If you're lucky enough to have an unlimited budget to spend on an ideal kid's room, feel free to create a fantasy environment from top to bottom. Regardless of how generous your budget may be, however, be sure to put safe, sturdy construction -- the surest test of quality -- at the top of your must-have list. Even theatrical set construction needs both a designer and a technical director who make sure the design is constructed for the actors' safety, so make sure your little star gets the same consideration.
One of the most difficult challenges a new parent faces is to anticipate all of the ways a child can get hurt. Kids and adults think differently, and what looks innocuous to you can be dangerous to them -- and in just a second or two. In many metropolitan areas, you can hire a company to come in and childproof your home, but you can also do the job yourself. Consult the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission for guidelines on crib bars, bunk beds, and many other children's products, or look for the commission's label of approval on products you buy. The Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association also certifies merchandise for safety and labels those that meet the industry's voluntary standards.
Beds and Cribs
Following are some of the basics for safe beds and cribs.
- If your kids are set on bunk beds, be sure to keep children under seven off the top bunk and insist on safety rails and a safety ladder regardless of kids' ages.
- Make sure bunk beds are sturdy. Check to ensure spacing of rails are too narrow for a child's head to get caught.
- Choose bunk beds with guardrails on both sides of the top bunk so you can relocate the bed if needed. Make sure the top bunk's mattress is at least five inches below the edge of the guardrails.
- Buy only cribs with slats/bars too close together for a baby's head to get caught. Slats must measure no more than two and one-eighth inches apart, and corner posts should be no more than one-sixteenth of an inch high (exception: canopy posts and other posts taller than 16 inches). Decorative cutouts on cribs and beds should be too small for any part of a child's body to get caught. You will need to add extra slats to make that charming antique crib (or most cribs made before 1990) safe.
- Make sure latching mechanisms that let you lower a crib side are securely latched in the highest position unless you're lifting out the baby. Choose a crib with this mechanism out of baby's reach or one that needs ten pounds of pressure for release.
- Buy the sturdiest crib you can afford. Your baby will do a lot of jumping and jouncing before he or she outgrows the crib.
Cute and cozy, this red-and-white room is just right for a little one. The crib is
far enough away from the miniblind cord, and the crib has locking sides
to prevent falls. Just be sure to take out the decorative pillows when it’s
naptime or bedtime. Designer: Lyn Peterson. Wallpaper: Motif Designs.
These tips will help you choose a safe changing table:
- Use a changing table with a low guardrail and a safety strap.
- Keep diapering supplies and extra clothes in open storage at arm's reach of the changing table so you don't have to leave the child unattended on the table, even for a moment.
Electric and Heat
Safety tips for electric and heat apply throughout the house. Here are a few:
- Keep electrical cords out of the way to keep kids from grabbing them or tripping on them, and rearrange furniture if necessary to eliminate extension cords.
- Screen off any radiator or other heat source so children can't bump or fall into it.
- Make sure all electrical outlets are equipped with ground fault circuit interrupters, and block unused outlets with the simple plastic safety caps available at most hardware and grocery stores.
If you own a firearm, keep it unloaded and locked away, and store ammunition separately. Statistically, far more family members and neighbors' kids than intruders are hurt or killed by guns in the home.
Furniture and Accessories
Take heed of the following tips to ensure the furniture and accessories in your home are safe for children.
- Bolt bookcases or wall unit pieces to a wall to keep heavy pieces from falling if a child climbs them.
- Make sure toy chests have a closing mechanism that keeps them from slamming down on fingers. (If you're using an antique hope chest for toy storage, have a safety hinge retrofitted and remove the hinge on the front lock.)
- You probably already know to avoid decorative accessories and accents with small parts that pose a choking hazard for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. If you want to use beads, ball fringe, or other small elements that can be detached (or yanked off), confine them to rooms small children will not use. If a room is shared between a preschooler and an older child, keep the potential problem items up high on a wall-mounted shelf or otherwise out of reach.
- Position storage hooks -- and anything else with the potential to poke -- at a level that's either below or above your child's eyes.
Kitchens and Baths
Follow these tips to make your kitchen and bathroom safe:
- If you're buying a cooktop or range, get one with controls on top or in back -- not down on the front where young kids can reach them.
- Avoid sharp edges and corners anywhere children will have access. Round or oval tables throughout the house and rounded or bullnose kitchen and bath countertops provide safety without compromising adult style.
- Install simple plastic kiddie locks on all cabinets kids can reach (including the ones they can reach by climbing on a chair and standing on the counter when you're in the next room). Be especially vigilant about locking cabinets holding cleaning supplies, medicines, matches, saws, knives, and other potentially dangerous kitchen and craft tools.
- Station a mirror in the bath where small children can see themselves to reduce the temptation to climb up on the counter for a look.
- Use only bath rugs with nonslip backings (or use a cut-to-fit nonslip pad available separately). If you're having new flooring installed, specify tile with a nonslip surface.
- Have grab bars installed in the tub and near the toilet, and tell kids not to hang on towel bars or put weight on them. (Grab bars must be reinforced with a block spanning two wall studs, so plan for them if you are rehabbing or building new.)
- Install antiscald devices on your bathroom faucets, especially in showers and bathtubs. Children's skin is much thinner than adults', and it can burn severely in just a few seconds.
Paints and Stains
Certain types of paints and stains can be harmful to children; use these tips to avoid them:
- Choose low-VOC latex paints rather than oilbase paints for kids' rooms; they emit less fumes and are less toxic.
- When it comes to finishing wood floors in kids' rooms, a waterbase urethane is less toxic and less flammable than polyurethane.
Install at least one smoke alarm on every level of your home, and add a carbon monoxide detector near bedrooms if you use gas or oil heat or have an attached garage. Change batteries in your detectors on the same date every year, such as Thanksgiving, a birthday, or the autumn return to standard time.
Install safety gates to keep children away from stairs. If stair railings or landing balusters are more than five inches apart, install a mesh safety barrier.
Follow these suggestions to secure your windows:
- For second-story windows, install window guards instead of relying on screens or storm windows. If your windows are double hung, simple devices can be put in place to keep the window from opening more than a few inches while still allowing for easy operation by an adult in case of fire.
- Secure window blind cords up high, and keep other dangling items away from where a child can reach them.
There's no way you can completely childproof any environment, so do yourself and your kids a favor and teach them that "no" means "no." They'll comply to win your approval years before they understand safety issues.
Now let's move onto making your child's room comfortable for the little guy or gal. You'll find tips on the next page.
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