If you’ve made it here, you might be wondering the same thing a lot of us were: “What the heck is a professional childproofer?” They’re a lesser-known but invaluable professional who goes into a family’s home to assess the space for any hazards and teach caregivers about child safety. We spoke with professional childproofer Peter Kerin, who has been in the industry for more than 20 years, is the president of the International Association for Child Safety (IAFCS), and has a palpable passion for keeping kids as safe as possible.
The job of a professional childproofer is not just that of a “specialized handyman,” he says. When he starts working with a family, he’ll walk through the house with them, talking about different risks and how to address them. They’ll also discuss things like safe sleep practices and how to be safer during bath time.
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When working, he tends to think of a family’s home like the evolution of a car. “A seatbelt doesn’t make a car safe,” he tells SheKnows. “Airbags don’t make a car safe. Better headlights, better brakes, and the crumple zone don’t make it safe. But the sum total of it makes it safer, right?”
As for the home, he says, “Just because you put a cabinet latch doesn’t mean that you can keep any chemicals you want behind that door. It doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay attention or watch your child … It’s the layers of protection that make it a safer environment.”
Because even though all parents want to supervise their kids at all times, Kerin is empathetic and realistic about the fact that parents have to make dinner and go to the bathroom and multitask. “It would be great if all we could do is just look at our child 24/7,” he acknowledges, “But that’s not reality.”
When it comes to child safety, he agrees with the old adage that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” And so he provides as many of those “ounces” as possible. Caregivers can search for a professional childproofer in their area (Kerin is in Minnesota!) at the “Find a Childproofer” section of the IAFCS’s site. Until then, here are 13 things he always tells parents.
Use The Right Gates
You probably won’t be surprised to read that you should be using baby gates, but the key is to use the right kind in the right places. There’s a wide array of gates on the market, and, unfortunately, there’s also a wide array of quality. It’s good to talk to a professional about which gate is best for your space and to look for those that have a certification seal from the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA).
No matter which one you choose, Kerin says to never use a pressure-mounted gate at the top of a staircase.
“Don’t do it,” he tells us matter-of-factly. “There are some pressure gates that will claim you can use them at the top of the stairs, but anybody involved in safety would never recommend a pressure gate used at the top of stairs.”
A pressure-mounted gate — as opposed to a hardware-mounted gate, which is what you want at the top of stairs — has a bar along the bottom. It’s a tripping hazard, which is especially worrisome when carrying a baby. They also tend to have doors that swing in both directions, and you never want a door to swing toward the stairwell. Plus, if the pressure-mounted gate is pushing up against a wobbly railing, there’s a significant chance the gate will loosen.
As for which gate you should use at the bottom? Dealer’s choice. But yes, you should have a gate at the top and bottom of the staircase. “You get people who say, ‘We’ll put a gate at the top of our stairs but we won’t put one at the bottom.'” Kerin says. “That’s like saying, ‘We’re gonna lock the front door but we’re gonna leave the garage door wide open.’ Now that kid gets to climb up to the top of the stairs and has to turn around and come back down.”
A note to parents of babies and fur babies: Pet gates are not child gates. There are ones that may say they are for both, but Kerin advises parents not to use pet gates for their kids.
Holes Can Be Patched
If the thought of mounting a baby gate has you cringing, it’s so important to remember that holes in walls and doorframes can be patched, and safety should always come before aesthetics.
“Nobody’s ever excited when you talk about putting a screw into their house,” Kerin says. “They always imagine the damage is going to be catastrophic and impossible to repair.” The reality, he points out, is that it’s as easy to patch the hole for a gate as it is to patch a nail hole from hanging a picture.
You Can (And Should!) Set Your Hot Water Heater
Testing and setting your home’s hot water heater is a “wonderfully simple” one-and-done safety measure that most families can do on their own in the average home.
“It’s a matter of taking that little digital meat thermometer that so many people have, putting it in a coffee cup, and letting the water run into the cup until that temperature stops climbing,” Kerin says.
The target temperature is 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything higher is considered scalding. If the meat thermometer has surpassed that, it’s time to head to the water heater and turn the dial toward the cooler side. Wait three hours and try again until you meet that target.
“Once you set it, forget it,” Kerin says.
Anchor Your Furniture
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: furniture needs to be anchored to the wall. It doesn’t matter how much you paid, how sturdy you think the piece is, or how many times you told your kid not to climb on the bookcase (more on that later), it’s always best to secure furniture to the wall. Furniture and TV tip-overs can lead to serious — and sometimes fatal — injuries.
Kerin recommends furniture straps with nylon webbing. Zip ties probably won’t cut it, and the straps can be nicer than those with metal cables since they’re easy to adjust if you drop something behind the furniture. If you’re installing straps yourself, Kerin recommends watching tutorials at childproofingexperts.com and securing them into studs in the wall (not drywall anchors).
“Most childproofing efforts really start to abate as kids approach four years of age,” Kerin says. “Furniture injuries continue through age 7. And it’s rightful and appropriate [because kids] play by themselves in a different room when they’re 4 years old. That’s understandable and normal.”
The challenge, he tells us, is that “[If] a 5-year-old sees something up on a higher shelf on a bookcase and tries to climb that bookcase that isn’t secured, that becomes a very bad day.”
Medication Safety Applies To Everyone
We’ve all heard that medications should be kept out of reach of children, either in a locked cabinet and/or in bottles with child locks. Don’t forget that the same rules apply to any guests. If grandparents come to visit, pill organizers — which Kerin calls a “candy tray” since that’s what it will look like to a little kid — should not be left on a nightstand. And if a friend is coming over and they have meds in their purse, that should be out of reach too.
Don’t forget that CBD or marijuana edibles — like gummies, chocolate, and brownies — also look like treats to kids! And you’ll want to keep all of this in mind when you visit loved ones’ houses too.
Nix Your Coffee Table
This is going to be a hard one for people to hear. But Kerin’s advice when it comes to coffee tables is to “put them in storage.”
It might seem extreme, but Kerin is adamant. He once worked for a pediatric dentist, and when he started to make that recommendation, the dentist was way ahead of him.
“[The dentist said] ‘You have no idea how many patients a week I see [that are] children who fell and knocked their mouth against the edge of the coffee table and knocked their teeth in,'” Kerin shares. “And now here’s a child who has to wait for their adult teeth to grow in, which can be a number of years. So even as they age, there can be social and speech problems. There are all sorts of subtle things which are long-term.”
Just because it won’t necessarily cause a catastrophic injury, that doesn’t mean you can’t make adjustments. And, as Kerin says, “Winter is coming.” So you might as well put that coffee table away and give your kids more space to play indoors.
Be Aware Of Survivor’s Bias
When childproofing your home, it’s kind of inevitable that you’ll hear from loved ones that it’s not necessary. Grandparents are bound to weigh in, reminding you that you grew up without furniture anchors and “you turned out fine.” It’s their “survivor’s bias” kicking in. Parents may even experience it if they have a second child, Kerin says, especially if the first kid “wasn’t that challenging.”
“You had more time to focus on one child. Now you have two kids.”
Kerin is extremely cognizant of how quickly things can change between generations and how tricky conversations among family can be while not making anyone feel like the bad guy. But it’s just like with the car analogy. Now that we know we should wear seatbelts, we wear seatbelts.
“And you can’t put your seatbelt on after the accident, right? That’s the reality.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Switch Things Up
It feels like the norm has always been to keep cleaners and chemicals under the sink. But, as Kerin points out, paper towels also fit “wonderfully well” down there.
“There are so many scenarios where you can just make a simple change and it doesn’t affect your day-to-day functioning of the home, but it’s safer for the child,” he tells us.
He constantly looks inside linen closets where he sees towels and sheets on the top, personal care items on the shelf below, medications below that, and cleaning products and chemicals on the bottom. “What if we just spin that?” he asks. “Does it make it safe? No. Does it make it safer? Yeah.” Because as soon as a child can open a door with a lever handle (way before they can grip and twist a knob), they’ll have easy access to whatever is down there.
Always Make These Nursery Changes
Caregivers no doubt have the best intentions when keeping a baby’s nursery door cracked open, but Kerin always recommends it be fully closed. In the case of a fire, it slows the spread and buys the child more time with clean air.
And then there’s one thing Kerin always fixes immediately during that first visit to a client’s home. He tends to get the call when a baby is around 6 to 9 months old.
“I apologize to the parents,” he tells us, “But I will not leave the house [if I see a baby monitor on a crib]. So many families put it on the edge of the crib so they can see the newborn. And it stays there. Well, when that newborn is no longer a newborn and now they’re starting to roll over or can sit up, that cord is danging right there within arm’s reach. So I take it off the crib or sit it on the floor or move it across the room.”
It’s Not a Play Kitchen
Kerin almost always starts his survey of a home in the kitchen. One of the simplest things parents can do, he says, is to view the kitchen as a work area for cooking and to see everything in there as a tool, not a toy. You’ve probably seen a baby sitting on the floor playing with a wooden spoon or Tupperware. And even though a wooden spoon may not seem like a hazard on its own, it becomes a hazard when kids start to think of it as something to play with.
“It’s also [seen as] their toy when they’re tall enough to reach the boiling pasta,” he says. “[They’ll think], ‘I’m allowed to play with that.’ But it’s a tool, not a toy.”
All of this doesn’t mean kids should never be in the kitchen. Kerin is all for children learning how to cook. But it starts, he says, with kids on the other side of the counter or table. They’ll graduate from pouring in the flour, to stirring the batter, to “the big day” when they finally crack their first egg.
“I’m as much an advocate for peeling back these layers as it’s age- and personality-appropriate,” he says. “But you don’t want kids playing in and around the oven while you’re boiling that pasta or you’re going from stovetop to the strainer. The kitchen area is a workspace. They’re tools, not toys.”
Kerin sees a lot of clients who tell him things like, “Don’t worry about the oven. It’s OK. I taught her that’s hot.” Everyone has to remember, though, that these are kids.
“Well, does the child really have [an understanding of that]?” he asks. “And this is no indictment on a child! They’re doing wonderful things. They may be a wonderfully advanced little human. But they still live in their magical thinking. And that’s a big part of childhood. You cover your eyes and they think you disappear. They’ll play hide and seek by standing in the corner facing the wall.”
“You can’t expect a teenager to be more than a teenager,” he says. “You can’t expect a 3-year-old to be more than a 3-year-old. We need to be realistic.”
This Isn’t Just A Matter of Your Home
Like we mentioned with medications, Kerin always reminds parents that these measures don’t just apply to their home. “A lot of this is transferable to any other environment where your child is going to spend time in [like an Airbnb and grandma and grandpa’s house].”
There Are Many More Resources
To learn more about professional childproofers and child safety, you can visit the American Academy of Pediatric’s site (healthychildren.org) and the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission website for information on recent recalls (cpsc.gov/recalls).
“It’s okay to deal with a moderate inconvenience like a gate or a latch,” Kerin reminds us. “The benefits so far exceed the cost, whether it’s installing it or the price to buy it [versus] the cost of something unfortunate happened to your child.”
“[Childhood is] such a short period of time,” he continues. “And this is not just about protecting the kids. My wife and I would get to come home to a happier house if I didn’t have to chase my kids around all day, chastizing them for their innate curiosity.”
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