How to Childproof Your Outdoor Space

Young mother holding her toddler's hand as she goes down a yellow slide.

Images By Tang Ming Tung / Getty Images

You’ve done all the research into how to childproof your home—you bought outlet covers, cabinet locks, and more to ensure your baby is safe since, sadly, unintentional accidents are still a leading cause of death among children. (That rate is unfortunately even higher among Black children.)

And now your mobile little one is safe from everyday harm inside the house. But there’s still more work to do when it comes to outdoor spaces, which can be just as dangerous to curious babies as indoor spaces. Drowning is still the leading cause of death among 1- to 4-year-olds.

Debra Holtzman, J.D., M.A., child safety and health expert and author of "The Safe Baby: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Home Safety and Healthy Living," says that childproofing tips are not meant to scare you, but rather to empower you. “They are meant to help you make safer and healthier choices for your family,” she says. “By following simple prevention measures and closely supervising your children, you can help protect them from common backyard hazards.”

By childproofing balconies, pools, grills, and more, you can prevent avoidable tragedies and make for a safe, enjoyable time outdoors. Here’s how.

When Should I Childproof?

Generally, childproofing and babyproofing should be for homes with newborns to four- year-olds. Childproofing is as much about a mindset as it is about a specific age, says John Maypole, MD, a board-certified pediatrician, clinical associate professor of pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine, and a member of The Goddard School Educational Advisory Board.

“As I tell parents during visits with children of any age, we are always surprised by how quickly babies develop, and how the months fly by, even if some days of parenting seem to drag," he says. "For this reason, it pays off to childproof around the house for all ages [before your baby is born],” he says.

Doing all the upfront work takes a lot off your plate. Dr. Maypole then recommends periodically doing safety checks while working with your pediatrician and other trusted sources to ensure you’re using best practices. 

To that end, Dr. Maypole suggests taking the same approach for outdoor spaces as you would for indoors. ”I tell parents…to get on their hands and knees and roam around the main rooms of their house looking for hazards," he says. "Doing an analogous walkthrough of your outdoor areas is a reasonable and important task.”

He stresses that childproofing is not a one-size-fits-all approach, so really take into account your lifestyle, budget, day-to-day schedule, and living space to make the best assessment.

Common Mistakes in Childproofing Spaces

Ryan Schecter, founder and owner of Safe Nest Babyproofing in Atlanta, says that one of the most unfortunate things he sees in childproofing spaces is parents choosing style over safety. “I see parents so concerned with finding stair gates to match their decor, but those fashion gates aren’t often designed with safety in mind,” he says. “It defeats the point of installing a gate if your child can open it.” 

Schecter also says parents think they don’t need to childproof because they insist they are always watching their children. But Schecter knows this is actually impossible to truly do. “Toddlers are out of sight in seconds,” he says.

Childproofing Balconies

While balconies might seem safe due to safety bars, you will need to do a closer inspection to make sure your balcony is fully childproofed. To prevent a child from falling over a railing, you need to make it difficult for the child to access the balcony. Schecter advises adding a latch or lock high up to prevent them from being able to exit the house. He also says that the balcony itself should have a railing that meets or exceeds local building codes.

“Horizontal railings or railings with designs that provide toe holds are particularly bad as children could try to climb them like a ladder,” says Schecter. Furniture should not be placed against a railing where a child could use it to climb up and over, and you should never leave a child alone on a balcony.

Childproofing Pools and Spas

Childproofing pools and spas is extremely important and part of being a good pool owner. Dr. Maypole says to first check your state rules about residential pool safety—some states have them, some don’t. The more layers of protection, such as barriers and safety devices, the better, says Holtzman, to help avoid unsupervised access.

“Drowning occurs most often when children get access to the pool or spa during a short lapse in adult supervision,” Holtzman cautions. Small children are top-heavy and don’t have the upper body strength to lift themselves out of dangerous situations. “Remember, small children can drown in just 1 inch of water,” she says.

Holtzman also suggests installing a four-sided isolation fence that is at least 5 feet high that goes around the entire perimeter of the pool or spa. It should have self-closing and self-latching gates that open away from the pool and are out of reach of children. “Do not use the house as one of the sides, as access to the pool or spa from the house is a major factor in drowning,” she says. 

In addition to a pool fence, Holtzman suggests an automatic pool cover that is motorized and operated by a switch. “The cover should meet the requirements of the American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM),” she says.

Holtzman also says to move furniture away from the fence so that children can’t climb up and reach the latch or get over the fence. You should ensure all doors and windows in the home, are equipped with child-resistant locks and be self-closing if possible. 

Whoever the adult supervisor is should be CPR-trained (and they should know how to swim, too.) “Constant eye contact and active supervision are required,” Holtzman says. “Avoid the temptation to multitask, such as reading, taking care of another child, or talking or texting on a cell phone, as it can distract you just for a moment, which can be critical for their safety.” 

Some additional tips include keeping infants or toddlers within “touch supervision” (within arm's length); removing all toys from the pool after use and storing them upside down; and teaching your children to stay away from drains, pipes, and other openings, as entrapment caused by powerful suction from a drain can trap a child—or an adult, for that matter. 

If you can, enroll your child in swimming lessons with a certified instructor after consulting their pediatrician. You and any adults who are regularly with your child should learn infant and child CPR and first aid, and keep rescue items near the pool such as a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life preserver and a ring buoy with a securely attached line and long-handled hook. Finally, keep a cellphone poolside that has preprogrammed emergency contact numbers so you don’t waste precious time in an emergency.

These rules apply to inflatable pools and portable pools as well. Dr. Maypole encourages families to drain even kiddie pools to avoid the potential for tragedy.

Holtzman offers up one final pool safety tip that is crucial during social gatherings: “Designate an adult as a ‘water watcher,’ which is a supervisor whose sole responsibility is to constantly observe children in and around the water,” she says. 

Adults can take turns in 15-minute shifts so that everyone can enjoy themselves. “When parents become preoccupied, children are at risk. Unfortunately, too many drownings occur at pool parties where there are many adults present. Everyone thinks someone else is watching when in reality, no one is watching," says Holtzman.

Childproofing Backyards

Children should never be unsupervised outdoors, but there are a few things to help you secure your backyard. Schecter advises checking a fence for any loose boards or exposed nails and screws. Look for retaining walls that are fall hazards and consider adding railings. A deck should have outdoor baby gates at the top and bottom of the stairs.

Childproofing Tools and Tool Sheds

Small children could accidentally ingest chemicals or turn on tools found in a tool shed. It’s important to keep any area—indoor or outdoor—where extremely dangerous items are located locked and off-limits. That includes sheds, garages, workshops, basements, and the like.

Holtzman suggests storing flammable liquids such as gasoline in safety-approved containers outside the home, in a well-ventilated, locked shed or detached garage, and away from any source of ignition. She also advises keeping poisons, such as pool chemicals and supplies, locked away out of the sight and reach of children.

You should lock up or remove entrapment hazards, such as coolers and storage chests, store all buckets upside down, and securely store lawn equipment and garden tools when they are not in use. Empty buckets and containers immediately after use and store them out of reach. “It’s especially important for pails and buckets kept outside to be turned upside down because they can collect rainwater, which is a drowning hazard,” Holtzman says. 

Childproofing Outdoor Furniture

Schecter says that securing outdoor furniture has the same rules as indoor furniture. “Look for sharp corners or edges, and add cushioning to protect from falls,” he says. “If there are tall or unstable objects that could tip over, they should be secured.” Patios heaters should be removed, as they can be climbed or tipped over.

Childproofing Outdoor Plants

Holtzman advises familiarizing yourself with the plants in your backyard and in your house, as many can be toxic if a child ingests them. She suggests learning both the botanical name and the common name.

Holtzman also suggests purchasing only nontoxic plants when you have pets or children under age 6, with the awareness that a child can choke on any leaf or berry, even if nontoxic. You should also remove toxic plants in the backyard or fence them in. 

Additionally, reinforce with your child that they should not eat or put any leaves, stems, flowers, twigs, wild berries, mushrooms, or any parts of plants into their mouths. “Keep an eagle eye on your child after rainy weather, when wild mushrooms are abundant,” Holtzman says. “Be aware, even in the case of nontoxic plants, a child may ingest soil, which may contain pesticides or fertilizer."

Plug the numbers for your state poison control into your phone. Dr. Maypole suggests using an app like PlantSnap to help identify toxic plants that might need to be removed from your garden.

Childproofing Playgrounds and Play Structures

It might seem counterintuitive to childproof equipment made for children, but not all playgrounds or swing sets are made equally. Each year, over 200,000 children go to the emergency room with playground-associated injuries.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) suggests assembling your playset properly on level ground. It also suggests that you can prevent head and neck entrapment by ensuring that all openings, such as those on ladders and rungs, are either smaller than 3.5 inches wide so that children can’t put their heads through them and get stuck or larger than 9 inches. 

While it seems counterintuitive, the CPSC also suggests not allowing helmets to be worn on play structures, as the helmet straps can become entangled, and not purchasing a play structure with any sort of hanging rope. If ropes are used, they should be secured at both ends. Additionally, you should not allow your child to put anything with a loop on it, such as a pet’s leash, jump rope, or belt, onto a playset. 

Childproofing Grills and Barbeques

Your child will be enticed by delicious smells and colorful and interesting foods, so it’s important to keep your grills and barbeques childproofed. Holtzman says parents should never leave a heated grill unattended and always carefully supervise their child around it. You should also keep pets, as well as children, away from the grill, especially when it is lit and for hours after while it is still hot to the touch. You can do this by establishing a 3-foot zone to keep children away from a hot grill.

Remember to keep matches, lighter fluid, charcoal, propane, electrical starters, and cooking utensils out of reach. Properly lock the grill and all accessories after use. And teach children never to touch coals, including ones that might not look hot. “Coals stay hot long after they have become gray in color,” Holtzman says. 

A Word from Verywell

Childproofing is essential, but it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. “Alas, a little bit of bubble wrap of our homes, or hilariously, of our kids, would make this a lot easier,” Dr. Maypole says. But parents cannot control or prevent everything, only reduce harm.

While childproofing is the best defense against accidents, sometimes they still happen. Toddlers are fast and curious, and it only takes a few seconds for an incident to occur. But by taking the appropriate safety measures, you can make your outdoor space an enjoyable place.

“There are reasonable and appropriate preparations we can make and periodically update to keep our homes safer for our kids, inside and out...so we and they can walk about and explore and enjoy and learn about this big world of ours,” Dr. Maypole concludes.

Was this page helpful?
7 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Injuries among children and teens.

  2. Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials. A guide to childproofing your home.

  3. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Safety barrier guidelines for residential pools.

  4. HealthyChildren.org. Drowning prevention for curious toddlers: What parents need to know.

  5. ASTM International. Standard performance specification for safety covers and labeling requirements for all covers for swimming pools, spas and hot tubs.

  6. Head Start Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center. Even plants can be poisonous.

  7. NC Department of Health and Human Services. Family child care home handbook, chapter 2: Safety.