Our hearts leap with pride and joy as our little one learns to crawl for the first time. We sit and stare in wonderment as they take their first independent steps. Then if we are not prepared it can suddenly dawn on us that we have so little control over where they decide they want to explore!
Where should I install gates?
Stair gates are designed to assist parents and carers in taking control over the movements of their little one. We can prevent access to the potentially dangerous areas of the home, particularly the stairs.
As an absolute minimum, parents should install a stair gate at the top and bottom of each flight of stairs. As young children are learning their first independent movements, they are top heavy; the center of balance is in the top half of their body. This leaves a child particularly prone to falling backwards as they attempt to stand up straight. At floor level this will result in little more than a 'whoopsadaisy' from mum, a quick kiss better and we're off trying that new move again. If a child is left unsupervised to climb unprotected stairs the idea of them falling back does not bear thinking about.
The second point to consider is; which areas of your home are unsuitable for young children? The kitchen is the single most dangerous room in the house for a young toddler. Until your child is old enough to be taught and understand the important rules needed to stay safe in the kitchen, if it is possible to use baby gates to prevent access to the kitchen, use them.
Make a plan. Spotting the areas of potential danger first and restricting access is the key to creating a safe environment. Each home is different so there is no set solution. One home may have an open door that leads to a flight of stairs to the basement; another the newly refurbished dining room with sharp edges on the corner of the dining table; and another the open access to the office area with all the loose cables and electrical equipment. For the first few months while your child is learning rules of behavior which will eventually lead them to their own danger signs and understand the meaning of the word 'no', make sure they can not gain access to any area you are not sure is 100% safe.
Once you have identified the areas of your home you would like to install stair gates, however narrow, wide or irregular the gap is, there is a stair gate available to solve the problem. Stair gates have now been designed to be installed in a variety of different ways: in a straight line and auto close after use; to be mounted diagonally if you do not have opposition fixing points; even multi panel configurations which can go around an open staircase or section off a corner of the room if required.
Purchasing a stair gate no longer means turning your once perfectly presented ideal homes into a mini prison. Manufacturers of stair gates have now woken up to the reality that despite safety is the primary concern of any parent when choosing a gate, a color or wooden finish that compliments their home interior is also desired. Stair gates are now available in: white, silver, black, beechwood, mahogany, oak, even gum tree.
Pressure Fit or Screw Fit?
Pressure fitted stair gates are the most popular type of stair gate. With a pressure fitted gate there is no need to test your DIY skills or to drill holes into your walls or banister posts. Many pressure fit gates have an auto-close / auto-shut facility which negates the possibility of a gate being left open due to forgetfulness. Other pressure fitted gates come with an indicator built into the gate which is visually displays when a gate is installed correctly and alerts you to a gate being nudged out of alignment.
It is important to note that all pressure fitted gates have a trip bar. This is the bar that runs along the bottom of the gate and sits on the floor when the gate is mounted. In most situations this is not an issue as it is something you get used to very quickly. However, to have a trip bar at the top of a flight of stairs; especially when you will be carrying your baby up and down the stairs; is a big safety hazard and should be avoided if possible. Some manufacturers sell additional step plates to convert the trip bar into a slight ramp, which is definitely advisable if you are to install pressure fitted gates.
The main advantage of a screw fitted gate is that it will be installed without a trip bar. The gate will sit on screw fittings and open much like a barn door without the need for the horizontal bar to stay in place. Although both pressure fitted and screw fitted gates sold by reputable stores in the UK will all have been rigorously safety tested, the nature of a screw fitted gate is that it will provide that additional level of stability. Regardless of a screw fitted gate being knocked against or leaned on, once the fittings have been screwed into the wall, the gate should not move a millimetre and not need readjusting. Many screw fitted gates now come with quick release fittings. This enables parents or more commonly grandparents or carers to remove the gate when not in use, leaving only the small wall fittings in place. When the grandchildren come back for another weekend, you simply slot the gate back into the fittings.
When should I install them and for how long?
The simple rule for when install stair gates is the same for all areas of baby proofing; it is best to have everything installed before you need it, than frantically rush around trying to find the right safety products when your child is on the move. A typical age for most children to start independently moving is approximately six months. The amount of time you will need stair gates again depends on your child. As your child becomes completely confident in their walking ability, and as they have learned the lessons you have taught them regarding potential dangers, it is time to remove the gates.