Childproofing for Your Toddler (18 Months to 4 Years)
The terrible 2s. The terrifying 3s. The frightening 4s. Whatever your call them, this age range is notorious for kids getting themselves into trouble and for the demands they place on the parents. What makes this age range so terrible? In a nutshell, they have the strength and balance to get almost anywhere, but no impulse control telling them to slow down or think things through.
They’re starting to develop a fundamental understanding of how the world works including basic problem solving and the ability to use symbols to think about things. Yet, they have little understanding of their action’s consequences and little ability to inhibit their behavior.
What the Statue Test can Tell Parents
The NEPSY is a set of neuropsychological tests that measures childhood development. The Statue Test, in particular, is used to assess motor persistence and inhibition and is great at demonstrating why young children (3-6 years old) have a knack for running their parents ragged and for getting themselves into trouble.
During this test, the child is told to maintain a body position with eyes closed for a 75-second period, while the examiner makes distracting sounds that the child is supposed to ignore. Especially at a younger age, the child doesn’t last long. “Some of the kids are so cute,” psychologist Dr. Talbert says. “They know what they’re supposed to do and you can tell how hard they’re trying, but at some point, their brains just can’t inhibit and they react to the distraction.”
Simple Tricks and Hard Rules for Safety
Curiosity is an overwhelming force to your toddler and it goes hand-in-hand with their sponge-like ability to soak up new information. At the age of 3, your child is adding around 50 new words to their vocabulary every day! They don’t have time to stop and listen to your well-reasoned logic!
Repetition and patience are helpful, but simply saying “No!” all the time isn’t effective, either. It’s not that you should avoid disciplining your child altogether, but relying on your child’s ability to inhibit their behavior is a flawed strategy. A better bet is to think about the Statue Test and try to distract your child with some other stimulus. For example, if your kid is throwing a tantrum in the store over a toy, rather than caving in or staying resolute, try something like…We’re going to eat dinner soon. If we go home now, you can have a cookie. If we stay here, we’re not going to have time for a cookie.
That said, no strategy is 100% effective. You can’t simply give a young child a couple toys and expect they’ll lose all interest in climbing the stairs. Let your kid explore and make mistakes as much as safety will allow, but you should still install a safety gate at the top of the stairs.
Childproofing Checklist for Your Toddler
A lot of this checklist boils down to taking another look around the house and being prepared for the fact that your 3-year old can get a lot of places that your 18-month old couldn’t:
- Often, the most important childproofing step is the one we don’t do. Be proactive about teaching your toddler to go up and down stairs, but be cautious about deciding when to take down safety gates from the top of stairs. Most children are able to go up stairs before they can go down stairs. And if they get excited, they may try running down the stairs before they’re ready.
- Unfortunately, stairs aren’t the only falling hazard. Not long after these are mastered, your child may look to open accessible windows. Keep your windows locked and/or have window guards installed.
- Take another look around for tip-prone furniture, especially furniture with drawers and shelves that can be pulled out and climbed on. Look at closets, the washing machine, the refrigerator and other things that the toddler may now be strong enough to open and get trapped in.
- Get reliable locks for any gun or liquor cabinets, but a locked kitchen cabinet is also great for scissors, cutting knives, cleaners, and other dangerous materials. You may also need to make trash cans and certain light fixtures inaccessible to the child.
- Make sure outdoor play areas are enclosed. Make sure the child can’t gain unsupervised access to pools, trampolines, lawn equipment, or other outdoor hazards.
Removing Items from the Home Entirely
It’s not usually the first step of childproofing, but some parents find it helpful to remove some number of items from the home entirely, at least for a time. This can be useful for a variety of reasons. From tripping hazards to choking hazards, this is one of the most important, yet difficult, times to create a clutter-free living space. From adult-themed decorations to adult-themed toys, your unaware toddler may have an uncanny ability to embarrass you in front of polite company. For guns, weapons, and other obvious safety hazards, storing these items outside the home is even better than the strongest cabinet lock or personal safe.
Other Ways to Think about Childproofing Your Home
The truth is that there are a handful of essential childproofing tips, but even then, there’s no single strategy that’s right for every home and household. We wanted to highlight how multi-stage childproofing can be used to track your child’s development and improve overall home safety. Other sources take a different approach for understanding and organizing your childproofing plan:
- If you’re the slightly obsessive type and want to review every last possible thing you might consider doing, here’s the type of comprehensive checklist you’re looking for.
- Tired of all the lists, but love digesting these larger themes of childproofing your home? It’s still populated with a lot of individual checklists, but we recommend scrolling this bulletin board of babyproofing ideas from Parents.com.
- What about babyproofing products? What items should you buy/not buy? Who can you trust for information? It probably won’t answer all your questions, but a great place to start is this list of 12 childproofing products from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
- Indeed, the federal government must have all kinds of resources, right? Well, yes and no. This checklist from the Administration for Children & Families (ACF) is pretty basic on its own, but it’s a great jumping off point for exploring other governmental resources for childhood safety and development.