Babyproofing the House vs Babyproofing the Baby

by | Jul 7, 2015 | Babies, Mailbag, Parenting With Authority | 24 comments

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.

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.


  1. Alicia Copley

    I love these kinds of posts! I found the how to be the boss of a one-year-old so helpful to read when my son (Lulu's age) was younger. So far persistently telling him not to do something and removing the item (or him from it) seems enough to change his behavior. It does take us doggedly monitoring him and correcting behaviors for several days (or weeks) to change some of his "favorite" trouble spots. Sometimes, he'll approach something he knows he's not supposed to touch and look at me and half laugh/cry because he wants to touch it but knows he's not allowed. Did you have this? I assume it will wear off in time…

    • Kendra

      Absolutely. That look is how I know it's working. Because it means they GET it. They understand the CONCEPT of not touching something, which is huge. The other part is then them learning to master their desire to touch it, and in our house that has always, eventually happened. And, in my experience, they really end up happier because of it, because they have clear limits, and they know that if I say something I mean it. So, there's no point in crying about it, because crying won't mean I let them touch the TV. So, pretty quickly, they just don't touch the TV OR cry about it. They just move on with their little lives. 🙂 And everyone is happy.

    • Tia

      Haha, that look is so cute, it's hard for me to keep my stern face on! My youngest has a bit of a naughty streak and loves to push boundaries. He's now at the age (15 months), where he'll almost or half-pick something up he knows he's not supposed to, look at me sort of impishly, but will (finally!) put it down when I say no in the faux-scary mommy voice. I know it's working but I also know he's a tougher cookie than my earlier kid. If I hadn't seen the persistence work with the first I might have given up altogether on the second! As it is, I am SO looking forward to the point when he has no desire to put diaper cream/trash/etc. in his mouth.

  2. Anonymous

    Kendra, I'm curious about whether your other babies have reached gross motor milestones at similar ages. For instance, in the post about putting the Bumbo on the table, Lulu was coming up on 7 months and not yet sitting up, right? You also posted recently about her learning to walk, IIRC. I mention it because I think it's a bit different when a kid's gross motor skills unfold early– a crawling 7-month-old has a different level of cognitive ability vs. a crawling 10-month-old. Same for a toddling 9-month-old, who might really need the coffee table to go away for a few months while he figures out the whole balance/gravity/hard surfaces thing.

    I think, too, that kids have varying levels of interest in oral exploration — some of my big kids still chew on their fingers when they get stressed out.

    The reason I mention it is that I think I might have been needlessly frustrated with my firstborn if I had read this post as a young mom. He was an early and fearless mover, with a really pronounced tendency to put things in his mouth. His ability to respond to my words at 7 months, when he started crawling, was markedly different from his ability to respond at 10 months.

    Totally agree with you about teaching older sibs to value babies and respect their needs, but I also think some babies really do need babyproofing.

    • Kendra

      My kids have crawled and walked and talked across a pretty wide timeline. Some really early, some remarkably late, but all eventually. And, for us, this has worked with all of them.

      However, I would definitely say that none of my kids has been super into putting things in their mouths. In fact, I've never been able to get any of them to take a pacifier. They nurse a ton, and will accept no substitute. Maybe that's a factor. I don't know.

      But, so far, this approach has kept me from having to babyproof OR keep the house spotless at all times. Both wins in my book.

    • Rosie

      Yeah, mine have all been pretty set on putting everything in their mouths. My 2.5yos are STILL eating crayons on occasion, and the 8mo shoves everything he can find straight into his mouth, so this strategy definitely hasn't worked for any of my five… But on the plus side, our floors are always really clean!

  3. karen

    My first and third were/are huge mouthers – all boob and no paci here either. It's awful. I once peeled a sticker off the back of my oldest's throat, she was about 8 months, crawling, and had pulled it off a resealable cookie package that someone had left lying on the sand at a beach meetup and stuck in her mouth without anyone noticing. She was gasping for air as it was stuck to and covering her airway. Scared the bejeezus out of me. So I have a thing about trying to keep choking things off the floor until my mouthers are done mouthing, but otherwise, we don't babyproof anything either and I do tell them toys are not for chewing. It's just the chance encounter with a strewn item that brings back memories of the Sticker Incident. Puzzles and card games come out during nap. I don't even have one of those "tupperware drawers" in the kitchen because when I did, my kid kept slamming her finger in the drawer.

  4. Amanda

    We're not big baby proofers either. I call it house-proofing the baby vs baby-proofing the house 🙂 But yeah, just teaching those basic household safety things (don't stick fingers in electrical sockets, don't touch hot stuff, only food goes in the mouth) has always worked well for us.

    I will say I do keep a simple child lock on the cleaning supply cabinet (though my kids always figure that out by about 12 months) and I will use a playpen as needed so I can go to the bathroom or shower without stressing. Or sometimes I just take the toddler in with me to splash on the floor of the shower while mommy washes her hair, haha! So far this has all worked pretty well.

    Ironically it was my then-5 year old son, the super responsible mature one who NEVER put stuff in his mouth, who managed to swallow a dime last year, oy! Luckily the doctor said if you're going to swallow a coin a dime is the way to go 😉

  5. Bailey

    I think one huge benefit of babyproofing the baby is that when you are a guest at someone else's house, you aren't dependent on them having a babyproofed house. We aren't big baby-proofers and often my friends who do use all of the devices to proof their houses end up following their kids around my house, making sure they aren't getting into things. I'm sure it looks like a giant death trap to them. For me, having taught my kids limits from a young age has allowed me to take them to the houses of people both with kids and without kids and generally not worry about them getting into or breaking things. I do have to admit, my kids have been very late crawlers and walkers, so maybe I'd do things differently if I had a 9 month old toddling around.

    I did finally have to break down and put latches on a few cabinets in our new house because my food obsessed 2 year old could get at the snacks and no amount of redirecting or telling her no was working. And we had no where else to put the food. But dealing with a few latches is pretty different than stressing about every square inch of my house! 🙂

  6. Catie

    I think the second half of this post is so, so important in developing a generous heart for the older ones. We have had playdates where our friends always want me to put up the gate and shut out the toddler because he is messing up the big kid playtime. I have had to say many times that my babies are allowed in all the rooms. He doesn't get kicked out of his own bedroom just because a big kid doesn't want to deal with the inconvenience. It is a tough lesson, but there are other times during the day when big kids get to do their own thing.

    • Kendra

      Yes! Thursday's post is all about this. I do think it's really important.

  7. Alli Dolan

    Thank you so much for this post! Our son (our first) is 13 months and this advice is so helpful. We haven't really baby proofed (though I did move the cleaning supplies to a high cabinet), and for the most part it has worked. He is remarkably good at staying out of the fancy glassware, which is stored in the bottom cabinets of a hutch that sits in the living room, right next to where he mostly plays. I can't even remember the last time he tried to touch that piece of furniture.

    But we are still struggling with a few things and I'm wondering if I just need to pick a more consistent approach. He still puts EVERYTHING in his mouth. I let him do it with all his toys (they're all baby toys that are safe for that kind of thing), so maybe I should try to curb that in order to get him to stop doing it with everything else? The other big thing is the stairs. I mostly don't mind him climbing up and down them (he's really good at it, so I'm not too worried about falling, though I mostly follow him). But then there are some times (when I'm cooking dinner, for instance, or when the husband and I are watching a big game) when I just really don't want him going upstairs. Maybe because I'm not consistent about the stairs, I'm having trouble getting him to obey when I say no? Do you have anything like that? Something you allow the baby to do sometimes but not always? I realize these days you have other people in the house (most of the time is just me and the baby), so maybe you don't follow your little ones around as much as I tend to want to chase the baby.

    • Kendra

      I think this gets to te heart of the whole Always Mean What You Say concept, which is that, eventually you can have rules that vary depending on the circumstances, because your kids will listen to you when you say not to do something at that particular moment.

      But the stairs thing is tricky, especially for a barely one year old. When we are visiting my in laws who have stairs we have a rule that little kids don't go upstairs unsupervised. There aren't any toys up there, so there really isn't any reason for them to go up alone. So, being consistent about that has worked for us.

      As for stuff in mouths . . .
      I mostly say "not food" and try to keep toys out of mouths. That hasn't been a big deal for my kids, they haven't ever been really really into it, and we actually don't have a lot of chewing type toys. But if I did have a kid who really seemed like he NEEDED to gnaw on something, I'd try to create a new category, I think. Like: ah, ah that's not a mouth toy, only mouth toys in mouths. Or something like that.

  8. Rosa Patterson

    We definitely do a combination. Locks on cabinets with poison and a baby gate at the top of the stairs so my kids won't knock each other down while rough housing. They love to play right in front of the steps. I also have a baby gate at the playroom door so I can lock them in there occasionally when I want to clean or make dinner. The rest of it is just redirecting and putting baby wipes and diaper cream out of reach because my kids will empty a tube of cream and a tub of wipes in three seconds flat. No matter what I have done or tried, it is their biggest temptation! Drives me crazy! I Gave up on teaching them not to and just moved it to a high shelf because I need my sanity and can't stop them from doing that 25 times a day!

  9. Cammie Wollner

    Oh how I wish it worked this way for us.

    It has with my two year old. I hope it does with our current baby. But I spent the first three years of my seven year old life keeping her from killing herself (ADHD) and now spend every waking minute making sure my five year old who was found barefoot in the forest by the forest service is safe… Despite our efforts to be consistent always and a crack team of autism therapsts, occupational therapists and a speech therapist she still finds trouble everywhere… Which is what leads me to believe that your mileage on baby proofing baby might vary wildly based on the child's personality and development.

    • Amanda

      Oh and with any kid with extra needs I think ALL 'normal' parenting advice needs to be taken with a grain of salt! If I had an autistic 5 year old I'd absolutely do extra things as needed to ensure safety. We have very different rules for our 13 year old with special needs than I would for our other kids at 13…she's just not there mentally to be as safe as a 13 year old. I just look at where she's at developmentally and try to make decisions like that.

      Also, our 4 year old was a particularly grumpy/spirited baby/toddler/preschooler and we added latches up high on our outside doors after realizing he could and would open them. "No" is fine when we're awake but I had a friend whose 3 year old went outside at 5am when mom and dad were asleep and was found across the street by a cop! Thankfully he was fine but his mom was obviously horrified when she woke. So anyway, I guess my tempered rule for house proofing kids is if it could cause serious injury/death I'll put a lock up, and if it's a precious family heirloom I'll move it away from the baby's reach, but everything else is treated as a learning opportunity. With a child who has ADHD and especially autism the number of things that can result in serious injury would just be much greater because they might not have that common sense to make good judgements until much older than other kids.

    • Kendra

      Yeah, special needs kids, for sure need their own set of rules and expectations. I'm sure we'd be doing things differently if we had kids who required it.

  10. Anna

    This is hilarious. I thought I was going insane. I scoured the blog looking for phrases from this blog entry because I had a record of it in my mind — but there was nothing! Then, I tidied the kitchen and my baby's supply corner, and just thought, "Well, I'll relax on why that post is so utterly familiar, and maybe I'll figure it out later when it's not driving me nuts to find the answer to the question." Just now I scrolled down to read the comments and thank the Lord found the note at the end. The thought that there was an unintended post of it didn't even occur to me. Thank you for clarifying!

  11. Kaitlin @ More Like Mary

    I'm NOT saying I don't believe you! But I really am just baffled that you've had this many kids and not a single one that doesn't just put ALL THE THINGS into their mouth. Babies were designed to put things in their mouth. And putting the appropriate things in their mouths is critical for good oral and sensory development. The mom in me is thinking "Yes! This would be so great if my babies could learn to put things in their mouths!" but the speech therapist in me is saying "No! Mouthing is good and necessary and should be encouraged."

    I like your comment above about saying "only mouth toys in mouth" but I wonder if a little one could really understand that. Perhaps if I just constantly swapped out non-mouthing objects for chewy toys? #3 is five months old so I'll try it in a few months and report back to you 😉

    • Goddess

      I totally agree with you Kaitlin. I have all boys and they are very well behaved. However, as babies, no matter how consistent I was, telling them no and redirecting did NOT work. They stuck everything in their mouths and started climbing before they could even walk. One of my children tripped on his feet all the time and fell right into my mom's coffee table. The corner of the table just missed his eye. Baby proofing my house was a must for their safety. I had a good friend with the same mentality as the woman who wrote this post and one of her kids was seriously injured when her big screen TV fell on her toddler. She spent every day teaching her kids what they can and can't do but all it took was a quick pee trip and her daughter took advantage of the few seconds alone.

  12. Anna

    We don't baby proof everything, but what we do I'm pretty firm about and I can't imagine letting it go. I'm just not willing to risk my dishes, certainly not my fine china, during that 'teach baby not to play with it' in the middle phase. I do kind of think it's silly that my husband locks up his instruments, they aren't THAT breakable, but then I tell myself, that's his fine china. And gates. I just can't think that it's responsible parenting to have a baby crawling around open stairways. Not to accuse you of being irresponsible but I just can't see it. Anyway, trying to hear you on this. Maybe it's different situations.

  13. Victoria

    The timing on this post is great because I’ve been thinking about your baby proofing method since my son was born in January. If you have time, I have a few questions:
    1) Did you use this method when your first child was born and it was just you and one baby alone all day? Or did this develop once you had a few bigger kids to help supervise the little kids? What was your experience when you had a smaller family?
    2) You mention that your babies don’t really put things in their mouths. Did they chew on things while teething? Did you wait until they were done teething to start the “not food” technique or do you pretty much start from birth? My son is 5.5 months and everything goes in his mouth! I’m trying to figure out if I should already be telling him “not food” or letting him explore the world a bit first.

    • Kendra

      Thanks Victoria!
      1. We got some baby-proofing stuff as shower gifts and installed them, but they drove the grownups nuts before they were ever useful for a baby, and we just uninstalled them. So, no, I've never really had a babyproofed house. But I did have a pack n play in our first apartment, and I'd dump Jack in there if I needed to run to the bathroom, or cook. So I knew he wouldn't get into mischief. It's MUCH easier now that we have bigger kids that can share the responsibility of keeping an eye on the little kids.
      2. We do have a few chewing on type toys, and I have a couple necklaces that have been favorites for chewing on during Mass. But the way I see it, "not food" can be used on an as needed basis. If the baby is chewing on something that it's okay to chew on, I just don't say anything about it. But, for whatever reason, my babies just haven't ever filled their cheeks with legos and squinkies. I'm sure if they did, I'd have to do things a little differently, and make sure big kids kept those things up on tables.

      Kaitlin^^ is a speech therapist, and she says let 'im chew on some stuff.

    • Victoria

      Thanks Kendra! That is really helpful. Since we don't have bigger kids, we don't have legos or other toys with small pieces (yet), so that comment helped things click on the difference between family sizes. Thanks for answering my questions! 🙂

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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