Keeping your child safe at home can be easy. There are lots of ways to make sure your home is fun, stimulating and safe as your child grows and develops.
General house tips
Your adult-friendly home has lots of potential hazards for a child. But you can keep your child safe by finding out what the risks are so that you can prevent or remove them.
Baby-proofing and childproofing might make you think of a place where babies and children can never get hurt. The reality is that children can still have tumbles and falls. The key is supervision as well as a safe environment. Your child will be safest if you accept that childproofing is always a work in progress – as your child grows and learns to climb and open things, you need to keep an eye out for new hazards.
If you need to, change the environment to make sure your home is still a safe and creative place to play and explore. Also think about the environment when you’re out and about in the car, walking around, or with a pram or stroller.
If kids have a creative place to play and explore, with lots of interesting things to do and look at, they’ll be less likely to seek their own stimulation by exploring areas you might not want them to get into.
Along with these practical tips for providing a safe environment for babies and children, you can also teach your child about what’s safe and what’s not.
- For overall house safety, install a smoke detector, lower your hot water thermostat to 50°C, and install a safety switch or a mains-operated circuit breaker. You can read more about preventing house fires.
- Replace electrical appliances and cords if they’re worn. Look for appliances with short cords so your baby or toddler is less likely to swing them, or pull and trip on them.
- Cover chains and springs with a sheath to protect small fingers. Chains should be shorter than 5 cm – that is, not long enough to wrap around your baby’s neck. You can read more about preventing strangling and suffocation.
- Use low-power night lights and an efficient torch to make looking after your baby at night safer. Leaving a hall light on at night makes it easier for older children to get to the toilet without tripping.
- Use heaters and fires that are fixed to the wall and have fireguard screens, because these are safer.
- If you have a pool, install a fence and self-locking gate that meet the requirements of Standards Australia for swimming pools and outdoor spas. You can read more about swimming pool safety.
- Install safety guards across entries to balconies, and always supervise your child on balconies even if you have guards. Look for balcony guardrails without horizontal bars or footholds your child could use to climb on – narrow vertical bars or flat solid walls are best.
- Lock windows – particularly upper-storey windows – or shield them with firmly attached screens so your child can’t fall out. Move any chairs and pot plants away from them.
- Lock away hand tools such as saws and drills, and keep lawnmowers, chainsaws and other sharp tools out of reach. When using tools, make sure your child is out of the way. Unplug tools whenever you take a break.
- Pin up emergency numbers and other useful safety contacts near the phone (see our suggested list below).
- Keep a basic first aid kit in the home and car for any mishaps that do occur.
You might like to print out our handy illustrated guide to indoor safety
. It takes you through the basic steps for keeping your child safe around burning hazards, medicines, water, windows, balconies and more.
Children can fall out of windows even if the windows have screens on them. To prevent children falling out of windows:
- Lock all windows – particularly upper-storey windows – with window locks or latches. Latches should prevent windows from opening wider than 10 cm. Guards can also be used to protect the opening.
- Open windows from the top if possible.
- Keep furniture and beds away from windows. This will help prevent children from climbing up to windows.
- Don’t rely on screens to prevent falls from windows. Teach children to play away from windows, and always supervise them while they play.
To prevent falls from balconies:
- Keep doors that lead to your balcony closed at all times so that children can’t get onto the balcony.
- Install safety guards across entries to your balcony, and always supervise your child on the balcony – even if the balcony has walls or guards.
- Balcony guardrails should be at least 1 m high. Look for balcony guardrails without horizontal bars or footholds your child could use to climb on. Flat solid walls or narrow vertical bars placed no more than 10 cm apart are best.
- Make sure that all objects that can be used for climbing – such as furniture, pot plants and objects that are light enough for a child to drag – are kept away from the edge of your balcony. Use heavy furniture rather than plastic if you can.
A few simple safety precautions can improve safety in your kitchen:
- Turn saucepan handles towards the back of the stove when you’re cooking.
- Replace tablecloths with place mats – they’re harder to pull off the table – or put plates straight on the table.
- Put sharp things, including knives, scissors and graters, in a drawer with a childproof lock, or out of reach up high or at the back of a bench.
- Store food processors and blenders out of reach when not in use. If they must stay on the bench, unplug them and turn switches off at the wall.
Bathroom and laundry
Here are some tips to keep your child safe around the bathroom and laundry:
- Mark hot and cold taps accurately and clearly, and consider installing safety taps your child can’t turn on.
- Work out a safe place for nappy buckets where your child can’t climb into or fall into them. Always put the lids on.
- Keep cleaning products and chemicals up high, out of reach from your child.
- Install a child-resistant cabinet for medicines, aerosols, hair products, razors and poisons. If you can’t, use a child-safety latch on the door, or store things out of reach.
- Put a child-resistant lock on the laundry door.
- Lower the temperature of your hot water system.
- You can read more about bath safety.
Living areas and bedrooms
These ideas can help you childproof your living rooms and bedrooms:
- Attach bookcases and cupboards to the wall. If that isn’t possible, use the lower shelves to store children’s things so the kids can reach easily. Try to teach children not to climb shelves.
- Install a child-resistant lock or handle on the door of your baby’s room to prevent any other children making unsupervised visits.
- Install safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs.
- Use plastic socket covers in empty electrical sockets.
- Move furniture with sharp corners – such as coffee tables, chairs and TV units – away from doorways and other places where your child runs around. Pad corners with foam or cushioning.
- Slippery floors and shiny surfaces are dangerous, especially if you’re carrying your baby, so avoid using loose floor coverings. Lay anti-skid mats under rugs, or roll any floor coverings away.
- Wipe up spills on the floor as soon as possible.
- Furniture and fabrics should be made of low-flammability materials.
- Any folding furniture should have a locking device so it won’t collapse when used. Make sure wooden or metal furniture has strong joints.
Bumps and tumbles are part of being a kid. Our article on preventing falls
has ideas to help you make sure your child’s everyday tumbles don’t turn into serious injuries.
Baby furniture and equipment
Follow the ‘when eyes are off – hands on’ safety rule. That is, make sure your baby’s nappy and clothes changing area has everything you need within reach, so you’ll never have to leave him there alone, even for a moment. If you have to turn away, hang on to your baby with one hand.
Choose baby equipment and nursery furniture with care. Look for equipment that has the Australian Standards mark, which shows the product conforms to strict standards.
The Australian Consumers’ Association magazine CHOICE
publishes a useful book, The CHOICE Guide to Baby Products
, every year.
Prevent injuries from broken glass with the following steps:
- Give your child drinks in plastic cups or shatterproof glasses.
- Put stickers across expanses of glass at the height of your child’s face so she doesn’t try to walk or run through the glass.
- Install safety glass, particularly in floor-to-ceiling windows in family rooms and extensions (Australian and New Zealand standard AS/NZS 2208:1996), or cover glass with sticky plastic film so it doesn’t shatter when broken. Over the last 15 years, most states have made it compulsory to install safety glass in new doors and side panels.
- Keep furniture with glass in child-free areas until your kids are old enough to follow safety rules, or avoid using furniture with glass.
- Carefully sweep up broken glass immediately. If glass breaks near your child, lift him out of the area.
Make a list of emergency numbers to keep near your telephone. Below are some suggestions for numbers to include:
- fire department
- Poisons Information Centre
- local council
- local children’s hospital
- family doctor
- maternal and child health nurse
- all-night chemist
- trusted neighbours
Child safety centres and child health promotion units (in the capital city of each state and territory, usually at a major children’s hospital) are staffed by experts who provide information and education for parents and health workers on all aspects of child safety.
Updating your CPR skills
You never know when you might need to resuscitate someone. Courses in heart and lung resuscitation are available in your state from the Royal Life Saving Society, the Red Cross and St John Ambulance Australia.
Single-page charts of basic resuscitation techniques are available from children’s hospitals in all states. You can pin one up somewhere visible, including on a pool fence if you have a swimming pool, so you have a constant reminder of what to do.