The best kind of baby-proofing

Outlet covers. Cabinet locks. Furniture straps. We did all the usual baby-proofing. But something still wasn’t quite right.

Our curious, newly mobile baby found plenty of other things to touch. At times, laptop power cords draped from our dining-room table to an outlet in the corner, an invitation to play a game of plug & unplug. We were careless about leaving pens out. Some of our favorite books were stacked on low shelves. An iPad often sat within reach on a living-room bench – until someone plunked the iPad onto the carpet, placed both hands on the screen, and crawled forward into the kitchen, pushing the iPad ahead of her and scraping it across the tile.

These weren’t safety hazards for our baby. Our baby was a safety hazard for our stuff! And it just created a layer of stress for us throughout the day. Watch the baby around this. Don’t let the baby touch that.

Then: an epiphany.

One weekend, when our baby was 8 months old, we went backpacking. We walked into the Hoh Rainforest, a magical place where elk might pause on the trail and look you in the eye before bounding into the mossy, bright-green forest. We pitched our tent on a plateau carpeted by fall leaves, overlooking a river.

stripslashes(strstr(" ", "class=") ? "" : "")Playing with leavesAnd there our baby sat for the longest time, so incredibly happy. She ran her fingers in the dirt, tasted the leaves, looked up at the trees, played twig tug-of-war with a playmate, and watched us set up camp. She could crawl and explore to her heart’s content, and it hardly mattered where. Neither babies nor iPads were at risk.

That thin layer of stress lifted right off. It was so nice.

A couple of lessons stuck with me from that day:

Get into nature as often as possible. It could be a walk in a park, a picnic in a field, a barefoot tromp through some grass, sitting at the edge of a stream, tossing rocks from a beach, going for a hike, or spending the weekend camping. Most parents can tell from about birth that their babies love being outside. But being in nature is especially wonderful for the soul. And being in an environment that’s completely open for exploration is especially wonderful for baby’s brain.

I like to think of this as the best kind of “baby-proofing.”

Inside, make sure baby can touch just about everything. Don’t think of baby-proofing your house only as removing potential death traps. Put the things you care about out of reach. Put baby’s dishes, books, and toys within reach — inside lower cabinets.

Far sooner than you’d think, baby will be able to reach pretty much everything. Especially if you have a climber. (Upper kitchen cabinets? No longer such an easy hiding place.) At that point, it’s helpful to teach your tot how to treat your family’s belongings. Otherwise you’re back to the subtle stress of hovering and barking “No, I said don’t touch that!” A few things I’ve said so far:

  • These are called scissors. There’s a sharp edge here and here that can cut paper. I’ll show you. Only mommy and daddy use these scissors.
  • That’s not a good toy. It’s called a corkscrew, and it’s for opening wine bottles. See how this point is sharp? That could hurt you. I don’t want you to get hurt, so please don’t play with that. In this drawer, let’s see, the measuring spoons are a good toy…
  • Only adults touch medicine. If you’re not sick, medicine can really hurt you. So you never take medicine by yourself. If you see medicine, hand it to an adult. Do you understand? What do you do if you see medicine? (The reason for this lesson is a whole other story…)
  • Well, we don’t draw in books. Books are very special. But you can draw on plain paper. I know it seems similar. See how the paper in books has letters on it? And this paper is blank. When you want to draw, you can get paper out of the printer. Slide open this little drawer here. Yep, pull it.
  • A broom is for sweeping, not swinging. Here, you can help me sweep. See, we lift the broom and reach out and then pull it toward us. We’re making a little pile. OK, now press down the dust pan.
  • You’d like some raisins? OK, get out your cup. Here, put in one handful of raisins. Nooo, that’s two handfuls. Thank you. Then the box goes back in the cabinet, please. We’ll save the rest for another day. I know that was hard because you wanted more raisins. I’m proud of you.
  • Those are little tea candles. You’re stacking the candles!

One last tip: Before you get anxious about baby touching non-baby stuff, stop and ask yourself whether it really matters. After all, exploring is what babies’ brains are built to do.

Copyright Betty Udesen / Pear Press
Written by

Tracy Cutchlow

Tracy is the author of the international bestseller Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science, a public speaker, and a creator of places to speak and be heard. Sign up for her newsletter here.

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