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She may not have eyes in the back of her head, but Corinne Brandstetter hasn’t had much trouble keeping tabs on her kids. That’s because her family of four’s less than 900-square-foot, two-bedroom condo in Reston (the couple recently moved into a larger townhouse in Ashburn) made it easy to see if they’re up to no good.

“I think it’s been a great place to have small kids,” says the 33-year-old stay-at-home mom. “The kids [ages five and two] are always so close to me and there are no stairs, so I don’t ever have to worry about them going up and down the stairs.”

That kind of one-level living is an advantage condo-dwelling families have over broods living in a multistory townhouse or single-family home; baby-proofing is often less expensive in smaller spaces. But a condo can prove challenging in other ways when it comes to keeping Junior out of trouble — think about high balconies and open floor plans where every cupboard or gadget is within reach. A few simple precautions can go a long way toward protecting your tots.

Take the ever-popular open floorplan found in many new condos these days.
“The advantage is that wherever the parent is, they can generally see the child, and the best way to prevent unintentional injury is by constant supervision,” says Michele Spahr, president of Safe Start Baby, which offers baby-proofing services throughout the D.C. area. “But the disadvantage is that kids can gain access to everything. It’s not easy to block off a room because the rooms are all joined together.”

To limit tiny adventurers to certain areas, Spahr advises arranging gates together to form a play yard for babies. When the little ones outgrow the enclosure, the same gates can be used to cordon off a computer area or another adults-only portion of a room.

Homes without stairs are a major plus for toddlers because they eliminate the need for gates around steps. “The fewer gates you have, the lower the cost of baby-proofing is going to be,” Spahr says.

Grownups need to look at everything in their space from a pint-sized point of view.

“Children are creative, out-of-the-box thinkers,” says Kimberlee Mitchell, a spokesperson for the Safety 1st Squad, an offshoot of the Safety 1st kids’ gear manufacturer that offers in-home consultations and product recommendations. Kids are “the most brilliant little MacGyvers who can and often do use items for purposes they were not created for.”

To prevent kids from turning everyday household objects into potentially lethal weapons, use straps to attach to the walls flat-screen TVs, bookcases and other pieces of furniture that could tip over. Move anything breakable or harmful out of kids’ reach. Cover outlets and power strips with special protectors, and bundle wires for the computer and TV so that little hands can’t pull at them.

“You need to make sure that every cabinet is latched, that the bathroom door is closed,” says Joni Aarden of D.C.-based MOOI Green Baby Proofing. “You have to be completely detail-oriented.”

Though lots of kids like to embrace their inner Bobby Flays, it’s safest to keep them out of the kitchen all together, especially while you’re cooking. But if that’s impossible, take precautions to protect your little Iron Chefs. Lock cabinets where you store knives, glass dishes, and cleaning products; put guards on the stove; and use the back burners as much as possible.

And while a tenth-floor unit might give you sweeping views of the city, windows and balconies also present some safety issues. In addition to standard locks, baby-proofing experts recommend that windows have guards to keep them from opening all the way, which prevents a child from falling out.

A multilevel townhouse gives parents more space to play with, so it’s easier to stash medications on a high shelf or create a room that only Daddy can use. But all those stairs will call for lots of gates.

Jennifer Gendell, a 42-year-old financial analyst and a single mom, moved into her three-story Ballston duplex when her now nearly 3-year-old daughter was a baby. She had Safe Start Baby make a full assessment of her home.

“I had them put gates at the top and bottom of the stairs,” she says. “I wouldn’t have thought to do the bottom of the stairs, but they said the majority of accidents happen when kids go up the stairs and then fall down.”

No matter where you live, however, gates, locks and other deterrents will never replace the watchful eye of a parent. “Child-proofing is really just a helping hand for Mom and Dad,” says Mitchell. “You need to back up every child-safety device with education, discipline, and supervision. That’s the recipe for a safe household.”

Written by Beth Luberecki
Photo by Express’ Lawrence Luk