If you have children of your own or are entrusted with the care of someone else’s little ones, you no doubt are aware of the importance of childproofing. You know that there are outlet covers, gizmos to lock toilet seats and refrigerator doors, corner cushioning, baby gates, and more. There are lots of items on the market you can purchase to keep babies and small children safe in your home.
But what about the house itself? If you’re in the market for a house and have the safety of small children to consider, here’s what you should keep in mind:
Stairs – Maybe your child isn’t yet walking and your childproofing efforts have been focused on a child’s eye level. But the minute a child is crawling, stairs (and everything else for that matter) are fair game. Spiral staircases? Beautiful in architectural magazines but potentially treacherous in a house with small children. Even regular stairs can prove problematic. Do the stairs have railings? Are they very deep? Are they covered with carpeting or something to protect a little one (or a rushing parent) from skidding headfirst in stocking feet? Will safety gates work with the configuration of the stairs in the home?
Sharp edges – Do any built-in features—like counters, shelving, and such—have sharp corners? Of course, you can purchase previously aforementioned corner cushioning for such dangerous edges, but you may find yourself padding the whole place.
Electricity – You already know to invest in a metric ton of outlet covers. But you should also be keeping an eye out for exposed wiring, outlets in unexpected places, etc. Is there loose or exposed wire somewhere, and if so, can that be remedied before a purchase? (That’s a good idea whether you have small children or not.)
Visibility – Is the house laid out in such a way that you can see your children from one part of the house to another? For instance, if you’re making dinner, can you safely supervise a child playing in the living room? Is there visibility to see the yard from inside the house, if your children are old enough to be playing outside (mostly) unsupervised? And speaking of yards…
Yards and pools – Does the home have a yard? And if so, is it fenced in? What about a pool? In that instance, is there at a minimum a baby-proof fence around it? Are there nearby creeks, ponds, or neighboring pools that might be a cause for concern? Small children like exploring, and you want to make sure that your children can play safely outside your home. Of course, not having a fence doesn’t have to be a deal breaker (for the yard, not the pool), but it does mean that you’ll likely spend considerably more “quality time” outside with your children.
Traps and hiding places – Are there any places a child might get stuck or trapped, like an old shed in the backyard or a chest freezer left in the garage? How about closets or cabinets? Crawlspaces and attics? You’re not looking for a hide-and-seek-free house, just one where a child’s hiding doesn’t end up being a traumatic or potentially dangerous situation.
Neighborhood – Are there crosswalks and/or safe places to cross the street if your children are of the age to play in the neighborhood? Are there posted speed limits that are enforced? Can first responders get to you quickly in the event of an accident or emergency? Are there environmental hazards that have been noted in the vicinity? Have you checked on whether there are any registered sex offenders in the area?
With any of these issues, or any others that might come to mind, remember to think about the version of your child that lives in the house in the future (or however long the military keeps you in one place). It is easy to dismiss a concern because it’s not yet relevant to the age and stage of your child. But as a child gains mobility and independence, she will test that home and you several times over. Be prepared to be constantly reassessing safety issues over time.
If your next home is your forever home, it’s worth considering a house you otherwise love that’s less than ideal for a growing child if you have the time and resources to make any necessary modifications and adjustments. But if your time in a prospective home is likely to be brief, think about what it would take to bring each house you look at to a place where you’d feel comfortable with your child’s safety. If that cost and time are prohibitive, perhaps it’s wise to move on to the next listing.
Maybe your dream house isn’t decorated in padded corners and protected outlets and boring staircases that can be safely baby gated. Still, childhood is fleeting and precious, and today’s childproofing will all too soon be missed.