Childproofing the house: Did you bother?

When Annie Ridout shared her thoughts on childproofing the house (or not, as was the case), a passionate social media debate ensued. It seems parents are divided on this matter, and have strong views on either side…

When my daughter reached about eight months old and started to become mobile (ish – she didn’t crawl until 11 months, started walking around 15) friends, family and the internet started to suggest childproofing the house.

We listened, thought about it and decided not to do anything. My husband grew up on a farm with open fires, tools lying around and tractors cruising the land. He learnt to stay safe by assessing risks from a young age.

My upbringing in London was somewhat different, but definitely involved an element of risk-taking – outdoor play, running up and down un-stair-gated stairs (once slipping, and being a lot more careful after that) and being taught right from wrong through practise rather than theory.

So we didn’t put stairgates on, never locked any cupboards and have left our sockets open to whatever may be pushed into them. We found that our daughter hovered near those sockets, wondering what they do, until we explained – sternly – that it’s very dangerous to touch them. And then steered clear.

Similarly, she quickly learnt to climb up and down stairs (with a fair amount of falling and banging – but nothing too terrible). And aged 18 months, we watched as she opened all our ground level kitchen cupboards and carefully reached beyond the glasses to pick out her plastic beaker (before clearing a space and making a seat for herself – see photo). Again, a few glasses have smashed in the process, but no injuries.

Every parent and every child is different – what has worked for us might not work for you. I’d love to hear about what other mums and dads decided to do re. baby-proofing, and how it’s worked out… feel free to leave comments below with your tales.

Here’s what our friends and followers said about it on Facebook and Instagram…

Laura Alvarado: “I approach safety in a similar way, especially as I have a headstrong two-year-old aries who wishes to learn by himself with me watching close by. I was brought up with a lot of “carefuls” and “mind out” and I don’t think it helped me as I was already of a sensitive temperament. Also, I think it can be quite unsettling for a young child to be filled with abstract concepts of caution. I have tried to warn Jesse about dangers and it seems to only make him worry and fret rather than equip and protect him.”

Anne Baxendale: “I say ‘careful Truman’ so often it’s clearly completely meaningless to him – he just shouts it each time he does something dangerous, like a battle cry.”

Katherine: “We have allowed quite free exploration and still notice people’s anxious glances as our four-year-old zooms off on his scooter into the distance or climbs the fences at the playground. He is pretty well equipped to manage London roads safely (i.e. wait for an adult to come and cross with him) and makes all sorts of other risk assessments for himself. I have also encouraged both our boys to go to adults and ask for things in places like the library/a cafe and to take a brief different route from me when walking so we lose sight of each other for a moment before reuniting. When camping they try whittling sticks and lighting fires too. All of this stuff contributes to a robust sense of self efficacy and ability to navigate their environment.”

Cherish White: “Interesting read! It seems I am at the opposite end of the scale. I am constantly saying ‘don’t do that it will hurt’ ‘be careful’ ‘make sure you don’t fall’ ‘hold on tightly’ etc! I think I would be a complete nervous wreck with your approach. I’ve not really thought too much about it before because it’s my instinct to be constantly reminding her of dangers around her. Maybe I need to relax a little!”

Clara Spencer-Philips: “I completely agree. We did the same. Luna very quickly learnt what was safe and what hurt. Learning the ‘hard way’ has been how we have done most things. We had a few falls down the stairs which hurt my mama heart but to be honest so have my friends’ kids who have stair gates open half the time!”

Sian Gledhill: “Annie, such an interesting debate. I think Woodcraft Folk taught me a lot about the importance of honing in on a child’s curiosity – I look back with hindsight at how freeing it was just to be and explore through nature. Equally, I am beginning to appreciate how curious Otto is, how through not putting any barriers up in the house he is learning about ’cause and affect’. There have been a few accidents and falls at the beginning, (he has learnt ‘hot’ when I’m cooking) but there seems to be a more measured approach in the things he does…. so far!”

Ali Carter: “Visited a nursery/ primary school in Denmark a few years ago where they had an unguarded log burner, up fenced moat, and fire areas in the woods where the children played. Their argument was that children couldn’t learn about danger if they were always protected. I think it is an excellent policy but requires responsible adults to spend more time supervising, explaining and playing with the children. Sadly, we live in a world where this is not seen as a priority by many.We are governed by fear of litigation, risk assessment and health and safely policies!”

Trish Jon Caelan: “I don’t think I can agree with this necessarily although I can appreciate the concept, I see baby proofing as a preventative measure because after all it doesn’t take long to have an accident when the risks are open and some accidents can be more dangerous than others, especially with stairgates. I let my son climb the stairs himself and follow behind making sure he doesn’t fall but I can’t spend the whole day dropping everything while I chase a toddler round making sure he doesn’t have an accident. Instead, I let him toddle about while I get on knowing that he isn’t going to fall down the stairs or stick fingers in sockets. There came a point where I could leave the room for a minute and when I return the cupboards will have been emptied. Now I have cupboard locks in the kitchen, gates on the stairs, socket covers and corner covers, I reinforce things that he’s not allowed and teach him caution on the stairs and around sockets even if the risk has already been prevented, it might arguably mean he will learn the risks at a slower pace but I would rather have those preventative measures there to ensure overall safety.”

Rachel MacDonald: “I used to put Velcro on the inside of cupboard doors after a very frightening and traumatic incident but never put locks on cupboards. Children are only little for a short time – let them be children. Everybody gets bumps and bruises no matter what age, when I was little I was always climbing trees (fell out once) spinning round poles never done me any harm.”

Jenny Thomas: “We feel the same way, we had cupboard locks for our daughter but she never went near a cupboard, we haven’t for our son despite the fact he is into everything but we would rather he explored and learnt how to live in a house safely. Same goes for the stair gates and any other ‘baby proofing’.”

Anna Collinson: “Ok now I feel better about not baby proofing the house – mostly because i’m too lazy and also really resent spending money on ugly things! Also I feel like learning about danger is a good thing. Alba has her own cupboard of plastic things in the kitchen. Which is working… for now.”

We’d love to hear your thoughts on childproofing: did you cover/lock/gate everything, or leave it to chance? 

(This was originally published in January 2016)