Q. We're traveling to my mother-in-law's house for the holidays, and it's not childproofed. How can I keep my toddler safe?
A. It's one thing to be in an unchildproofed house for a few hours, as at a party -- in those instances, you can (and should) watch your child like a hawk the whole time. But when you stay somewhere for a few days, it becomes less feasible (and downright exhausting) to be a hawk. As a toddler, Elsa, our "Energizer Bunny baby," was so curious and always on the move that I dreaded visiting other people's homes! That's why you'll need to do some childproofing of your own. The trick is to do enough to keep your child safe without disrupting the household or offending the host. Some easy ways to accomplish both:
Ask if there's one room that you can childproof completely. If you have just one place that's thoroughly safe, you'll know there's somewhere to relax with your child, and you won't inconvenience everyone else too much. Bring along outlet covers and drawer locks (small childproofing kits that contain them are available at stores like Target, Toys "R" Us, and Kmart). See if you can move the furniture around in that room to create a play space without sharp edges or major obstacles.
Bring a playpen. It can serve as a bed and a safe, movable play space.
Look for obvious dangers. People without children often keep medications on a table or other low surface. If that's the case, ask your mother-in-law to put them out of reach while you're there. And always find out if your hosts keep a handgun in their home (shockingly, 40 percent of households have one).
Bring a gate or two to use on stairways in areas where your child will be spending a lot of time. Look for the kind that swings open easily -- and be quick to jump up and help if someone who's not used to gates is trying to pass through.
In the kitchen, check for knives within easy reach and for nuts and other choking hazards in the bottom cabinets or other low spots. Ask if there are alternate places to stash them during your visit.