Babyproofing the House vs Babyproofing the Baby

I've received a couple of related mailbag questions over the past couple of weeks about how we handle the issue of babies in a house full of their siblings' toys. Today I'll discuss the idea of babyproofing, specifically how I DON'T do it, and in a different post, I'll talk about how we handle "ownership" of things in our home.

The Question:

Hi Kendra,

Congrats on your new little one! We are currently expecting our third in early August. Our older ones will be 6 and 3.

I'm wondering if you could say anything about baby proofing with later babies? When our daughter was born, we pretty much baby proofed the whole house like we had the first time. We had baby gates and there were no tiny toys. Our son was just getting into Legos but we were able to keep them isolated and that was pretty much it. I'm not sure exactly what's going to happen this time but I know it isn't THAT!

I know you wear your babies and use the bumbo seat, do you find that to be enough? I searched around on your site for any advice and all I could really find on this was a comment you made on a different post to the effect that it's easier to proof the baby than baby proof the house. But I'm wondering what that looks like for you?

Thanks for any advice!


The Answer:


Thanks, we're all really excited. And . . . yes, I think I always intended to write that post, and haven't quite gotten around to it. So, thanks for asking!

I approach this concept in two ways.

First, I focus on babyproofing the baby, not the house, and second, my big kids understand that people (even babies) are more important than stuff.

- Babyproofing the Baby -

Before six or eight months or so (for my babies), getting into stuff isn't so much of a problem. They're just not mobile enough to search and destroy. As you mention, I do wear my babies a lot, and I use the bumbo seat, and later, a standing jumper. But once they can crawl, my babies do also spend a lot of time crawling around the house, with varying levels of direct supervision. But by the time they get mobile enough to be finding and putting stuff in their mouths, they're also old enough to understand some discipline.

I've written a couple posts on how I introduce the concept of discipline to babies:

Babies and Discipline: When, Where, and How Much?


How to be the Boss of a One Year Old

But it mostly comes down to repeatedly saying "not food" and removing the item that shouldn't be in baby's mouth from baby's mouth, and repeatedly saying "not for babies" and taking the item away from the baby or the baby away from the item. For us, that's always worked. Once my babies can crawl around and get to all the stuff, they mostly know not to put it in their mouths. Maybe that's because of my calm but firm and always consistent parenting, or maybe I just have yet to have a baby who is truly dedicated to putting all the things in his mouth. I suppose only time will tell on that one. But, so far, it's been a very effective technique.

We don't have beepy alarms on our doors, or safety plugs in our electrical sockets, or latches on our toilets, or cabinets, or pantry, or drawers. All we have is me telling the baby she can't do that, and then following through to make sure she doesn't, often enough that she believes me and stops trying it. Or just needs a quick reminder when heading towards the drawer with the wipes in it.

I imagine that some folks babyproof because they want that feeling that the baby couldn't possibly hurt himself in the home because everything is safe and protected. But for me, having all that stuff doesn't make me feel safer, it makes me feel less safe, because it seems like the safety of my baby is dependent on all that gear. If I didn't remember to put the plug back in the socket, and the baby doesn't know not to play with those, and doesn't know to stop when I say "ch-ch-ch, not for babies," then I would feel like danger is lurking around every corner. Especially because putting safety plugs back in sockets is something I would be terrible at remembering to do.

If I work on baby proofing the baby, then we are not dependent on the stuff. We can have the same level of security in our home and in someone else's home, and at the beach or a park. Obviously, no mother can guarantee the safety of her baby. Accidents can happen on the watch of the most conscientious of mothers using ANY parenting technique. But I'm most comfortable knowing that by the time they are about twelve months old, my babies have a good understanding that there are things in this world that they are not supposed to put in their mouths, and there are things in this world that they aren't supposed to touch. And they are able to master their tiny little desires enough to stop when mom or dad says stop.

- Babies are More Important than Stuff -

But another standard part of my parenting technique is age-appropriate expectations. And it's just not age-appropriate to expect a nine- or twelve- or eighteen- or twenty-month old baby to be surrounded by enticing little objects and not mess with any of them. If the baby is awake and about, my big kids know that the baby is allowed to be in all places in the house that they are allowed to be. If they can't play with certain toys without endangering the baby or being inconvenienced by the baby, then those toys need to be played with out of reach, or at a time when the baby's not around. People are ALWAYS more important than stuff, and babies are people. But, fortunately for big kids, babies are people who sleep a lot, so there is plenty of time for making houses of cards, or playing marbles, or building rickety giant Lego towers when the baby isn't there to smash/try to eat them.

For Lego storage, we really like this brilliant (but pricey) drawstring bag . The (affiliate) link goes to the brand we have, which was the only choice back when I bought it. It looks like there are cheaper versions available now, but I can't vouch for them personally. The Lay n' Go mat is still going strong two years later. We also have the smaller version for melty beads. It works well because big kids can have tiny toys spread out all over it, then if the baby wakes up and wants to come in the playroom, it can be scooped and cinched up in a flash.

I emphasize for my big kids how lucky they are to have a baby in the house. They love interacting with their younger siblings, and they can't help but be won over by the blind adoration toddlers have (in their good moments) for their older brothers and sisters. I know it can be frustrating to not be able to do exactly what you'd most like to be doing at any given time. But I also know that, for myself, that's exactly the part of mothering that's been the most beneficial to my personal development. I've found that it's been really GOOD for me to have to mortify my desires, to have to delay what I'd prefer to be doing for the good of the people around me. I think it's really good for my kids as well. Having siblings whose needs and desires have to be considered, sometimes above ones own has really helped my big kids to grow in virtue.

So . . . I hope that helps some. Congratulations on your baby, and good luck with all the adjusting. It will all work out, it always does, somehow.



Some additional reading . . .

There's Not a Rule Book for This Job

Are Older Siblings Overburdened by Responsibilities? Or Are They Empowered by Them?

Mailbag Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You're thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I'm not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I'm just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you've got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.

p.s. If this post seems kind of familiar, it's because I accidentally published it a few months ago, at the exact same time as another post. So I took it back down when I noticed a couple hours later, and it's been languishing in the drafts folder since then, pushed back by birthdays and vacations and sponsored posts and linkups and series and current events and other things that felt more time critical. But hey! Here it is again. This time for sure.