I don’t know about your kid, but my almost-two-year-old would completely lose her mind if I put her in a playpen right now. While playpens are great in theory, toddlers usually aren’t fans of being cooped up.
My daughter is constantly on the move and getting into everything in sight, so putting her in baby prison is not an option. However, for the sake of my own sanity, I need a way to keep her reasonably contained and entertained.
I thought this was a tall order until I discovered the magic of baby gates. This is officially my public service announcement: baby gates provide safety and serve as a great next-level playpen for toddlers! Here’s why.
1. Encourages Helping
We do not have an open concept floor plan at our house. Instead, our formal living room, dining room, and two bedrooms are in the front half of the house, while the kitchen, laundry room, great room and staircase to the second level are in the back half.
We strategically placed our first-floor baby gate in the threshold between the front and back halves. Originally, we did this so our daughter couldn’t run out of sight at any given time. While the gate still serves its intended purpose, it also keeps her contained to specific parts of the house. She can stay close to me while I go about my day, and it gives her an opportunity to express herself when she wants to pitch in.
Studies show toddlers have a universal desire to help with tasks and household chores. By reducing the territory, she has to roam, she can stay focused on a specific task in front of her, rather than getting distracted and running off to the next thing.
Recently, we were in the front room listening to music when the mail was delivered through our old-fashioned mail slot. She quickly went to work picking up each piece of mail and handing it to me. She got great satisfaction from helping, and I didn’t have to bend over and pick yet another thing up off the floor. This system worked well for both of us.
2. Provides Choice
While baby gates enforce a strict boundary, I often take the opportunity to let my daughter decide where and what she’d like to do next. “Do you want to read books in the living room or play with your doll in the playroom?” Since most things in her world are outside of her control, letting her choose the location and activity during playtime finally gives her the sense of control she craves.
3. Enables Free Reign Your Toddler Craves
Toddlers’ emotional, social, and physical development depends on their ability to experience the world on a firsthand basis. They need to touch, smell, examine and compare objects and encounters in order to make sense of what is going on around them.
Unfortunately, when it comes to letting my child have more independence, I’ve experienced anxiety. What if she gets into trouble? What if she gets hurt? My paranoid instinct is to shelter and protect her from all dangers. However, I know it will benefit her in the long-term if I just let her live (with extreme supervision of course).
Fortunately, strategically placed baby gates provide ample space for baby to explore with appropriate boundaries, so they can learn while mom and dad also have peace of mind. Giving her space, and relinquishing control myself, pleases my daughter and fosters her independence all at the same time.
If you’re looking for ways to safely encourage your toddler to help others, make decisions, and explore their world, use a baby gate. Toddlerhood is a hectic, unpredictable stage, but controlled chaos can be achieved with tools at their disposal. Happy toddler wrangling!
Katie McCall is a lifestyle portrait photographer, content strategist, and producer based in San Antonio, Texas. When she isn’t behind a camera or laptop, she's exploring the world with her husband, darling one-year-old daughter and tiny pup. If you’d like, please follow their adventures on Instagram (@hersideproject)!