildly. Nothing like 220 volts to teach a kid about electricity.

    Of course, my mom let my dad have it when he got home, because I suppose I actually could have died or been more seriously injured. All I got was a nasty burn on my hand. This was also around the time I got a quarter lodged in my windpipe …

  48. Sarah March 26, 2010 at 4:54 am #

    Do you think advertising plays a big part in this as well? The baby proofing people want to make more money, so they try to make us all feel less safe. I baby proofed my cabinets because I didn’t want to clean up the mess. The only drawer that I baby proofed was my knife drawer.

  49. Mom of 2 April 1, 2010 at 10:37 am #

    Wow. Didn’t read all the comments but you people are ridiculously irritating in your holier than thou attitudes toward baby proofing. You sound like a) people without kids (thank goodness) or b) old people griping about useless technology. Wow.

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  53. Erica October 3, 2011 at 8:10 am #

    I’m pretty sure this is all child-dependent. My sister-in-law told me to wait to childproof, because they had no trouble with either of their kiddos (aside from one of them sticking food in their subwoofer). But… I got the kind of baby who thinks it’s hilarious to do things that are “wrong,” including heading toward outlets with her finger out.

    If this were just a matter of her getting hurt, I wouldn’t worry too much, but she can actually die from being electrocuted.

    OTOH, I do not travel with outlet plugs.