Child-Proof The Home, But Not The Kids

My grandson cut his finger yesterday.  It was the kind of cut that only comes from a nice sharp pair of scissors in the hands of an 11 year-old boy who’s not sensible enough to open a pack of sausage biscuits without a weapon, and not patient enough to make sure his fingers are out of the way before he begins the assault.  I’m pretty sure he learned a lesson.  And the blood loss only made him a little sleepy, so I think he’s okay.

It’s funny, when he was a toddler we had the whole house child-proofed.  Or so we thought.  We had outlet covers, cabinet latches, doorknob covers, folding gates, swing locks, electric beams, silent alarms, magnetic force fields, and four pairs of eyes watching his every move.  Not that it did a lot of good, but it made us feel better and kept a few people employed at the child-proof products factory.

We did everything we could to make sure he was safe.  But he had a way of finding the weakness in any situation.  Most kids do.  Take the coffee table, for instance.  I built it myself, with rounded corners, soft edges, and non-toxic finish.  And I made it out of soft pine so it wouldn’t be as hard as steel.  Thank God. 

You see, our little angel had a way of venting his frustration more physically than verbally.  Whenever he got upset, he’d slam his forehead into the couch cushion.  It was funnier than it should have been, and reasonably safe.  Until one day when the couch was full, so he smacked his head into the coffee table instead.  We were sure he’d knocked a few screws loose.  I think he hurt his head, too.

He was the kind of kid who didn’t miss a thing – he watched, and he learned.  I remember getting a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach one day as he sat in his car seat studying my every move as I put the key in the ignition, started my truck, put it in gear, and drove down the street.  It was like seeing an escaped convict sneaking around the house with a camera and notepad.

Finally it occurred to me that all this child-proofing really wasn’t necessary.  All I had to do was take one of the wheels off his walker.  He got plenty of exercise, but stayed in a small circle in the middle of the room.  You just have to be creative.  Okay, he broke the walker and I was too lazy to fix it.  What can I say?  Some of mankind’s greatest inventions came from destructive toddlers.

The thing is, none of it really worked anyway.  The folding gates were no match for his Little Tikes car, and he figured out pretty quick that if he smacked those doorknob covers just right with his plastic hammer, they’d split open like a sun-dried tennis ball.  And the cabinet latches were such a pain we just emptied the cabinets and put everything in the pantry.  We put the bad stuff out of his reach, but a determined toddler can make a pretty effective ladder out of boxes and pans. 

The only thing worth the money was the outlet covers.  They worked.  They worked really well.  They fit so tight, you couldn’t get one out with a jackhammer.  Oh, I finally figured it out.  But guess who was standing right behind me the whole time?  I came into the living room the next day and caught him slipping a screwdriver in sideways as he uttered a few words that would make a sailor blush.  Monkey see, monkey do.

It wasn’t the only time he got me in trouble.  He spent a lot of time in his high chair because his playpen was full of stuff we’d taken away from him.  By the time he was three, it was filled with toys, old shoes, mangled outlet covers, a baseball bat, and a complete set of steak knives.  So when we needed a break from chasing him around, we put him in the high chair.  How could he get into anything from there?

Well, his high chair sat next to the microwave cart.  He couldn’t reach the microwave, but as it turns out he was able to reach my bottle of Jim Beam.  He carefully removed the label, as if that somehow made it legal, then knocked down a couple of shots.  Well, okay, more like a thimble-full.  But at that age, it doesn’t take much.  All I can say is thank God his mother hadn’t yet discovered Jagermeister.  It’s more expensive and the hangover would have been a lot worse. 

Now I know some of you are probably shaking your head, wondering what kind of grandparent would leave liquor where a child could reach it.  In my defense, he wasn’t in his high chair when I put it there.  I guess I could have measured his arm and made sure nothing was within reach, but kids’ arms stretch.  It’s a medically-proven fact.

Also, think back to when you were a kid.  Did your parents child-proof the house?  Did they hide everything you weren’t allowed to play with?  Mine didn’t.  Instead of outlet covers, my mom had a flyswatter.  It served pretty much the same purpose.  Later in life I learned it had another use – swatting flies.  But it kept me out of trouble.  For the most part.

I still have a pretty vivid memory of the day I found two metal suitcase keys on a chain and decided they were the perfect size to fit into each side of a 110-volt outlet.  Oh, they didn’t stay there for long.  Neither did I.  Mom found me on the other side of the room with crossed eyes.   The outlet was burned and the fuse was blown.  We never did find the keys. 

The point is, I survived.  And so did my grandson.  We all did.  There may have been scrapes and bruises, maybe a few cut fingers or broken bones.  But despite what we’re led to believe by an industry that thrives on making parents nervous, the overwhelming majority of us come through childhood with a full set of arms, legs, fingers and toes, and two functional eyes.  Go figure. 

I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to keep kids safe.  I just think some people take it to an extreme.  It’s one thing to cover outlets and block their access to household chemicals.  That’s prudent and responsible.  It also feeds their imagination as they try to devise ways to get around those safeguards.  And believe me, they will.

But sometimes we’re so preoccupied with safety that we forget to let them experience the magic of childhood.  Kids learn about their world by exploring, and sometimes that means making a mess or playing with something that’s not an officially approved toy.  Sometimes it means taking a fall, and some of those falls hurt.  It’s all part of growing up.

I think as adults, we need to spend a little more time sitting at the kids’ table.  We need to remember what it’s like to build a fort, to play in the sprinkler, to make up new games, or tromp through the woods.  It’s amazing what a good old-fashioned pillow fight can do to rejuvenate your youth.  Try it.

And in the process, we’re teaching our kids that it’s acceptable to have fun, within established boundaries.  We’re teaching them that play isn’t just for kids.  We’re teaching them to use their imagination and explore new things.  And that means taking a few risks.  More importantly, it means letting them take a few risks.

Nothing in life is completely safe, including life itself.  We can shield our kids from the obvious dangers.  But if we try to shield them from everything we’ll just breed a generation of grumpy adults with no sense of adventure.  And looking around, I’d say we already have enough of those. 

Copyright 2011 – Dave Glardon

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About Health and Humor - by Dave Glardon

Dave Glardon is a writer, speaker, and stand-up comedian. He has written hundreds of articles relating to humor in our world, and has performed for audiences across the entire United States. In this blog, he shares his insights with the goal of helping you achieve a higher level of physical and mental well-being through a healthy sense of humor.
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19 Responses to Child-Proof The Home, But Not The Kids

  1. I love it! reminds me how we had to childproof our toddler boys room not too long ago…we nailed the bookshelf to the wall, put the outlet box and cord for the video monitor behind some green hand made box, nailed their toddler beds to the wall…etc etc…yep…nope, didn’t work…somehow they still find ways to create mayhem and destruction…but alas, are safe and still have all protruding body parts intact LOL!

  2. ButMadNNW says:

    Your mom had a flyswatter, mine had Mr. Wooden Spoon. I think I was spanked a total of twice in my entire childhood; that – and some theatrical drawer-rattling from Mom – was all it took.

    I got in a spot of bother with my sister when, while I was keeping an eye on 2-year-old Nephew outside the carefully childproofed house, he careened excitedly around the backyard, hit the edge of the grandparents’ patio, and went down the two steps face-first. But he’ll be 12 this September and didn’t require major facial reconstruction. :-P

  3. Ken Glardon says:

    So Robby cut his finger with scissors at age what 12? How old was his grandpa when he sliced his hand while attempting rare method for cutting ribs? I laugh today when I hear all of the toys and games that are no longer safe to play with. They were dafe for us because our parents actually took the time to teach us how to be safe with them. Well… we didn’t have enough to teach Frankie gun safety before he shot Aunt Edith with the bb gun!

  4. Marti says:

    Great piece, Dave! I laughed a lot! Mine learned how to disable or operate most of the child safety devices we installed too.

    Thanks for the giggles!

  5. Jo Bryant says:

    This made me smile. It makes me crazy at times when I see the way everyone wraps their kids up and they never experience the world. The failing, bumping their heads, getting dirty and falling down and then getting up and getting into life again. Life is about learning – my own kids continually tell me that they have to do all the stuff I did, if I want them to end up like me. (Scary thought) But that is exactly what I want – because surviving the bumps and bruises is what makes me me.

    • My point exactly Jo. Too many people are so preoccupied with keeping their kids away from all danger and trouble, never once looking in the mirror and saying, “I came out okay.” I was too over-protective with my daughters, and it cost a lot in terms of our relationship as they were growing up. It wasn’t until I became a grandparent that I was able to look at the kids and say it’s not that big a deal.

  6. Bill says:

    Gee’s Dave, I had to clear the tears from my eyes from the laughter to write this comment. Bloody kids, they grow up in spite of us, dont they?
    My mum used to try to catch me and always gave up yelling ” you just wait till your father gets home young man”. Hahaha!! He used to wait till I had forgotten them wam oh he would grab me.

    • Bill, you’re bringing back memories. Only with us, Mom never said that … we prayed for Dad to get home before she lit into us. But she kept us in line, and through a half-century none of us have spent any time in jail, so I guess she did a pretty good job.

  7. energywriter says:

    Great piece, Dave and so true. When I was learning to ride my first bike (about age 7) I crashed and was unconscious for quite a while. My brain worked very well until I hit 60. All my children survived multiple trips to the ER. This is my son’s (45) favorite rant.
    On the other hand, some parents try to bribe theme park workers to let their children ride roller coasters they aren’t big enough to ride. I always asked, “Do you want him/her to fall out of a safety harness that is too big for them?”

    • When it comes to roller coasters, I say err on the side of safety. It breaks my heart to see a kid turned away because they’re a quarter-inch too short to ride, but they have to set a limit and stick to it. That’s a long way to fall if something goes wrong.

      But I’ve seen people take a toy away from a kid because it says “3 and older” and the kid is a few months away from its third birthday. That’s one of those times where people could use a little common sense.

      • ButMadNNW says:

        I worked at a toy store for a brief period (over Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Christmas, no less! I’m still traumatized. ;-) ), and we were told it was okay to tell parents that – much like the Pirate Code – a toy’s age restriction “is more like a guideline”. With proper supervision (and *gasp* parental interaction), a 3-year-old can play with a toy for “5 and up” and so on.

      • Absolutely. A little parental supervision goes a long way.

  8. Margie says:

    Great article Dave! And so true. You just can’t baby proof the entire world.
    My two year old had his first visit to the emergency room with a gash in his head because he ran full speed into a wall. Not sure I could have baby proofed the house by removing the walls so I chalked it up as a learning experience. And now as a grown up he proudly shows the scar on his forehead to anyone who will listen!

    • For everything we baby-proof, there’s something else out there waiting to grab them. My son-in-law wanted us to tape foam rubber over the corners of all our furniture. I understand his concern, but I told him our granddaughter would more likely be hurt by tripping over one of her own toys and falling face-first on another than by running into a piece of stationary furniture.

  9. Roxanne says:

    OM word.. This is so true . I cant stop smiling . I 22 year old mother. I tried to child proof the WHOLE House lol… Only to realize that my daughter was smart than her grandma. My child figured out all the child proof items and Grandma cant get past opening the door with the door knob protector on . :)

    I also had a wooden spoon with my name on it… But Ironicly the wooden oar/spoon/ paddle was broken on my brother .

    Thanks!! for putting things in perspective again

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