When my daughter was born, it seemed like an age would pass before I'd have to worry about childproofing. That tiny, immobile munchkin on the play mat was going to stay like that for seven years while we caught up on sleep and became perfect parents. Then — and only then — she would move on to being a walking, reaching little person.
My baby did not get the memo, apparently, because now we have a curious 14-month-old on the verge of discovering that the knobs under the kitchen sink are portals to a trove of forbidden treasure. The time had come to disappoint her instincts, and relieve my anxieties. Here's how I childproofed my kitchen.
The Problem with Childproofing
If you've just started thinking about childproofing, you'll soon learn there's an industry devoted to getting you to believe anything and everything in your home is a possible danger to your child. If it can be covered, closed, locked, buffered, or hidden from view, there's probably a product out there to do it. This can be discouraging when you want to be smart and keep your child safe at any cost, but don't want to live in a fortress in the process.
When I set out to childproof the kitchen (and the rest of our apartment), I tried to find a middle ground. I didn't childproof every possible thing I could have — I'll explain my reasoning below — but I've started with what I believe are the most important things. No amount of childproofing can make up for vigilance and education, so that continues to be a big part of our strategy for keeping our daughter safe in the kitchen while also encouraging her interest in cooking!
What I Did to Childproof My Kitchen
1. Attached the freestanding shelf to the wall.
Our pantry overflow shelf is a simple pine shelf from IKEA. Up to this point, it sat in our kitchen unattached and unsecured. It was wobbly and terribly unsafe. We finally screwed it into the wall so now there's no chance of it tipping over.
Do you have freestanding shelf or cabinet, or something leaning (like a step stool) that could tip over? Make sure it's screwed in to the wall, or else tucked away.
2. Installed magnetic locks on the lower cabinets.
I did a lot of research into the best cabinet locks. For aesthetic purposes, I didn't want plastic loops or strings, and I'd read that many toddlers easily figure out those sliding catch designs — that is, if they don't get their fingers caught in the gap first.
The one system that consistently got rave reviews? This magnetic locking system from Safety 1st. The lock attaches to the top inside of the cabinet (nothing visible on the outside!) and only opens when you touch a magnetic key to that spot on the door.
They're totally brilliant. My fellow Kitchn editor Anjali installed the same system in her kitchen, and loves that you can easily "turn off" the lock if you need to (which she did when her in-laws house-sat). Plus, she says, "People on Amazon say they are the only ones kids can't figure out." We both keep the magnet key on the fridge so it's easy to grab and open a cabinet when we need to.
I installed the locks on the under-sink cabinet (where all our cleaners are), the lower cabinet by the stove (where I store my choppers, graters, and mandoline), and the spice cupboard (which is also where I store my very heavy pots and pans). You can also install the locks on drawers!
Buy it → Safety 1st Magnetic Locking System, 1 Key and 8 Locks, $25 from Amazon
3. Removed breakables from low shelves (but left the basket of tea towels), and covered the outlets.
I have three shelves on the end of my kitchen island. Pre-baby I kept a few bowls there, but once my daughter started pulling herself up to stand, that was a no-go.
I moved the bowls (and all other breakable things) to higher shelves out of her reach, but I left the two baskets of tea towels there. She loves pulling those baskets down and taking all the towels out of the basket. (We're working now on getting her to put them all back in the basket after she's taken them out. Cleaning is fun!)
Most of the outlets in my kitchen are at countertop level and way out of my daughter's reach, but for the few outlets near the floor that may grab her attention, I plugged them with these clear outlet plugs.
4. Set up a safe, enclosed area for her to play while I cook.
I learned from the beginning that there was no way I could have a baby underfoot and cook at the same time. I've always made sure she's secure and entertained in some way when we're in the kitchen, and this continues to be a big part of my childproofing plan. I know many people wear their babies while cooking, but with flames and splatters and hot oil, it just made me too nervous. I always preferred to set her up somewhere safe and close. How that looks has changed as she's gotten older:
When she was really little, she would happily sit in her bouncer while I cooked. When she outgrew that, she moved to her highchair and kept herself entertained banging spoons and bowls on the counter. When she started to get too antsy for the highchair (and began crawling), I set up a playpen in the corner under the kitchen window with all her toys so she could stand up and move around a little, but still have a full view of what I was doing.
Now, newly walking at 14 months, she's less enthused to be in the playpen for too long, but she's not quite ready to keep herself entertained at a play kitchen or with a big drawer of her own. Our new solution? Two safety gates to close off the short hallway that's right off our kitchen; I'll be able to see her at all times, but she'll have plenty of room to walk back and forth and along the wall, and play with toys. Within a few months she'll probably be ready for a countertop platform when she starts helping with the cooking.
If your fridge isn't too close to the oven or has a little seating space around it, take a cue from Anjali and buy a few animal fridge magnets. "I realized that having something child-appropriate to keep the kid entertained is also a huge help in them not getting into what they shouldn't," she told me. "We bought these magnets and they have been a hit. They keep our son out of the way and distracted, and they obviously take up very little space in the kitchen."
Buy it → Melissa and Doug 20 Animal Magnets in a Box, $11 from Amazon
Also, you can give your child their own drawer with safe things to pull out and play with. That doesn't always solve the problem of them crawling or walking somewhere they shouldn't, but it certainly helps!
What I Haven't Done
I didn't install burner knob covers, stove guards, or appliance locks.
I'm not saying these aren't good products or excellent precautions. But at this point, it felt like overkill. When my daughter gets tall enough to be able to reach the stove, and if she shows an unflinching fascination with the burner knobs or the pans on the stove (despite us teaching and training her on what she can and cannot touch), installing one of these will be a no-brainer.
For now I'm sticking with cabinet locks, fun distractions, vigilance, a safe place to play, and lots of communication on how to be safe and happy in the kitchen.
How did you childproof your kitchen?