Child-Proofing vs. House-Proofing

Figure out when to babyproof, or childproof, your space and when to houseproof your little one. Some things need to be done, but not all things.

Baby reaching for a drawer

We parents all want our children to be safe. We feel very protective of our kids and want to make sure we remove risk from their lives for getting hurt.

Parents often wonder if they should child-proof their house or house-proof their child.

To childproof, or babyproof, a house means to remove all potential dangers from your home.

To house-proof a child means that you teach your child to obey when told not touch or do things.

Childproof Some Things and Houseproof Other Things

If you read my post Tips for Baby-Proofing Your Home, you will see that I am one who likes to house-proof my child as much as possible.

In that post, I have lots of reasons for why I do so, along with good safety ideas for what definitely should be done to “child-proof” your home.

There are some dangers that you can’t ignore and aren’t worth the chance. For example, if you have a child playing alone in her bedroom, it is wise to bolt the dresser to the wall.

You can instruct her to not climb the dresser, but all kids test boundaries and if your child will be playing alone there, you cannot keep an eye on her with that potential danger.

READ: How to Child-Proof Your Space for Independent Playtime

There are many times you have to decide when to enforce house-proofing and when you need to pick your battles and just child proof the children and the space. Read more about this in my post House-Proofing: Pick Your Battles.

House-Proofing Helps Teach Respect for Personal Property

I was recently contemplating why some children have respect for the property of others and why some don’t.

Some children seem to believe everything within their reach is fair game. They will take it, play with it, and leave it wherever they happen to be standing when they are done.

You might live near such children and find everything outside needs to be under lock and key or you will never see it again!

These are not children who are trying to steal or even really knowingly being rude. They just don’t realize that there are things in the world they shouldn’t touch. Everything they are exposed to has been baby-proofed, so they are rarely if ever told “no.”

I know children like this. They are children who are raised by wonderful parents who teach them strong morals and values. I have also known adults like this. It got me thinking.

Read: How to Teach Respect for Personal Property

As I thought about children old enough to make decisions of whether or not to touch things with the realistic expectation of them obeying, my thoughts led to the home.

I realized that homes that were child-proofed rather than house-proofed were producing children who didn’t have knowledge and control to not touch the property of others.

I am not talking about other kid’s toys; I am talking things in your garage or even cars. Whatever they can reach is fair game.

And doesn’t that just make sense? Doesn’t it make sense that a child who is given no physical restrictions in the home will carry that over around the neighborhood?

Doesn’t it make sense that the child who is allowed to be overly physically active in the home with balls and other toys because there is nothing breakable around will translate that into the homes of others?

Of course they will!

3 benefits of house proofing rather than child proofing

House-Proofing Your Child Helps Teach Boundaries

House-proofing your child helps your child to learn boundaries. It helps your child to learn respect for others and for the possessions of others.

You can’t touch whatever you want whenever you want in the real world.

When Brayden was 9 months old and I was following the advice to leave some things to be “off-limits” to him, I had not thought about this benefit.

As I told him over and over again to not touch a coveted item, I had no idea that it would lead to him having a respect for the property of other people.

But it worked! What a blessing to me, my neighbors, and himself!

Get more tips on boundaries in these posts:

World-Proof Your Children

A huge premise of the book Free-Range Kids, at least what I take as a premise, is the idea that we shouldn’t shelter our children from the world, we should world-proof our children (page xii). 

This really falls in line with my core belief about raising children–we are raising them to be able to leave us and be independent.

As author Skenazy says, “Helping kids? Good. Doing everything for kids? Bad” (page xiii). She encourages parents to be “…preparing their kids for the world, instead of sheltering them from it” (page xvii). 

The hard question to answer is when and how to do these things.

Skenazy allowed her 9 year old son to ride the subway alone in New York City–an action that had people from all over shouting their opinions on whether or not it was okay.

I think most people would agree that yes, at some point this person needs to be able to ride a subway alone. What people do not agree on is what age is appropriate.

And you know what? I don’t think putting a blanket statement age on it is a fair thing in most circumstances. For more on the topic of shielding kids and when to let go, see Fine Balance of Protecting Children.

I think our real question, most of the time, will be when is this appropriate, not is it appropriate. Some will be an is; most will be a when.

And the answer, I think, will vary greatly from person to person. We all live in very different areas of the world, and we all also have very different life experiences that influence what risks we are willing to take.


As you decide what to house-proof and what to child-proof, keep in mind some main goals of keeping your kiddos safe, teaching them to listen and obey, teaching them to respect the property of others, and teaching them that there are boundaries and that they need to respect boundaries.

As you do these things, you will be able to discern when to remove items and when to leave them. House-proofing can do so much to help you teach your child valuable life skills, so don’t be afraid to do it!

Reader Comments and Questions

Kelly said: I totally get this mentality, and I have tried to give my now-17 month old boundaries. But you see, my child is a bit…of a free spirit. She is a natural limit-tester and one who seeks attention. I believe in discipline, and when I say NO, I want to mean it. So I have chosen my battles. Our whole house is 95% baby-proofed, while the other 5% is “off limits,” meaning she needs to obey. Now that she’s getting older, it seems to be easier with that 5%…but she still tests boundaries every now and then. What do you think?

BabywiseMom said: It is always wise to adjust things for your child’s individual personality. What I would do is make sure things are safe–if your child can’t be trusted to not stick something in the outlets, definitely cover them. Do what needs to be done to ensure real safety. After that, I would have things so your child learns to obey limits. But keep it age appropriate. An example would be that I have never used a baby gate on stairs at all. However, I don’t let my children go near the stairs without me until they are old enough to handle it. So even though I don’t have a physical barrier there, I make sure they are safe until they can handle it for their age.

Katie said: I feel so torn on this issue, and I think, as you said, it’s probably a matter of timing. This is an issue we’re carefully considering as we think about whether to homeschool our oldest son or not. I don’t want to do it to shelter him, although to a certain extent, kids always need “sheltering” – all people do, in fact. Just not always the same amount at the same time. It’s a tough thing to find the appropriate balance on, from day to day and year to year!

BabywiseMom said: Katie I agree that it is such a hard call. It is like my post where I talk about the “wall of waters.” And I think it depends on the child AND the school environment. Not all schools are equal. Some are “safer” than others.

Mrs. Madz said: I could not agree more with this thought: we must prepare our children from the world not protect them from it. I have some friends who wish and act like they live in Disneyland-they don’t let their children watch the news, or hear about bad things, or allow them to be exposed to anything tat is negative. What a disservice. My job is to teach my son to follow Christ and to live by his commands and how to deal with negative situations appropriately. I also agree it is more when than if…but how do you know if your being too overbearing? lol…it takes a mighty good friend to point that out!

This post originally appeared on this blog in March 2010

16 thoughts on “Child-Proofing vs. House-Proofing”

  1. thank you for this post! It is encouraging to know that the 100 no's I say a day to my 13 month old will pay off. 🙂 we have certain things at our house that are off limits and it seems to take her awhile to get it but she eventually does. One issue is the kitchen cabinets, I will think she gets it but then she is right back in them two days later. I have designated a drawer for her that has toys/kitchen items in it so it seem to help to redirect her to that but not everyday. i have found a huge correlation between how tired she is and her ability to obay my voice. Just another reason to do BW. 🙂

  2. Amen!!! Thank you for posting this! I couldn't agree with you more. I am always so baffled at children that come into my home & grab or get into what I feel should be a known "no-no!" It is so disrespectful! Not to mention potentially dangerous. This especially irks me when their parents (even babywise & strict parents) don't make any attempt to stop them and act like I'm in the wrong for having (gasp) breakables in my home! How do they handle their children in any store, restaurant, or at grandparent's house???

  3. We did not child-proof our house and have taught our son what he can and can not touch etc, but he (a 3 1/2 year old) constantly feels free to go into our neighbors garages and take whatever he pleases. I'm working on teaching him about this (asking permission, not going somewhere that's not your own unless invited etc), but in the process I'm embarrassed and driven crazy. Any suggestions?

  4. How true! I never understood as a kid when I'd have friends over and they'd grab things that were obviously off limits or just dig my toys out of the closet to play with! I'm talking 10 year olds too, not just preschoolers. Another thought to keep in mind, imagine 26 five-seven year olds in a classroom, none of whom understand proper boundaries when it comes to other people's property. Think on that a bit, let your imagination run wild with bad possibilities, and then you may have an inkling of what my classroom looked like in the first 2 months of school when I was a first year teacher, lol!

  5. I have a situation similar Kristin. From the beginning we have home-proofed our now 3 year old daughter. People have been amazed at what we can leave around that she does not touch, even when we are not in the room with her. However, I have noticed that when other children are over, who do not have the same training, or we are at their house, she seems to go crazy. Recently I have been explaining to her about being a good example to her friends. Not sure what else to do! And, how do you deal with children who come into your home without this training?

  6. hey, Val! thanks so much for sharing this! also LOVED, LOVED the yahoo group comments on this! I'm sharing with "Mr Safety" (hubby)!!! THANKS AGAIN AND AGAIN!Love, Morg

  7. I am so glad that I too decided that house-proofing was worth it. When my LO started crawling, I taught him "no" and "no touch". I told my sister-in-law that we were working on learning no, and she just said, sarcastically, "Good luck with that!" It made me twice as motivated to prove that a 9-month-old DOES understand no, and CAN learn to listen. My LO is now 10 and 1/2 months, and does fantastic at not touching when he is told not to. He doesn't do it 100% of the time, but probably about 80%, which is pretty amazing. My SIL's daughter is now 1and is, well, a terror! I am so glad babywise mentioned this, and that I put it into action! I have the best baby!

  8. OK, I get the benefits of this method…but I just don't see in my every day life how it would work. I feel like I'd be saying "no no no no no no no" 1,000 times a day if I didn't have cabinet locks etc. especially in places where there are chemicals under the sink etc.?? It is just nice to be able to let my kiddo run around and explore without having to stay on top of her all day worrying she's going to take a nip of draino while I'm not looking. Am I missing something?

  9. The Blocks – yes, you want to go ahead and put away/lock away potentially dangerous and deadly items. What you don't want to do is put things like your remotes, DVD player, TV, etc. out of reach. Baby needs to learn boundaries.

  10. Redheads – Thanks that makes much more sense! I never really understood what was up with "not babyproofing" but that totally makes sense. That's pretty much what we do around here, so looks like I'm on track 🙂

  11. Kristin, I think if it were me, I would have a policy for a while that he can't play out front without direct supervision. Tell him since he can't control himself to stay out of other people's things, that you or Daddy have to be out with him when he is playing where he can get to other people's things. Then take the opportunity to remind him over and over while you are outside with him what is okay and what isn't.Once you think he has it, I would do the "ask and tell" approach I outlined last week. Each time before he goes out, tell him the rules. Also tell him what consequence will happen if he breaks the rules. Good luck!

  12. Jade,Oh my goodness. I really don't know. I face similar situations. Perhaps I will post this as a "Help a Reader" out question to help us both!

  13. The Blocks,I put all of my cleaner up high (I can barely reach it while standing on a chair). If I didn't have a place I could put it up high, then I would put it in a cabinet and lock it. None of my cabinets or drawers have locks. In fact, when we moved in to this house 6 months ago, every cabinet and drawer had locks and we took them off. It does take work initially. I trained all of my kids before age one to listen to my instruction. With all three children, I have never had a problem at all with cabinets and drawers not being locked. So from my experience, it can definitely be done.


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