Childproofing Measures for Toddlers

When childproofing, look carefully around the home, put yourself at toddler level, and try to think like a toddler. What is fascinating? What is dangerous? What is the child apt to do at his or her stage of development? For example, can he or she stand, walk, or climb? Here are more points to consider:

Poisoning. Always have the Poison Control phone number (1.800.222.1222 in the United States) by every telephone and program it into your cell phone. If possible, help your toddler understand what might be poison. Install child safety locks on all cabinet doors and keep all poisonous products (e.g., household cleaners, insecticides, lawn and garden products, automotive supplies) locked away out of reach. Don't forget items like cosmetics, mothballs, and certain plants like poinsettias, jade plants, azaleas, and holly berries. If you don't know if a specific plant is poisonous, ask at your local nursery.

Medicines should also be locked away out of reach. Try not to take medicine in front of toddlers; they might copy your actions. Similarly, do not coax children to take medicine by referring to it as "candy." He or she might think medicine is candy and take some without supervision, which can be harmful.

Lead Poisoning. Lead can be found in paint (most commonly in paint used before 1978), water, dirt, and dust. Lead has no taste or odor and cannot be seen. Lead poisoning can cause learning disabilities, hearing difficulties, seizures and brain damage in toddlers and young children.

Peeling, cracking, or chipping paint in the home should be repaired. If you are not sure if items in the home contain lead, contact your local health department. Lead paint must be removed by a professional—never try to remove it yourself.

Keep the home as clean as possible and wash toddlers' hands frequently, especially if they have been playing in the dirt or in a dusty area. Drinking water from the tap can contain lead, if plumbing includes lead pipes. Have the water tested if you are unsure if the pipes contain lead.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning. Carbon monoxide (CO), which is a tasteless, odorless, colorless gas, can be deadly when inhaled. To reduce the risk for carbon monoxide poisoning, install CO detectors on every floor of the home and clean heating systems and fireplaces regularly.

Choking. In addition to food items, small objects (e.g., coins, marbles, pen and marker caps) present a significant choking danger for toddlers. Parents and caregivers should inspect toys to make sure they are age appropriate and have no loose, small parts. Many toy manufacturers put age recommendations and warnings about small parts on toy packaging.

Strangulation. Toddlers must be watched carefully if they wear necklaces or headbands. Toddler clothing should not have drawstrings. If there are drawstrings, they should be removed, shortened, or sewn into the back of the garment so that they won't come loose.

Suffocation. Do not allow toddlers to play with plastic bags of any size. Grocery store bags, trash bags, dry cleaning bags, and plastic wrapping around new toys or clothing are all hazards and should be disposed of out of the toddler's reach. Parents and caregivers should watch toddlers carefully to make sure they do not climb into appliances, or onto furniture and cabinets to explore. Remove the doors from old refrigerators, freezers, stoves, and similar appliances that are not being used.

Cuts. All sharp objects (e.g., scissors, paper shredders, forks, knives, glassware, hand mirrors, razors, blades, nail files, tools) should be locked out of reach. Whenever possible, toddler-friendly products like safety scissors, plastic cups, smooth silverware with plastic coating, and toy tools should be used instead. For example, rakes and shovels come in smaller, safe, plastic versions so that a toddler can help in the garden. Keep toddlers away from trash cans and recycling bins, which often contain broken glass and sharp-edged metal cans.

Magnets and Small Batteries. Do not allow toddlers to play with toys that contain magnets (including small refrigerator magnets) or small batteries. When these objects are are swallowed, complications such as blood poisoning, infection, or death can develop quickly. Surgery to remove ingested magnets, batteries, and other small objects may be necessary.

Firearms. The best way to prevent injuries from firearms is to simply not have them in the home. If guns are present, they should be unloaded and stored securely, separate from the ammunition. Childproof mechanisms on the guns themselves should be used to insure toddler and child safety.

Pets. Animals can bite, scratch, and spread disease and parents and caregivers should monitor the interaction between toddlers and animals closely. Children should be taught to approach strange animals only when a grown-up is present and to wash their hands after petting or handling animals. Young children also should be taught not to tease the family pet.

Additional concerns can develop once a toddler begins to stand and walk. For example, he or she now may be at eye-level with the dog and be able to chase around the cat. If a pet seems agitated or aggressive when a child is around, separate the two.

Recalls. Parents and caregivers should keep a list of brands, model numbers, and serial numbers of child items purchased and should pay close attention to product recalls. Second-hand items should be in perfect working order and should be checked against recall lists. When in doubt, do not use second-hand products.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 27 Aug 2008

Last Modified: 06 Oct 2015