8 Smart Ways to Toddler-Proof Your Kitchen
A kid underfoot while you cook can be a recipe for disaster. Play it safe with some simple precautions
The kitchen is the hub of the house, where many families spend the majority of their time together. It’s also the room with the most safety hazards. Think sharp knives, hot stoves, pots and pans full of boiling water or heated oils — even the dishwasher detergent stored under the kitchen sink.
Toddlers are especially at risk in a room full of dangers, thanks to a combination of curiosity, increasing mobility and motor skills and a daredevilish attitude that comes from not yet understanding danger.
One way to keep tots safe is to ban anyone under the age of 5 from the kitchen. (Yeah, right). A better solution: Take steps to make sure the only disasters that happen in the kitchen are recipes gone awry.
1. Designate a cabinet for dangerous items. According to the U.S. Poison Control Centers, a child is accidentally poisoned every 30 seconds. More than 50 percent of poisonings affect kids under 5 in their homes. Cleaning products with bright labels and citrusy scents can be especially intriguing for little ones and should be kept out of sight. Ditto single-use detergent pods which have caused an increase in poisonings.
Choose a cabinet that’s well out of a toddler’s reach for storing cleaners, detergents and other dangerous products, recommends Julie Vallese, a consumer safety advocate with the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, a non-profit group dedicated to the safe selection and use of children’s products.
Keep sharp knives in a special drawer or cabinet as well. Do the same with pills or other medications your child may see you take daily. A toddler who likes to mimic mom may decide to help himself to a dose of her allergy meds if he can get to them. Put locks on the drawers and cabinets where you store dangerous items.
2. Create safety zones. When your toddler’s in the kitchen while you cook, plop him in his high chair and give him a project — crayons and paper or play dough. Engage him by explaining what you’re doing as you peel a carrot, say, or pat ground meat into a loaf. Let him sample foods that are safe for him to eat — that aren’t choking hazards, for example.
You might also keep a small toy box in the kitchen filled with playthings that only come out during meal prep. Even better, designate a special kid cabinet in the kitchen. This should be a lower cabinet filled with items like plastic storage containers, wooden spoons, measuring cups, toy dishes and play food. This way, little ones can safely “prep dinner” along with mom or dad.
One caution: Don’t regard your child’s special cabinet as a babysitter. “Even with safety measures in place, parents should never leave their toddler in the kitchen unsupervised or in the care of a sibling,” Vallese says.
3. Use the back burner on the stove and turn handles away. Ovens and toddlers can be a recipe for disaster. Your toddler may believe they’re helping you cook when they reach for a pot on the stove, and end up with a burn instead.
According to the National SAFE Kids Campaign and the United States Fire Administration, the majority of children who are hospitalized for burn-related injuries suffer from scald burns (65 percent) or contact burns (20 percent).
To prevent burns, Vallese recommends using the back burner on the stove when cooking. Turn pot handles inward to keep them out of reach of little hands.
If you have a gas stove, healthychildren.org (sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics) advises removing the knobs when you aren’t cooking or outfitting them with child-resistant knob covers.
4. Hang dishtowels on hooks. As convenient as it is to keep a towel draped over the oven handle, it can also be a recipe for disaster. A toddler can easily open up a steaming hot oven by pulling on a draped towel.
5. Never leave dirty dishes on the kitchen counter. If you’re too tuckered out to wash them or even load the dishwasher, at least put breakables like glasses and sharp items like knives and forks into the sink. Vallese also recommends storing glasses and china in the highest kitchen cabinets.
6. Keep a fire extinguisher handy. The best type of extinguisher for kitchen fires is known as the 711A standard. It should be used only to put out fires that are small and contained. In the event of a larger fire, evacuate your family and call the fire department.
7. Wrangle cords and cover outlets. Kitchens counters often are littered with small appliances like toasters and blenders that can fascinate a curious toddler. They can also be a source of accidents.
Unplug gadgets when you aren’t using them, advises Vallese. Wrap cords and tuck them out of sight and out of reach. Outfit outlets with plastic covers to prevent toddlers from inserting foreign objects into them outlets or unplugging appliances.
8. Don’t give away state secrets. Don’t allow your toddler to see you lock or unlock a safety device. Next thing you know he’ll be able to work the mechanism himself. If that happens, install new ones.
Note, too, that as your little one grows older, you may need to upgrade your safety devices. Safety locks are most useful when a child is between 6 and 25 months old. After that, latches work better on cabinets.