A Safe and Happy Playroom for Babies

As a mother of a 2-year-old and 2-month-old, Amy Tucker, a resident of Jonesboro, Ark., knows a little bit about childproofing a home. Although her son is only a few months old, she’s already started planning for the very near future when he will be ransacking his older sister’s playroom.

Walk into a home where a baby or young child lives and you’re sure to find a room specifically designated as the “playroom.” Children aren’t confined to “playpens” or “play yards” like many of us experienced in our childhoods; instead they are given freedom to explore and play by their parents. While this may be great for Baby, it’s also important that any room you designate as a playroom (and the rest of the home, for that matter) be carefully examined and childproofed accordingly through the eyes of a baby.

The best time to begin thinking about safety is before a baby is even crawling.

While it may be the furthest thing from parents’ minds, the best time to begin thinking about safety is before a baby is even crawling. “I advise parents to get down on their hands and knees and look around the room from a baby’s point of view,” says Brenda Nixon, author of The Birth to Five Book (Revell, 2009). “Every time parents do this, they discover a dangling cord, sharp corner, small choking hazard or other safety risk.”

Creating a Safe Haven

Tim Bowen, director of homeowner claims for MetLife Auto & Home, has worked with many families to file claims after the unthinkable happened by their children’s hands. When choosing the area for a playroom, he advises parents to avoid rooms with utilized fireplaces and hot water pipes exposed. “Children are inquisitive, especially when it comes to fire, increasing the potential of burns, as well as home fire,” Bowen says.

Don Keenan, an attorney and child-safety advocate based in Atlanta, Ga., also counsels parents to make sure all play areas have a carbon monoxide detector in them. Make sure they are located at least 15 feet from any heat source. “Be sure to check specifically for a model with the United Laboratories Rating,” says Keenan, author of 365 Ways to Keep Kids Safe: How to Make Your Child’s World Safer, Ages Birth to 16 (Balloon Press, 2006). It’s also best if you make sure any detector is hard-wired into your electrical system to prevent batteries from running low or curious children from pulling it out of an electrical outlet, rendering it ineffective.

If you live in an older home built before 1978, consider the fact that any room designated as a play area could have lead lurking in old wallpaper or paint on the walls. Children’s immune systems are not really well developed until their teen years, so playing in a home with the risk of lead exposure could be hazardous to your baby’s health. Keenan counsels parents to skip the test-at-home lead kits and call 1-800-424-LEAD to get information on the closest analyzing company in your neighborhood.

So what are some other important things to consider when preparing for the childproofing process?

  • Electrical outlets can be very fascinating to a baby facing them at eye level. Keenan says 15 percent of all childhood electrocutions happen in the home. Be sure to outfit any room your child will spend a lot of time in with the plastic outlet covers that are available at most retail stores.
  • Similar to electrical outlets, any electronics, such as DVD players or VCRs, can be just as tempting for little fingers. Make sure you keep those types of items away from floor level to stop children from forcing objects into them, Bowen says.
  • Never underestimate the climbing ability of a small child. Tucker already knows the capabilities of her toddler all too well and made sure she tethered all furniture in their playroom. For storage, she invested in a “sling” bookshelf that displays books face front and comes equipped with two soft, canvas drawers on the bottom for storage.
  • Before you even enter a child’s playroom, consider the fact that 30,000 children go to the emergency room each year with injuries from doors. Keenan says many companies sell hinges and doorstops for doors that are impossible to catch a child’s fingers or clothing, so be sure to put that on your checklist. Any kinds of cords that work curtains, window treatments or blinds can easily become choking hazards, so make sure they are safely secured as well.

Stocking the Playroom

And finally, the playroom may be properly secured and childproofed, but how safe are the toys in the toy box, or the actual toy box itself?

As of late, there have been a rash of toy recalls, with lead paint being the main component in the toys and children’s furniture. While legislation has been passed to allocate more funds for stricter toy inspections in the next few years, it is best to check any toys that may seem suspect, particularly if you’ve picked them up at any consignment sales. Ditto with any wooden plastic toy boxes or containers, which could also contain lead paint, Keenan says.

“Before loading a room with toys, parents are wise to read about age-appropriate toys and activities and follow manufacturers’ suggestions on toys and furniture,” Nixon says. Make sure any toys you put in the playroom don’t have any small, removable parts that could be a choking hazard for infants.

“For the first three years, a child will put things into the mouth,” Nixon says. “The mouth is a powerful organ and mouthing is a normal and expected way for a baby to discover his world. While parents can’t – and shouldn’t – stop this natural behavior, they must carefully supervise and replace anything harmful with a safe, acceptable toy.”

And think twice about bringing in any fun play furniture or equipment that could bring more harm than good to your child. “Don’t deck out the playroom with an indoor trampoline because they are extremely dangerous for kids to play on,” Bowen says. “Also, if you have an indoor swing or slide, continue to check that they are operating safely and are fastened securely.”

Nixon reminds parents that it is critical to create a safe room for their baby to explore, use skills and develop new ones because the growing infant brain needs stimulation from all five senses to properly develop. So get out your checklist and check it twice, because before you know it, your baby will be ready to conquer the playroom and will need a safe and protected place to do just that.