Friday, April 22, 2005

Baby-Proofing is a State of Mind

Books and magazines scream "Baby-Proof Your Home!!!" Experienced parents will point to the value of going through the house at baby's eye level and finding the hazards, like uncovered wall outlets and unlocked cabinets that contain hazardous chemicals. It's a big job, trying to find each and every single thing that baby could possibly get into or be hurt by. Over the years, I have concluded that baby-proofing is not a one-step process. There are actually three things that parents must do to protect their children. The easy part is the tour of the house to cover outlets, lock cabinets, block dangerous stairwells, and remove choking hazards like blind cords. Unfortunately, this first step is far from the end of the process. Far too many parents stop with the check of the house and assume their baby is fully protected.

The second step to baby-proofing that many people try hard to avoid is to teach the little one to respond to the word "no." Some believe that saying no to an infant will stifle their creativity or their self-expression. Some believe that gentle correction will damage their self-esteem. They couldn't be farther from the truth! As soon as your baby is old enough to reach for something s/he shouldn't have, it's time to start teaching the word "no." Little ones need our help to learn self-control. They are not born with this skill, but must learn it. One of our jobs as parents is to teach this, and the way it begins is with that n-word. Consistent, gentle correction will help your child develop socially, emotionally, and mentally. It will also ensure that you can help your child stay safe in all circumstances, not just your sterile, baby-proof home environment. Sooner or later, you will need your child to respond to correction instantly and without hesitation. For example, if he or she is thinking of walking into traffic and you are not close enough to physically grab a hand. You need the little one to freeze so that you have a chance to get there in time to physically protect him or her. This kind of response doesn't happen magically when needed. It's the product of months of patient teaching in less potentially dangerous situations. Teach your child the meaning of the word "no" by correcting small infractions, and when you really need it for safety, the baby will respond to the word in the same way.

The third part of a baby-proofing attitude takes a lot of work on the part of parents. I've come to believe that there is no such thing as a completely baby-proof room or home. Little ones will find ways to get into trouble that you can't conceive of before they get mobile. There is absolutely no substitute for watching your infant or toddler 100% of the time. They do not take breaks (except when they sleep!) from finding mischief. They cannot be trusted to use good judgment just because you need to cook dinner in the next room. You have to find a way to keep an eye on them at all times. Sure, it's very inconvenient, but it's certainly better than the alternative-death or injury because you were inattentive.

You also need to train yourself to assess every room, your own or others, for possible hazards to your baby. Even when a room has been "baby-proofed," there is nothing to stop it from becoming "unbaby-proofed" in a matter of moments. People may leave a bucket of water or a cleaning product lay without thinking, or someone could put a potential hazard into a trash can that baby can reach. You must learn to be constantly aware of what is in and around the area that your little one can reach, and you must remember that just because s/he couldn't reach that high last time you checked doesn't mean that the baby won't choose that moment to learn a new skill.

An acquaintance of mine was raising an infant at the same time that I was. One day when I took my young daughter to visit her house, she wanted to show me something in the garage. I was in the process of scooping up my baby to take her with us when she commented, "Oh, I'll just close my boy's door. They can play in here while we run out to the garage. Don't worry, the room is completely baby-proof!" She had completed the first step to keeping her son safe by eliminating the hazards around his room before he started to crawl.

I was using the third step of baby-proofing. I had scanned the room when I first put my daughter down and had noticed that there was an empty plastic diaper bag on the floor and several small choking hazards in the open trash can. I was not about to leave my precious girl unattended, even if I hadn't seen any hazards in the room, either. It's just plain wrong to let the baby out of your sight when she is awake and moving around like that. I'm human, and I could easily miss something dangerous that her sharp eyes might spy and become interested in. Needless to say, the other mom was quite chagrinned when I pointed out the plastic diaper package and the choking hazards that she had overlooked. She knew she'd baby-proofed that room, and so she had turned off her baby-proofing attitude. She had closed her eyes to potential hazards because she was complacent.

Needless to say, both infants were carried out to the garage that day. I hope the other mom took a lesson and developed a baby-proofing attitude in addition to physically baby-proofing the house. I haven't read about her family in the local paper, so I'm assuming she did. Don't let your family cause a headline, either. Baby-proof your home, but also teach your child the word "no" and baby-proof your attitude. Your little one will be much safer, and on the way to learning to be a responsible citizen.

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