When I have people with young children coming round, I always like to think that because I did my babyproofing years ago, my house is safe for them. But the truth is that I also have older children, so if someone’s baby is mobile but still very young, we all need to make sure we watch them! And now it’s not just other people’s children – for a couple of months now I’ve had my own little mobile baby, and as he gets faster and becomes able to go to areas of the house that weren’t previously accessible to him, I find that more and more arrangements need to be made around him.
When you look for babyproofing items and tips, there is a lot of information available out there, but there doesn’t seem to be much about things that you need to watch out for once you’ve put on the child locks, put cleaning products and medicines out of reach, put the stairgates up, and done everything else that’s recommended.
So here are some handy tips to keep your little ones safe when you have older children around, whether they’re your own or just visiting.
1. Watch out for the older children…
Of course this always depends on the age of the older child (or children) in question, but it’s best not to leave a child unattended with a little one. This isn’t to say that as soon as you turn your back, the older child will purposely try and hurt the baby. In fact, a lot of children are very affectionate towards babies, but can’t quite work out that little babies aren’t as strong as they are, and they could unintentionally put the baby in tricky situations.
When my first son was 2 and a half, one evening at bedtime we were talking about the impending arrival of his little brother, and out of the blue, my son asked whether he could pull the duvet over the baby’s face… Trying to hide my shock horror I asked him why he wanted to do that, and he said that the baby might become scared at night, so he’d pull the duvet over his face to protect him.
That’s when I made the following mental note: “NEVER leave this child alone with his little brother! EVER!” As you can see, his intentions were good, and he meant well, but he was clearly not old enough to understand what could and would hurt his little brother, so watch out for these kind of things!
2. Responsibility isn’t for everyone
Older siblings can make very good little helpers when you have a baby around the house. They can do tasks that are appropriate to their age, like going to fetch a nappy, or a bib or a toy for the baby.
And they’ll probably love doing it, too! If it’s age appropriate, it’s also tempting to ask them to ‘watch’ their little sibling for a couple of minutes if you’re quickly going to another room or to the bathroom, but don’t be surprised if you come back to find the baby ‘stuck’ in a position they’re not able to get out from (like on their tummy or their back) or chewing on a piece of paper while the older child is oblivious to it all. You may come out with a high-pitched: “didn’t you see your brother / sister doing that?!?”, and all you may get in return is a: “I was busy playing with my toys”. Of course they were! Children can be very loving and attentive towards a younger baby, but they are still children themselves, and might not be mature enough to be as empathetic as you’d like them to be or to understand when something is dangerous for their little sibling.
Older children can open stairgates and child locks! They also have this tendency to move things that are dangerous for the baby and that you keep out of reach, back within baby’s reach. And you know that toilet door that you try and keep locked? Well, that will be left open too. So if an older child is in the house, but they’re not old enough to understand what’s safe and what isn’t for a young baby on the move, make sure that you can keep a close eye on your baby. And remember – that could also be true for any adult who’s not familiar with how mobile your baby is or who’s not familiar with your house.
Older children come with toys. Lots of them. Whether it’s the Lego blocks, Barbie’s shoes, tiny wheels and tires from toy cars or anything else that can fit into the inside of a toilet paper roll, it’s just too small for your baby to have lying around. Think about all those toys that come with a “not suitable for 36 months or younger” label! If you can’t help having these things in the house, think of ways to protect your baby. Whether that means watching them like a hawk while the older children are playing or whether it means putting them in a playpen or somewhere where they can’t get out from (like a high chair or pushchair etc.). It’s just not safe for them to be left alone to explore if the floor is full of small bits that they can grab and put in their mouth. Becoming mobile and developing the pincher grip are two exciting milestones for a baby, but it’ll be a lot easier (for you as well) if you know your baby can move around safely. And on that note, should your baby put something in their mouth, make sure you know what to do!
A particular thing worth mentioning here are stickers! Children love their stickers. Even if you don’t use reward stickers at home, you can be sure that a child coming home from nursery / pre-school / school will bring them home at some point and wear them proudly. They might even be so proud of their little brother or sister that they might want to share their precious rewards with them, so don’t be surprised if your baby ends up wearing the sticker and two minutes later has it in their mouth.
Remember – paper stickers get chewed, but plastic stickers can get stuck, so beware of the stickers!
If you have an older child, you also have food lying around. And I’m not just talking about the food that is dropped by your older child, but also the food that you actually made and gave to said child and perhaps left on a coffee table or on a child’s table. Well, you’d be surprised at how resourceful a little one can be – they’ve just discovered what the fascination with food is all about so they’ll want to get involved. And of course you can always have a little (nervous) laugh when they grab a chocolate biscuit, but if they get hold of nuts or food that you haven’t given them before or that they may be allergic to, it can be a little trickier, and of course, stressful for you too. So be sure that before you set your little one free on an exploratory trip, you’ve moved any food that they shouldn’t be having, out of reach.
Hopefully you will find these useful, and if you have some more tips, please share them with us!
Sara is a mum of three and BabyNatal teacher for West London.
Find out more about Sara and her classes here.