There was a point in time (100 years ago? Ok, really only eight) when I thought to myself “why can’t she just make her kid behave and stop breaking my stuff?” I thought this about a really good friend. Someone I had known for years before they had kids. I actually questioned her parenting techniques (in my head, of course). Since having kids I realize that sometimes there is not much you can do about your kids’ behavior and most of the time they are not being bad but rather hungry, tired or have too much energy and need an outlet. This article is dedicated to the friends without kids, the grandparents who haven’t had kids around for awhile, the new aunts and uncles, and anyone else expecting a short term visit from a little one. It is designed to help you “baby proof” your home for that little guest and their grubby little hands that want to touch all your glass miniatures and pull on Fluffy’s tail.
Infant (newborn-1 year)
Pre-crawling babies are pretty easy to baby-proof for. Make sure you vacuum the room you are going to be entertaining in to ensure that all the little scraps and fuzzes are off the floor to limit the amount of yuck the child can put into their mouth. I also like to have a clean blanket handy to lay on the floor that way it will be a little warmer, and if the pattern on the said blanket is bright or interesting, it may distract the baby for a little bit. A diaper change is bound to occur during the visit so planning a spot for that will keep you from being on the spot later. Just laying out a towel with an absorbent pad on top (think puppy pads) on your spare bed is perfect. A couple other items that are good to have on-hand might be a couple baby washcloths (the cheap soft ones) or baby wipes to wipe faces, noses, and hands. For infants closer to a year, rice puffs (or rusks) and applesauce are good healthy snacks.
I also make sure that my dogs are put away. Either in the yard, garage or the basement. My dogs LOVE babies. There is nothing like a 110 pound German Shepherd laying on the blanket next to the baby slicking the baby’s hair back with dog spit. Although this sight warms my heart, it has caused general nausea in a few of my girlfriends (I really like my dogs). I know that my dogs would never purposely cause harm to a child, but none of my friends (only S) feel the way I do about dogs. Even your most dog-loving friends may have a different perspective once a fragile infant enters their life. The best way to avoid any awkwardness is to just keep the dogs out of the mix at this stage. Plus if there should happen to be a knock at the door you know the baby won’t be trampled in the mayhem that is sure to ensue.
Toddler (1-2 years)
This stage in the child’s life is a little harder to prepare for. Make sure that cords are out of sight, electrical outlets are either inaccessible or have plug covers on (they are really cheap, don’t take a chance on this). Remove all breakable things from the bottom shelves, this includes magazines and photo albums you don’t want torn. The nice thing about this age is that you can usually just put things above 3-feet (on a table or counter) to keep them out of reach. Toddlers use items to stabilize themselves, so make sure the furniture where they will be playing is sturdy (balanced) and there aren’t any items that could topple off with a little wobbling (think tall lamps, crystal vases). My all time worst example is a TV tray. We had one sitting between the couch and recliner to hold the remotes and beverages. My daughter (then 8 months old) pulled herself up using the tray. Seven years later she still has a L-shaped scar on her forehead from pulling the tray on top of herself .
You will absolutely have to make sure that the toddler does not run around unattended, so be prepared to be on the move! Children start climbing at this stage and if left to their own devices have an uncanny ability to get into the oddest mishaps. Until they become familiar with your home, you can expect a few bumps and bruises no matter how careful you are (you should have seen poor Mr. C when S first brought him to our house). A kid cold-pack, spray antiseptic, and a few fun bandages will likely get used if you have them.
Now remember these are fixes for when you have a youngster over for a couple of hours. If you are going to have the child over frequently then you may want to make a room that is toddler safe. If you and your friend have coffee every Thursday then maybe you want to toddler-proof the family room and keep it that way so you are not moving things around every Thursday morning only to put them back Thursday afternoon. If the kitchen is a better area you can put some rubber bands or cabinet locks around your lower cabinet handles then put up a baby gate to ensure baby does not wander off. I also find it helpful to keep a few age-appropriate toys that hang around my house. These toys then become something special to play with during visits (see our gift guides with ideas for different ages).
Also, never underestimate the power of a good snack. Choose something they can feed themselves. I like Puffs because they are safe for young eaters and store nicely, but other good options are squeezable fruit packs, Cheerios, string cheese, and grapes or strawberries. Always remember to ask a parent before offering any sort of food to a child (no it can’t hurt them if they don’t get it but it can spark a tantrum if they thought they would and then don’t). If the visit involves a meal most kids this age can eat the same meal you do (ask about allergies the day before) just cut into small pieces and make sure it’s cooled off. Having a kids dinnerware set just for them would be a welcome surprise.
Walkers (2-4 years)
This age gets a little trickier. Once children are walking the world becomes their oyster. Everything is to be explored which means that while you do not need to be so cautious of falling furniture, you still have to keep an eye on them at all times. I have learned that quiet means they are into something. I once stopped by work to do 10-minutes of computer entry. I had my daughter (then 2) with me. She was right outside my office; I could see her if I leaned my chair back. I figured she was fine since there were six other people in the office with me. I wrapped up what I came in to do in the expected time frame thinking to myself how good she had been only to find she had discovered a marker and drawn all over the wall. Thank goodness it only added to my day a trip to the store to find a Magic Eraser (love the product) not a gallon of paint! One of the challenges I currently face is my older kids’ toys. Anytime my girlfriends come over I am constantly picking them up because virtually all of them seem to have tiny parts that are choking hazards for children under 3. Barbie shoes and Lego’s are my nemeses. I remedy this situation by having the older kids move any of their toys in the family or dining room and put them in their rooms. I let my friend know that the family room an dining room are safe and use a baby gate. The temporary ones that tension fit onto the wall are relatively inexpensive and you can use for pets and kids.
Big Kids (4 years and over)
This stage should be fool proof, right? They aren’t going to choke, fall or poison themselves. It usually is, but I just want to add a couple of tidbits to help you out. First, I often forget that my kids can now read. I always seem to remember this as I am perusing Facebook, and one of my friends has posted something that is PG, and then my 8-year old want’s me to define what that word means or my 6-year old wants to how they made that dog take a picture like that. At which point I remind them to not read over my shoulder and usually add the phrase “I can’t get you to pay attention when I want, but as soon as I want 5 minutes alone I become interesting?” This is true of all media I am learning. Not only the computer, but also the TV and books. My kids can all work the remote and I have had to remember not to leave my romance novels laying around. Although you probably don’t risk a meltdown from hunger from kids this age, healthy snacks are always great to have on hand. More importantly, remember that anything you have they will want (actually this starts at about two) so the more you can avoid eating or drinking anything you don’t want (or can’t) share in front of them the better.
A small investment of time before you little guest comes over can make your visit much less stressful and you might (but not a guarantee) be able to have a complete conversation with your friend. Above all else remember to enjoy the time with your friend even if it requires a little more effort.