How can I make my non-kid home more kid-friendly?

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Maaaybe this wouldn't be the best scenario if a little kid happened upon it. Photo by theresac, used under Creative Commons license.
A while back, I asked about how to be supportive to your new parent friends. I got a lot of wonderful advice that has proved helpful. Here is a question that I’ve been pondering a lot as my friends start to venture out of their houses with their kidlets: what tips do you have for being a good host to kids and their parents in your house?

In my case, I live in a small city apartment. As a kid I grew up in the country where there was a lot of room to run around, so I’m a bit at a loss. So… what are things that parents wish their non-parent friends had available in their homes? What should we avoid doing or having? I don’t mean that I want to totally change my home around, but how can I make it a little easier when my friends who are also parents are visiting with their kids? — Amelia

Comments on How can I make my non-kid home more kid-friendly?

  1. I think this is such a thoughtful question…I too have long had friends with kids and having no kids of my own until 10/19/11; I often asked them what I could do as well…

    Snacks! sometimes parents are ill equipped or were just stopping by this helps, something fun to hand them while the grow ups talk i.e.-handheld game, deck of cards, coloring book and crayons just a cheap trick for entertainment.

    Sometimes I let my friends tots lay in my bed/couch and watch cartoons if they were cranky. I have 2 dogs that like kids but, still I am very alert to the fact that the kids may be too…into the dogs and make sure I can put them either outside or in my bedroom if need be.

    Other than that just relax your friends realize that pre-kids they too had sharp objects and now they have to control their kids.

    A few years ago my friends 1 1/2 year old daughter came over for a dinner party and she just had to rearrange my DVD shelf but, it was fine she pulled them all off the shelf and then would put them pack all on the shelf this made the adults laugh and kept her happy for hours WIN-WIN!

  2. The ONLY suggestion I really have, is to put things that are valuable/breakable up out of reach before they come over. It is hard, if not impossible, to keep children from breaking these things, and it’s a lot less stressful for parents if they don’t have to worry about them.

    I never have any other problems in someone else’s house, but I’m pretty relaxed about where my child goes and what he does, as long as he won’t be permanently/severely injured (yes, I do let him slam his fingers in cabinet doors- how else will he learn not to do it, really?)

    Though, having a pack of baby wipes around might not be a bad idea- and they’re pretty useful for adult things as well!

  3. That anything shiny and obviously breakable is put away before we come so we don’t have to worry about it when we get there. My son loves playing with my friends tupperware and measuring cups when we’re out at their houses.

  4. some of it depends on the age of the child, but here’s my list for toddlers:
    1) move all of your breakable, delicate, valuable items up high and out of reach.
    2)if you can, block off areas of your home you don’t want the kids in (can be as easy as closing doors, especially bathroom doors). it’s easier to make a small area kid-friendly than your whole house.
    3) safety check – cleaners, medicines, chemicals under cabinets or in easy reach? knives in reach on counter tops or in drawers? small choke-able decorative items? things that are heavy but easy to tip over?
    4) Interior cords in window blinds can be silently deadly. Open blinds all the way (so that the entire blind is at the top of the window) and secure the full length of the cord at the top of the shade.

  5. Before I had a kid, I had a little backpack full of random toys — just weird white elephant gifts I’d picked up at the office and other oddbits.

    Whenever friends with kids came over, it was nice to be able to pull out a little backpack of toys that they’d never seen before.

  6. We also don’t have kids yet but have a ton of friends who do. Since we have animals, we naturally keep breakables and hazardous materials out of reach anyways. We like collecting antiques, so we have a bunch of antique kids toys that we don’t mind them playing with and bring them out anytime a child comes over. We also have a tree swing in the back yard which is great for the older kids (or adult-kids) to play on when the weather is nice. We also keep a few child-friendly cups and plates and such in the house so that we don’t need to worry about handing a little one a glass when they are thirsty.

    The one thing we haven’t done yet but plan on doing soon, and have seen it be an almost problem, is to get outlet covers. This is an easy thing to do and will put everyone at more ease.

  7. If you can give the kid a space that’s special for them, that rocks. I was lucky enough during one visit to be able to set up a tv and dvd player in a separate room. I got my friend’s daughter some markers and paper, put on some Disney, and she was pretty happy. She didn’t have to hang out with the boring adults, could be out of the way, and we also had a space. No room available anymore, but I plan to still have a tv with Netflix or dvds ready to go, some space for drawing (with supplies since I’m a craft freak), etc. As long as the kid doesn’t feel exiled, it’s nice to have a space to go that’s special or out of the way.

  8. Rule 1: Don’t spaz out at parents! They’re doing their best to keep track of their kid, promise. I’ve had friends (okay, acquaintances) FREAK THE HELL OUT at me because Evan played with (are you ready for it?) some TUPPERWARE. You know… plastic stuff. That’s non-breakable. If you store things like that in a low cupboard and it’s really important kids don’t touch it, invest a few bucks in some cabinet locks, stash ’em in a drawer somewhere, and put ’em on when your kid-having friends come over.

    I also second the “put anything very breakable up on a shelf” comment. We’ll keep our kids out of your china cabinet and stuff, but if you’ve got Waterford Crystal all over your house in easy-to-reach places, consider moving it. Same goes for if you’re having any kind of beverage. You leave a cup of liquid on the floor or on a low coffee table, 2 year olds will go for it every time.

    In general, try to be chill. We don’t want our kids to wreck your place any more than you want them wrecking your place – all of us have the same objective. Use common sense, maybe invest a couple more bucks in outlet covers for low, unused outlets that are right at the eye level of crawling or toddling little ones and then have done with it.

  9. i don’t really know anything about the tiny ones…but as your friends’ kids get older i think the most important thing is to let them know what the rules are, for their sake and sanity.

    not that you ought to have a huge list, but if there are things that are very important to you make sure the kid knows that. the rules are probably different at home, and it’s no fair springing it on them, but that also doesn’t mean you have to put up with everything their parents do.

    (in our house the big one is “*all* noise-makers are outside toys” – noise is something most kids’ parents are immune to, i think =)

  10. I kept a small tub of Legos tucked in the living room for when friends’ kids came over. That was always a hit.

    Now that I have a toddler, taking him to a non-childproof home is hard. Taking him somewhere outdoors is much easier.

  11. This one is a bit of a stretch, for the non-child-having friend who wants to go a bit further: our friend who regularly hosts movie nights and Rock Band nights and such, which tend to go late, let us keep a cheap pack ‘n’ play at his place so that those of us with babies had a safe place to put them down when they went to sleep. Granted, he has a house, but if you’re going to have regular, late-night events, and you’re okay with your friends bringing their little ones, it’s nice to be prepared with someplace for them to sack out. (Again: nice, but totally not required.)

  12. This is a great question! We have a friend with a house about as un-kid-friendly as it can get (A. he’s renovating it. So parts of his house are obviously dangerous, but B. he is also a total bachelor. We went over to his house once, baby in tow, and on his coffee table in the baby “safe” room were marbles, pills, honey, peanut butter, a knife, screws, a piece of saran wrap, and batteries. BABY SAFETY NIGHTMARE! Hahaha) Have some “stuff buckets”,drawers, or high shelves that you can quickly sweep all kid unfriendly things (such as breakables and all of the objects mentioned earlier) away into. Then set out some things on low surfaces to distract the kids with- tupperware, pots, pans- anything that is not choke-able and makes noise is great! Good luck!

      • Peanut butter is bad before two because it’s such a common serious allergen. Honey is bad because it carries a higher risk of botulism and other food-borne illnesses that make adults miserable but can kill small children. I wouldn’t expect most people to know these things, though. I’d be more worried about what sounds like general clutter everywhere with a grabby toddler.

        • Also, peanut butter is bad for babies who haven’t got much practice at chewing because it’s thick and sticky and easy to choke on, especially if it’s chunky-style.

          Also, both peanut butter and honey are sticky and gross to clean up, and if there’s one thing babies do extremely well, it’s getting goop all over their faces and hands and clothes and whatever surfaces they crawl on… and so on.

      • Ok, didn’t know this! So I guess the moral is, if there are foods you don’t want near your child, flag this up – because people may not know this. (Certainly I have no memory of having to keep peanut butter or honey away from my little sister when she was a baby approx. 15 years ago!)

    • Baby gates that don’t look like crap are expensive. I think this is above-and-beyond to expect from someone that doesn’t otherwise use them (I have some nice metal pet gates for my dogs and cats – also expensive – so I had them before I had kids.)

  13. At the risk of sounding like a bitch, in the opinion of this parent of a former toddler, it is not the job of the non-parent to make sure that Junior doesn’t eat the cat or drop priceless antiques on their heads.

    Use common sense, of course. If you’re worried about the antique vase then put it away. If you have things laying around that you know might poison or choke Junior then put them away. If there are areas of your home you don’t think Junior should be then close that area off. You do want everybody involved to enjoy their visit after all.

    If you have kids visiting often, I think that you’ll naturally learn what you need to do and have to make your home inviting to the little ones and their parents. Just the way new parents learn as they go. You might ask your parent friends if they have preferences – you might offer a private/quiet place to breastfeed, for instance.
    Once the small people go mobile, distractions are good. A cupboard full of tupperware. Books and blocks and trucks, if you’re inclined. Art supplies art supplies art supplies – paper and crayons at the very least.

  14. What works better than banyproofing( cause my kidlet will find trouble with even the best childproofing) is distractions. Books, blocks, coloring, stuffed animal, snacks, a sippy cup, plastic cups, a tupperware cabinet to unpack 😉

  15. I agree, as a parent, with one of the above posters that it’s the parent’s job to manage the kid. I also, however, appreciate friends that make that job easier.

    Before I had kids, I kept:
    Two small boxes – one of Legos, one of Duplos – that I picked up at Target for less than $20 each. The boxes are easy to store, look like Legos and hold enough to keep a kid occupied.
    Basic sets (8 or 16) of washable crayons in large-triangular and regular sizes, with two coloring books (one detailed for older kids, one less detailed for smaller kids), a basic box (16 or 32) of colored pencils and plain drawing paper for the older kids.
    For visiting teens, I kept a guest log-in available on my computer (with limited access – I didn’t allow anything to be installed and had a net-nanny that blocked explictly x-rated sites) and made my PlayStation/TV/music collection (depending on what year we’re talking about here 🙂 ) available.
    A small stack of plastic cups ($2 at IKEA) and two sippy-cups (one straw-style, one standard sippy cup), about four plastic plates, toddler spoons/forks and always had a pile of cleaning rags on hand for the toddler eating mess that was bound to happen.
    For folks with smaller kids, I’d put my largest bath towel out on the bed as a diaper changing area and move my bedroom trash can to the foot of the bed so they had somewhere to set that (hopefully bagged) dirty diaper.

    As a parent, I think that the biggest thing a parent wants from a friend they are visiting is understanding – the kid might wail. The kid might not want to color. I might have to leave shortly after arriving to keep you from losing your mind with a meltdown. I try to keep my surroundings in mind and bring toys/washable crayons with me if I know I’m going to be a child-free home. I also do my best to not have to change diapers in someone else’s space but things happen.

  16. Parents like me have an extra challenge, because my son is autistic. If I am bringing him to your home for the first time, I will try to warn you about things that I know will be potential issues (for example, he’s terrified of dogs), but what I want more than any object or consideration is simple honesty. I will do my best to keep the kid out of your stuff and happy and all that, but it’s not always easy — if he is doing something that is driving you crazy, TELL ME.

    That being said, I don’t think it’s the responsibility of the person you’re visiting to have things set up for your kid. Small things I would appreciate are having a couple of plastic grocery bags available in case I have to change a diaper, closing doors to places you don’t want the kid to go, having a place to put your dog/not minding that he will follow your cat around and talk to it endlessly, and if I spend a lot of time at your place, allowing me to keep a couple things there (like maybe some Goldfish, a pack of juice boxes, and a couple Matchbox cars). Other than that, it’s my kid and my responsibility.

  17. My tips
    – Keep a box of toys and/or books. My parents kept some lego and duplo and trains from when we were kids, which are now awesome to pull out when kids come over. Kids like novel things, so these will probably be more fun than the toys the parents bring.

    – A safe place for kids to nap or sleep if it’s naptime or bedtime. We have a spare room with a mattress on the floor, and nothing dangerous around for them to get into. It’s good if this is close to where the adults will be so the kid feels safe, and the parents can hear them.

    – entertain in an area of the house that kids will like being in – if they love being in the garden, consider taking the adults out there too and having a picnic. – otherwise parents can find themselves torn between hanging with the adults and supervising their child in different spaces.

    – for older kids – DVDs and video games in a different room can be great.

    – Keep some healthy kid friendly snacks and drinks. You could have some unhealthy ones too for treats, but check with parents first (check with parents first about food anyway!).

    – Keep a few items of plastic cutlery and crockery. It’s more relaxing eating with children if you know they’re not going to smash their glass or plate at any minute.

    – Find out if any of your garden (or house!) plants are poisonous – make sure parents are aware of where those are so they can avoid them.

    – People have already mentioned breakables, but think about things that can be climbed on too. Something on top of the piano might be high enough, but it’s not going to help if the kid can climb onto the piano stool.

    – Close windows that are above couches and things that can be climbed on too.

    – If you have a balcony, make sure the rails aren’t wide enough for a little person to fall through, if they are, keep the door closed.

    – Make sure small kids don’t have access to bodies of water – ponds, pools, buckets, baths that aren’t drained…

    – Blinds with hanging cords – you might want to move the cords out of reach.

    TL/DR: The first few times watch kids closely and see what they seem to want to get into… you’ll know for next time so you can prevent it, and maybe not have to supervise so closely/stressfully! Not all kids want to get into everything, so don’t give yourself a hernia trying to bomb proof your house if the kid isn’t even going to let go of mummy’s leg the whole time they’re there.

  18. I agree with most folks. I’m the parent of a toddler, and it’s MY responsibility, not yours, to keep my kid entertained at your house. Sure, it would be super if you had some Ritz crackers for him to munch on, or if you were cool enough to suggest putting your metal desk fan up out of the reach of tiny fingers, but I always travel with a toy or two, a couple of crayons and some snacks and juice. Remember though, the happier and more comfortable you can make your friends’ kiddos, the longer your friends will stay and the more likely they will be to visit again with kids in tow.

  19. Plastic cups! Every summer we have bbqs and invite our friends with kids over and I ALWAYS forget that they need cups. I’ve gotten by in the past with plastic travel mugs (they’ve got spill-proof lids if the kid is a messy one!) but at the end of this summer I finally bought the little Ikea plastic cups. Now that we’ve got a baby and tons of our friends are also having babies this year, we’ll need more cups next summer!

  20. I have a three year old godson, and nieces and nephews of various ages and to accomodate them all I’ve been trying to make my home as kid-friendly as possible, while still being true our grown up needs.

    The most important things I have come to find necessary for any children visitors (we have many in different ages)

    -Baby gates/outlet covers/cabinet locks/DOOR KNOB COVERS. (especially the knob covers- sometimes you just need to quickly be able to throw stuff they can’t have into a room and lock them out of it)

    – Diapers/Pull Ups/Etc. You never know when someone is going to drop a bomb or leak through theirs and mom/dad left the house without all the necessities. On that note- extra clothes, maybe even ones they’ve damaged or almost grown out of at home, are helpful

    -Snacks. Sometimes all it takes to make a kids day is some string cheese.

    -Pack N Play. Especially good if you don’t have a kid-safe bed on those nights your parent friends want to stay past the little ones bedtime

    -Finally, if you haven’t already ran out of room in your house, some toys that stay at your place all the time.

  21. If you have never personally seen the child interact with pets, lock yours up, no matter what the parents say about it. My cat bit a kid who who trying to drag it by its tail and the parents flipped their shit. Even though they were cooing and thinking the behavior was cute, and having reassured me their little angel was wonderful with cats. (I had jumped up but didn’t get there in time.) Also,most parents of kiddos with really bad allergies will mention it, but you may want to check anyways. I accidentally brought my nephew to a friend’s house without mentioning it once, and he got a reaction after coming into contact with their coffee table because they had eaten peanut butter for lunch and didn’t wipe it down.

  22. These are all great suggestions– but it really depends on the kid. As a young child, I was the only one allowed to go into the living room with all the breakables because I would never touch anything at my grandparents house. My mum says I was born with manners. I think having an alternative is important- toys, print out colouring pages, anything safe and unbreakable should serve as a good distraction. Some kids are super gentle with animals— as long as the animal has shown no aggression and are watched- it should be fine. My dachshund loved my relatives little toddler– she didn’t seem to care about him– so its fine. However this same toddler gets into everything and just throws all the toys provided– so it really depends on the kid— obviously I’m not talking about the first meeting but once you’ve established how the kid generally responds to their environment– you can choose the degree of alteration.

  23. I don’t have kids but my sister is seven and I most of my friends have young kids, so I try to keep my apartment kid-friendly. One of the easiest ways to do this is having a basket of toys that’s just for kids. My sister put in a bunch of her toys (some action figures, random things on string, etc.) and every once in a while, if I see something fun-looking and inexpensive at Target, I stock up on it. I also have some general art supplies that kids would like that I might use, too. I am a very big art person, so I keep crayons, markers, colored pencils, and paper on hand, and that is a huge amusement to kids of all ages. My sister has picked out two paperback kid books for the basket, I have a few of my old stuffed animals in there, and viola, it’s an instant attraction for the children.

    Someone else mentioned this, but sometimes it’s easy to have some snacks on hand, like 100-calorie packs of stuff or baby carrots or small bags of goldfish. I always keep a few containers of organic chocolate milk in my ‘fridge and that does wonders!

    I don’t usually watch kid movies when I’m alone, but if there’s a cute movie at Target that’s one of the $5 ones, I’ll buy it and keep it for a while, then give it to a friend if I see another one to replace it. I usually have two or three kid-friendly movies on board.

    And last but not least, I think one of the biggest things I do is make sure there is kid-friendly space! My apartment isn’t a jungle gym, but there are areas where kids can be rough-and-tumble kids. They all know to be careful downstairs where there’s a coffee table with a glass top, but they also know where they can roll around and run and have fun. I don’t live in a museum, and if there are things I don’t want them to play with or have access to, I put them away when kiddos are there.

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