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Home Safe Home: Childproof Your Home Room by Room

exterior of home

Even if you feel pretty confident that you've done a thorough job of childproofing, chances are you've missed something. In fact, in a study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), when first-time moms of kids ages 12 to 36 months were taken through a model home and asked to point out potential hazards, they could identify fewer than half of them.

You may also be overconfident about your own child's understanding. In the UAB study, when researchers asked the moms to point out items that would be hazardous for their toddler, they made statements like, "My child isn't curious about the toilet" or "my child knows not to play with matches" and flagged only 40 percent of the real risks.

But the truth is, household injuries are one of the top reasons kids under 3 visit the E.R. each year. And it's smart to be prepared for the worst. So we've shown you many of the hidden risks for young children -- as well as pointed out the safe spots -- and provided expert advice on how to childproof your home.

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WHAT'S RIGHT
Living Room

Candles and matches are out of reach. It's possible for a toddler to accidentally light a match and start a fire, no matter how undeveloped her fine motor skills. And if she chews on a candle, she could choke on the wax. Keep candles and matches well out of reach, and try flameless LED candles to mimic the effect of flickering candlelight.

Photo frames are up and away. If your child knocks over or drops a frame, the glass can shatter and cut him, even in a carpeted room. Put frames somewhere well out of reach, mount them on the wall, or replace them with plastic.

TV is mounted. If a child tries to climb on a TV stand, the set can fall on her. Mount your television securely on the wall, if possible. TVs on stands need to be anchored to the wall too: Slip industrial-strength Velcro straps through the air-vent holes and connect them to eye hooks that you screw into the wall.

Fireplace is covered. Install heat-resistant gates to use while the flames are burning. Kids could fall and injure themselves against a sharp or stony hearth, so make sure you buy pads for the edges. Artificial fireplaces often contain small rocks that are a choking hazard -- if yours does, remove them. Two risks in our picture: The doors should be locked when not in use, and the fire-stoking tools should be out of reach.

WHAT'S WRONG

Power strip is exposed. Your child could easily unplug a cord from the power strip, stick a metal object inside one of the holes, and electrocute himself. Keep power strips hidden behind furniture or, if they must be exposed, buy a power-strip cover.

Small toys are everywhere. Round, cylindrical, or oval objects that are smaller than 1? inches in diameter can completely block the throat of a young child and cause fatal choking. (And little square toys can be a risk too.) So these should not be used by children, probably until they are 5 years old, says Parents advisor Gary Smith, M.D., Dr. P.H., director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital, in Columbus, Ohio.

Remote control has a missing battery cover. Be especially careful of button batteries -- the kind you find in watches, hearing aids, greeting cards, and some toys -- which are higher voltage than traditional batteries. If your child swallows any type of battery, it can get lodged in the esophagus and cause severe damage, so get him to the E.R. immediately.

Glass coffee table is unprotected. Table edges are treacherous for a little kid learning to walk. "Your toddler can badly cut her forehead and eye area," says UAB study coauthor and clinical psychologist David Schwebel, Ph.D., an expert in unintentional-injury prevention. Call the manufacturer to find out what kind of glass your table is made of. If it's non-tempered, which shatters easily, put it in a room your toddler can't access -- or buy a new tempered-glass top and edge guards.

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WHAT'S RIGHT
Bedroom

Crib is set up safely. Once your child can sit up, it's time to lower the crib mattress. Be careful with stuffed animals too -- they're a suffocation risk for babies, and they can make an easy step stool for a little one who wants to get out. As of June, traditional drop-side cribs are now banned from being sold in the United States; if the drop side breaks, a child can become trapped between the crib and the mattress and suffocate, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). If your crib has a drop side, the CPSC recommends replacing it with a fixed-side crib, or at the very least, checking on cpsc.gov to see if it has been recalled.

Window has a guard. Windows should only be able to open 3 inches, about the height of an adult fist, or they should have a window guard. "And if you have a window that's low to the floor, or a window seat, it's imperative that you install a guard," says safety expert Alison Rhodes, of Wilton, Connecticut, who founded the childproofing company Safety Mom Solutions. For casement windows, Rhodes recommends removing the crank and keeping it somewhere that you can easily access.

Window blinds are cordless. A child can get his neck caught in a looped cord and be strangled. More than 200 young children have died this way since 1990, says the CPSC. Eliminate the hazard by cutting the loop and adding free tassels from windowcoverings.org. But if possible, invest in new cordless window coverings.

WHAT'S WRONG

Balloon is within reach. "Latex balloons should be kept completely away from children under 8," says Dr. Smith. "As many as half of children's choking deaths caused by toys are due to balloons." If a child puts a popped balloon in his mouth, the balloon can drape itself over the entrance to his larynx, covering it like shrink-wrap, and suffocate him, he explains.

Crayons are left out. Even little hands can snap a crayon in two, and then it's small enough to choke on. Always supervise your child while he's using art supplies, and consider getting chubby round crayons like Crayola Tadoodles.

Dresser isn't secure. Each year, nearly 15,000 kids visit the E.R. for tip-over-related injuries. "All heavy furniture needs to be anchored to the wall or to the floor," says Dr. Smith.

Porcelain piggy bank isn't up high enough. A child could easily climb up those "stairs" of dresser drawers and grab the bank on top. And once he does, the bank could shatter, and he could get cut on the pieces or choke on the coins inside. Because coins are the perfect size and shape to block your child's airway, experts recommend keeping them away from toddlers entirely. (This goes for plastic ones too.) You can also install drawer stops that keep drawers from being open more than two thirds of the way.

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WHAT'S RIGHT
Kitchen

Kitchen is gated. Because the room is full of risks, it's a good idea to make it off-limits when you're not around.

Lower cabinets are protected. Cleaning products like drain openers, automatic dishwasher detergents, and furniture polish are toxic. Either secure the cabinet with a magnetic lock, use a traditional latch along with a childproof locked box, or place chemicals high up, well out of reach, recommends Jim Schmidt, M.D., a pediatric emergency-room physician and cofounder of Child Safety Housecalls, a childproofing and safety company in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Dishwasher is locked. The biggest hazard is ingesting the detergent, says Dr. Schmidt. Make a point of running the dishwasher as soon as you add the detergent. Store knives with blades down and leave dishes in the machine for as short a time as possible. Many dishwashers have a lock setting, so check yours. Otherwise, consider an appliance lock -- you may have to try a few to find one that works well with your machine.

Microwave is out of reach. Mounting it up high is best, but if yours must sit on the counter and your child's present, don't turn it on and walk away, never leave hot food in it, and make sure your child's not around when you take hot food or liquids out.

Stove knobs are removed. Pull them off when you're not cooking. Even better, use a stove guard -- a plastic or metal shield that attaches to the front -- which makes it harder for curious hands to reach burners. Dr. Schmidt prefers a guard to knob covers, which don't fit all stoves and can be inconvenient to use. Be sure to cook on the back burners whenever possible, and never let pan handles face forward.

WHAT'S WRONG

Oven is easy to open. The biggest risk here is burns, but your child could also hit her head with the oven door if you leave a dish towel hanging from the handle and she pulls on it. If your oven has settings, check to see whether one lets you lock the door. Otherwise, the safest thing to do is install an oven latch or put a baby gate across the entrance to the kitchen.

Small appliances are accessible. Most toddlers can reach onto a kitchen countertop, according to research from Children's Hospital of Michigan, which means they can easily turn over appliances, and other heavy and dangerous items sitting there. Even if your coffeemaker is set toward the rear of the counter, make sure the cords aren't sticking out. And don't leave a stool out, since toddlers can use it to get to off-limits areas.

Cutlery is reachable. As convenient as it is to keep a butcher block of knives sitting on the counter, that's a mistake. Store it in an above-the-counter cabinet. This is crucial if you have a child with special needs, notes Rhodes: "They can be more likely to be impulsive and grab items that can pose a danger."

Refrigerator isn't secured. If your child is able to pull your fridge open on his own, consider installing a latch. And at the very least, make sure you're aware of what's in there, says Dr. Schmidt: Always keep choking hazards like grapes, breakables like wine bottles, and poisons such as medications out of reach on high shelves.

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WHAT'S RIGHT
Bathroom

Tub faucet is covered. Rubber spout covers can protect your toddler from bangs and bruises. Also, because your child could burn himself if he turns up the hot water, make sure your water heater is set to 120?F. If you live in an apartment building and can't adjust yours, install an anti-scald device on the faucet itself. These have sensors that stop the flow of water when it reaches a dangerous temperature.

Wastebasket has no liner. It may be easier to empty the bathroom trash when you line it with a plastic shopping bag, but the convenience isn't worth the risk. Your toddler could put the bag over her head and suffocate.

Door can't shut. The most common types of amputations in kids involve fingers and thumbs, ac-cording to recent research from the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital. The usual cause among those age 2 and younger? Doors. "I've stitched up the ends of so many fingers -- frequently from a game of chase that ends with a door slamming," says Dr. Schmidt. You can buy devices that keep doors from closing all the way, or simply drape a towel over the top.

WHAT'S WRONG

Puddle isn't wiped up. A little water on the floor could be all it takes to send your child flying. When toddlers fall, they're more likely to hit their head and face because they are too young to be able to break their fall using their arms. After baths, make sure you mop up all water on the floor.

Toilet is open. The toilet is just the right height for your toddler to stick his head in, and since he's top-heavy, he could fall over and not be able to get up. Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional-injury death in kids ages 1 to 4. Keep the toilet-seat lid down, install a latch, and remind visitors to use it. In a Home Safety Council survey, only 21 percent of parents said they'd installed toilet latches.

Contact-lens case is on the counter. A twist-off lid is the perfect size for a toddler to choke on.

Hair dryer is plugged in. If your child turns it on, she could burn herself, and if she drops it in the sink or tub, it could electrocute her.

Pills aren't locked away. "It's not enough to place dangerous medicine up high," says Dr. Smith. "You need to put them under lock and key. In our home we had a locksmith install a lock in one of the drawers in the bathroom and we kept the key hidden." Some drugs, such as heart medications, are more toxic than others. But even the elemental iron in prenatal vitamins can be deadly if ingested in high enough amounts.

Toiletries aren't out of reach. As with pills, putting them up high isn't the answer; a curious child will simply climb up on the counter to reach them. And items you may think aren't dangerous can be deadly: "I'd rather see my kids play with bleach than with Visine," says Dr. Schmidt. In rare in-stances, the same ingredients that constrict the blood vessels to get the red out of eyes can cause blood-pressure changes, abnormal heart rhythms, and coma in a small child, he explains. Lock products away using a magnetic latch or a childproof medicine container.

Originally published in the November 2011 issue of Parents magazine.

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