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Lock? What Lock?

It's one of the many nightmares parents of toddlers may face. The toddler or preschooler unlocks the door and wanders out.

In this case, the child is a 4-year-old boy who unlocked his front door, walked across a multilane street and wandered into an unlocked door at a Family Dollar store at 3 a.m., according to the Associated Press. The Texas boy triggered a silent alarm, which alerted police. When they arrived, the boy was playing with toys in the store.

Also found safe this month was 3-year-old Jaylynn Thorpe, who wandered away from his babysitter's house. Jaylynn, of Halifax, Va., was kept warm during his overnight ordeal by two 12-week-old puppies that stayed with him for his half-mile adventure.

Wandering toddlers don't always make it though. Last month, a California 2-year-old climbed out of his crib, walked for nearly a mile onto a busy road and was struck and killed by a car.

There are some safety products to help parents keep their toddlers under lock and key. Door knob locks make it harder for young children to grasp and turn the knobs, writes's Vincent Iannelli. Friends have successfully attached latches to the tops of sliding glass doors to keep them closed. And on parenting forums, some moms recommend changing deadbolts that turn for those that open only with a key.

Have any of you dealt with wandering children? Let's hear your stories and solutions.

By Stacey Garfinkle |  December 17, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Preschoolers
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Deadbolts that open only with a key are a bad idea in case of emergency, and illegal in rental units in many states. Put the deadbolt up high, and hope your preschooler doesn't think to move the chair in order to reach.
Or get an alarm system that goes off whenever a door is opened. Expensive, but effective.

Posted by: inBoston | December 17, 2008 7:52 AM | Report abuse

One good idea I've seen is one of those hotel-style flip locks installed very high on the door. Safe in emergencies, easy for parents to lock/unlock, and darn near impossible for a small child to reach.

Posted by: allie5 | December 17, 2008 8:01 AM | Report abuse

I recommend putting a sock on each doorknob. Little ones pull on the sock, rather than turning the knob. They also have a hard time getting a grip on the knob itself, though adults are able to grip through the sock.

Posted by: im4randomness | December 17, 2008 8:18 AM | Report abuse

Sleep with your kids and you'll never have to worry about them escaping in the middle of the night.

My 3rd child was an escape artist by day and it drove the babysitter nuts. He learned to be very, very quiet and sneaky, but unfortunately for him, he has a father that depends solely on his hearing to navigate through daily life, and, as a parent I learned very quickly that when it comes to parenting, quiet=danger. Nothing like living a life where when everything becomes nice and peaceful around the house, it's a signal that something is wrong.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | December 17, 2008 8:26 AM | Report abuse

When my twins were 2 they walked out the front screen door while my husband was making dinner and I was out. Thankfully we live in a quiet neighborhood and their destination was a neighbor's recently discovered swing set that didn't require them to cross any streets. She saw them out the window and walked them back home. Now the story makes me laugh, but at the time I was really upset thinking about what could have happened. We tried a slinding lock up high on our screen door and it didn't take the girls very long to figure out how to drag furniture over to climb up and reach it. They never got out that way because dragging chairs is noisy and takes a while, but it was a pain for me to stop what I was doing every five minutes to drag whatever it was back where it belonged. Toddlers are very persistent creatures! After that we began keeping the front door closed (stinks in summer with no a/c), it is old, heavy and they only recently (now they are 4) figured out how to open it.

I have a friend with an alarm system that beeps when the door opens. Expensive, but certainly works.

Posted by: thosewilsongirls | December 17, 2008 8:44 AM | Report abuse

"I have a friend with an alarm system that beeps when the door opens."

What I need is an alarm that plays a recorded message after the door has been opened that says, "Close the door! Do you think you live in a barn???"

I'm tired of saying it 30 times a day!

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | December 17, 2008 8:52 AM | Report abuse

I live on a busy street, where the posted speed limit is 30, but people always drive at least 10 mph over. One day, my husband and I were driving and saw a small boy, not more than 3, walking along the sidewalk along this street, with no adult in sight. The boy starts walking into the parking lane and then the bike lane, all the while cars are obliviously whizzing by. We stopped and sort of hemmed the boy in before he could get out further into the street.

I picked him up, and noticed one of the houses had a door wide open. I figured this was where he had come from. I went to the door, and his older teenage brother was there. I guess he was "watching" him, and didn't realize that he was gone. The brother seemed completely unconcerned that his little brother could have almost lost his life, in addition to the fact that a complete stranger had been able to pick him up.

I really regret not laying into him and/or calling the police just to scare him into some sort of response. It still makes me sick to my stomach. I am just glad we were there at the right time.

Posted by: Ellbeecee | December 17, 2008 9:30 AM | Report abuse

I grew up on a very busy main road that had a 55mph speed limit, and my grandmother lived across the street. Although she baked the most amazing molasses cookies ever made, I learned young that her house was off limits without a parent along as an escort. I wasn't allowed into the front yard by myself (fortunately, our main door opened into the back yard, next to the garage), and my parents kept me in check via firm application of a hand to my backside on the rare occasions I disobeyed.

Posted by: northgs | December 17, 2008 9:41 AM | Report abuse

A 2 year old toddler in N. Virginia was killed last year in such circumstances. He opened the door and went to his grandfather across the street. He never made it.

We faced a similar situation, thankfully noone was hurt. My wife had been out with a friend with our twin toddlers and the friend's kids. One of our kids had learned how to jigger the storm door and one got out to go to the friends minivan---ACROSS THE STREET. Said storm door is history.

We live near King Street in Alexandria and people zoom along the access road all the time. There but for the Grace of God...


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | December 17, 2008 10:00 AM | Report abuse

"Sleep with your kids and you'll never have to worry about them escaping in the middle of the night."

Unless you have to get up to go to the bathroom...

Unfortunately, you can't watch 'em every single second, especially if you have more than one.

Our front door sticks and my 3.5 year old can't open it on her own. I have friends that have just put plastic doorknob covers on their front doors to keep the toddlers inside, and those work well, too (and cost only a few dollars). I'm still looking for a solution for screen doors, though.

Posted by: floof | December 17, 2008 10:23 AM | Report abuse

This has been on my mind lately. A friend of a friend lost her two-year old about a month ago when he and his three-year old brother wandered outside during the day when they were supposed to be napping. The baby fell into the pool, and the three-year old couldn't get him out. By the time adults were alerted, it was too late. Horribly tragic.

We always had things on the door handles, but some kids figure out how to work those. For escape artists, I'd go for deadbolts up high where they can't reach.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | December 17, 2008 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Fortunately, our kids are past this stage (although now they're out by themselves in cars so I'm not really sure it's a win). But when they were younger, we went with:
- plastic covers over the doorknob (work pretty well)
- sliding latches very high up on the door (cheap, quick and easy to install, and require the child to stand on something to open)
- bars that flip down and prevent the sliding doors from sliding open (also effective against burglars, because they can't slide the door open from the outside, either)

We live on a main road where cars routinely go about 50, even though the speed limit is 25, so as the kids got old enough we constantly drilled into them that they were to play in the BACK yard or on the hill to the SIDE of the house, not in the front.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | December 17, 2008 10:49 AM | Report abuse

I find it amazing that none of you has mentioned the "don't open the d*!$ door" rule. All of you mention what types of locks to get, put them higher, etc., but not one of you has said express how absolutely unacceptable it is to open the door and "wander out." I am sorry some of you know people who have lost a child because of this. But I am devastatingly curious to determine how it really occurs. Granted children won't listen to everything we say, but it's a rule just like you don't touch the stove. My kids are eight and five and neither is allowed to open the door, LET ALONE EXIT, without one of us present. There was never any question that this was simply a rule of the house. I'm really not trying to make light of this being a serious issue. Yet, at the same time, I don't see why it has to be or why it appears that most of you consider wandering out to be what kids just do.

Posted by: 1herndon | December 17, 2008 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Um, the people who lost their child a month ago had the ""don't open the d*!$ door" rule". I'm pretty sure most sentient parents have that rule. I find it a bit funny that you assume you thought of it. If you are willing to stake your child's life on your belief that they will offer 100% obedience on this rule, that's your business.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | December 17, 2008 11:25 AM | Report abuse

1herndon - at 8 and 5 your kids are "old enough to know better", but at 2 and 4 a lot of kids aren't. Yes, we told the kids not to wander out the door, repeatedly. We told them not to touch the hot stove, too. But young children are curious and very often DON'T listen to that warning; they have to learn from experience. They were told not to touch the hot stove; they touched it anyway because they wanted to and they got burned. A life-long lesson for a little pain.

On the other hand, if they're told not to wander out the front door and do it anyway because curiosity gets the best of them, there may not be a lesson to learn because they wander into the street on the first occasion.

(Just wait until your kids are teens. Tell them many, many times not to engage in binge drinking; not to drink and drive; etc. Yet a LOT of teens do it anyway. Do the best job you can as a parent, but accept the fact that SOME kids have to learn it on their own.)

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | December 17, 2008 11:28 AM | Report abuse

If you are willing to stake your child's life on your belief that they will offer 100% obedience on this rule, that's your business.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | December 17, 2008 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Copy that.

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 17, 2008 11:30 AM | Report abuse

"My kids are eight and five and neither is allowed to open the door"

wow, maybe by the time they reach high school you'll be daring enough to let them cross the street without holding your hand.

As for us parents, Safety is our #1 concern, right?

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | December 17, 2008 11:32 AM | Report abuse

For those parents with young school-aged children that live on a busy street, may I suggest that you slip a game of Frogger into their stocking this Christmas? Some video games can be very educational!

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | December 17, 2008 11:54 AM | Report abuse

This is off-topic, but related. Last week there were three separate incidents reported in the news concerning newly licenced teenagers driving to school, crashing the car, and the subsequent death of both driver and passenger. I'm sure each young driver had been warned not to speed, follow the rules of the road, and don't take any chances. It happened in New England, Wisconsin and Chicago. Kids don't always listen.

Posted by: davemarks | December 17, 2008 12:05 PM | Report abuse

That's awful about the pool. Didn't they have a fence around the pool? That is exactly why I never wanted a pool before my kids could swim well. Still dont' have one. Nonetheless, I cannot imagine how that family will live with that.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | December 17, 2008 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Stacey, Excellent and timely post. I know the people who post to this blog are very dedicated parents. But if makes even one person double check their locks tonight, it was worth it. I know I will, for sure. Thanks

Posted by: Dadat39 | December 17, 2008 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Herndon - I'll echo others' comments that we did not open the door when our child got out. Unfortunately, kids can surprise when the actually do learn how to open the door ON THEIR OWN. They can also figure out how to unbolt a door and even drag over a chair to reach higher than they can on their own.

With regards to a double-keyed deadbolt, it's a tricky matter. If you have a door with panes of glass, then a one-keyed deadbolt is useless. We went double-keyed on the rear entry door, but keep a key on the frame. It's out of sight to a burglar, but always available in an emergency.

On a lighter note: our smallish Christmas tree has taken two swan dives, once for each twin. Glad we don't have any fragile ornaments!


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | December 17, 2008 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Thankfully we don't have an issue with this. Our front door is very heavy so even the 6 year old can't quite get the turn and push/pull action going at the same time. But that aside... I am not sure they have ever tried.

But for the person who thinks it is enough to just tell the kids not to go through the door.... do you have kids?

I can't count how many times I have told/punished the kids not to do something and there they are... doing it again. In certain instances... I even get the guilty look at being caught or an instant excuse, 'But I wasn't bothering the cat'. And you know they must have been because you hadn't said a word - you just looked in the room.

Sometimes they just want to do what they want to do... d*!m the consequences.

Posted by: Billie_R | December 17, 2008 12:42 PM | Report abuse

I second WorkingMomX's and Armybrat's response to Herndon. Of course we all have do not exit rules, but little kids, especially the toddler crowd, sometimes either can't control their impulses or don't know any better. My son got out into the back yard without my knowledge once when he was about 3. I was cooking dinner, and he was outside, playing in a neighbor's yard (picking flowers for me apparently) when she found him and brought him back. We had opened the back door on a nice day, and he went out through the screen door which unlocks easily. He could not have been gone more than a few minutes, but I didn't even notice. Thank goodness nothing bad happened, and we had a talk after that, but the incident really heightened my awareness of these dangers, and we kid-proofed our screen door after that by putting in a pin at the very top where he could not reach.

Posted by: emily8 | December 17, 2008 12:52 PM | Report abuse

I don't recall saying that none of you don't have the rules in place, but that it wasn't the first thing mentioned. TO ME, which is what I thought posting comments was for (our individual opinions), that's the first thought/suggestion as opposed to raising/changing the locks should have been enforcing the rule. Didn't think I thought of it either. I didn't originate the idea to create rules. It's interesting though, that your comments made me think a bit as to why I worded it the way I did. I hadn't meant to be offensive or suggest that people aren't watching their kids or that kids always listen or that mine always do, always will, etc. I have an acquaintance who doesn't see the harm in her children exiting so I guess subconsciously that affected my response.

When I stated my kids' ages, I said it b/c even at this age they still aren't allowed. Again, I know someone for whom it is "ok" for the kids to exit, go out back, get the mail down the road (at 4 and 6). And their neighborhood is pretty busy car-wise.

Sorry if I offended anyone; it wasn't my intention. But Army Brat, I never said my kids are perfect or that I'm not anticipating teenagerdom with baited breath.

Posted by: 1herndon | December 17, 2008 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: PakeMommy | December 17, 2008 1:19 PM | Report abuse

nice link PakeMommy.

looks like the gays aren't the only ones not fit to be parents.

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | December 17, 2008 1:29 PM | Report abuse

That is exactly why I never wanted a pool before my kids could swim well. Still dont' have one. Nonetheless, I cannot imagine how that family will live with that.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | December 17, 2008 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Heavy duty meds get 'em over the hump.

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 17, 2008 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 17, 2008 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Um,my kids are 7 and 5 and no, they are not allowed to open the door. I am not such a paranoid parent, but the road is not the only danger. Even though we live in a subdivision set quite a ways back from the main road we get some very nasty door to door sales people.

One event bothered me enough to call my neighbors. It was a disgruntled meat salesman. When his pitch started he was on the walkway, then he moved up to the porch. When I told him we were not interested he put his foot between my door and the jamb. He was irate, going on about how is he suppose to support his family when mean b@@***s like me, won't buy his stuff. I slammed the door.

We have a great backyard that all the kids in our culdesac love to play in. And I will take all the precautions I can when it comes to my childrens lives. It just takes one time...

Posted by: contentmom | December 17, 2008 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Some kids just can't stand being cooped up inside, and they'll turn into escape artists. One of my sisters was like that, and our parents blamed her for lots of gray hair!

Fortunately, my boys weren't outdoor nuts, but the older one was a serious problem-solver, and if he'd wanted to go outside, I doubt we'd have been able to keep him in without nailing the doors closed. Come to think of it, we did nail his 2nd-floor bedroom windows closed after he tried to push a cat out because he wanted her off his bed.

His problem-solving usually got applied to food/snacks. We lost a couple of cookie jars off the top of the refrigerator before he was two. It took us a while to figure out that he was using a dining room chair to get onto the counter, and from there climbing onto the refrigerator, getting his cookies, and leaving the jar on the door - which meant the empty jar crashed to the floor when the next person opened the refrigerator. Sneaky little guy was putting the chair back at the table after he'd eaten all the cookies!

***Off-topic*** pushy salesmen technique:
DH says he's sorry, but we're having a financial crunch and he doesn't want to write the guy a check that will only bounce. Then he asks for a business card, implying that we'll want to make a purchase later when we have money - then with the card in his hand, informs the jerk that he's going to phone his supervisor, so management will know how rude and aggressive the jerk's behavior was, and how poorly he's representing the company. Usually, this gets a hasty apology. If it doesn't, that company gets an earful. Either way, our neighbors get a nice and polite visitor, and we don't get a repeat visit.

Posted by: SueMc | December 17, 2008 3:10 PM | Report abuse

What I need is an alarm that plays a recorded message after the door has been opened that says, "Close the door! Do you think you live in a barn???"

I'm tired of saying it 30 times a day!

Posted by: WhackyWeasel

I had to laugh at that one, our house, it's either "Close the door, you're letting bugs in!" or "Close the door, you're wasting electricity!"

And moxiemom1, we don't have a pool either because of the possibility of danger...if we do get one, it won't be until both kids know how to swim, depending on whether or not our town builds a public pool first. The nearest public pools are all 12 miles away, the fees are outrageous when you add gas mileage to them, and two of them are overrun by local riffraff whose parents don't even bother to watch them. One public pool in the county seat is located down the street from a public housing offense to those parents who live there who actually PARENT their kids, but the majority of the kids at this particular one don't. The last time we went there, we were treated to teenagers MOONING the traffic on the street, and they didn't quit until the cops showed up! There's talk of putting a public pool in this town when they finish the addition to the park, but that's been in the works for years, and I'm not holding my breath! If they don't have it built by the time our younger child learns to swim, we'll probably have one built in the yard.

And to those parents whose children are Houdini reincarnated, I hear oldest went through that stage as well! If you locked something up, she'd try to unlock it (she even managed to break into the knife drawer despite a childproof latch and use one of the steak knives to saw through the bolo locks we had on the pantry more than once!), or if you hid something, she'd find it. We tried every form of punishment from yelling at her to spanking her, and it didn't even faze her. She's finally growing out of that now, but we still have some heavy-duty locks on some of the doors. Closet door toppers, eye-hook combos, and chains with either padlocks (on the pantry that has our baking supplies and occasional bag of chips in it) or combination locks (back door leading to the deck because she figured out the deadbolt lock on the door at age 5) on doors. The front door has a sliding chain latch at the top, and we're thinking of installing deadbolts on the doors just as a security measure (let's face it, a burglar knows how to defeat any doorknob lock). She still has her moments where she swipes our stuff (I can't keep goodies for myself in my nightstand, and hiding scissors is an event I'd like to see in the Olympics), but all we have to do is toss her room and we find the missing contraband. That results in loss of TV privileges and/or extra chores.

Simply saying "NO!" doesn't work with some kids, especially when they hit the age where talking back and disobeying is a major hobby with them. Installing extra locks (sometimes to the point where you actually have to use chains and some form of padlock when they outgrow the plastic locks but are still determined to master the art of breaking and entering), fencing the yard if it isn't already (whoever said chain link was a good fencing material never had kids-they skinny right over that stuff), and setting boundaries with punishments that at least make an impression (those of us who wandered off from our parents as kids and got the whaling of our lives for it know what I mean) only takes the edge off. Dealing with miniature Houdinis with wanderlust is a never-ending marathon!

Posted by: dragondancer1814 | December 17, 2008 3:43 PM | Report abuse

***Off-topic*** pushy salesmen technique:

Posted by: SueMc | December 17, 2008 3:10 PM | Report abuse

Who knew there were toxic salesmen in California?

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 17, 2008 4:14 PM | Report abuse

Yes, our kids too aren't supposed to open the door, but they do. My younger one is the one I'm more concerned about - he walks in his sleep sometimes (at least that's what I think it is - i don't think he's up). We do put our alarm on each evening, and my DH has indicated that if he were to go out during the night that the alarm would go off. Not ideal, but it has made me stay a little more sane.

I don't like them opening the door after the doorbell rings, either, unless there's an adult there. But, sometimes they do. I think they're starting to learn that one, though, but there are no guarantees.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | December 17, 2008 5:16 PM | Report abuse

Who knew there were toxic salesmen in California?

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 17, 2008 4:14 PM |

99.999% of Californians - next silly question?

Posted by: SueMc | December 17, 2008 6:40 PM | Report abuse

Herndon - Your comment opened with: "I find it amazing that none of you has mentioned the "don't open the d*!$ door" rule"

The rest of us took that as assumed. But the d------ kids still open the d----- door anyway. And we deal with the consequences and pray that they aren't fatal.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | December 18, 2008 12:24 AM | Report abuse

fr interestingidea1234:

>nice link PakeMommy.

looks like the gays aren't the only ones not fit to be parents.

Care to explain that last little jab??? Back it up with REPUTABLE sites, please. Sorry, whirlednutsdaily and anything by the "fotf" and "afa" cults do not qualify as reputable.

Posted by: Alex511 | December 18, 2008 9:51 AM | Report abuse

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