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We have a one year-old son who we can't keep out of the kitchen. When someone is in the kitchen, he likes to come and stand next to them, grab onto their legs and try to reach things on the counter. Obviously this is not safe as there are knives, hot liquids, etc. that could easily injure him in an accident. We try to move him out of the kitchen as quickly as possible while saying "no", but he usually just comes crawling right back. This can make it almost impossible to work in the kitchen when only one person is at home and sometimes we have to let him stay under-foot just to get things done.

Unfortunately, we live in a small studio so there is no natural separation between the living/dining room and the kitchen and it is not possible to install a baby-gate or any kind of barrier.

Any suggestions for how to approach this problem?

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    +1 for concern over your child's safety and defining the limiting circumstances of building design. Is a play area to keep him in during cooking times not possible? Or since you use "we", could one person be assigned to him and the other to cooking? – Sylas Seabrook Dec 1 '14 at 2:19
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    This is a source of constant frustration for my wife and I. We don't have a door to the kitchen that we can put up a gate in, and recently our son has started playing with the oven since it doesn't lock. Our only option, to Mad Eye Moody's delight, is constant vigilance. – user11394 Dec 1 '14 at 3:47
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I would suggest a Mother's Helper (also called a Kitchen Helper). This allows your toddler to hang out in the kitchen with you - and even help out with simple tasks, which in my opinion is a great start to being a helper with kitchen tasks like doing the dishes or cooking.

Kitchen Helper

The toddler stands inside of it, and is able to reach the counter (put it where that is a safe thing of course!). It's much smaller than a playpen, so good for conserving space, and lets the toddler feel like he/she is helping mommy/daddy. You can give him/her a spoon and a bowl with something to stir, for example, or even just some of his/her normal toys that won't get too involved if the current cooking project isn't something that small hands can "help" with.

Picture from Amazon.com

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  • This is also useful for up to preschool age, and encourages/enables kids to be involved with food preparation in a safe location. Great tip! – Acire Dec 1 '14 at 17:21
  • As a side note, I have a (currently) 20 month old, and he's helped me on the kitchen on numerous occasions; he and his 3 year old brother do the dishes from time to time, and they help mix batter for pancakes and put chocolate chips in (carefully!). – Joe Dec 1 '14 at 22:56
  • You can also put them in their high chair, strapped in, if they want to watch, or give them 'kitchen stuff' (bowls, stirring spoons, storage containers) to play with on the floor. – Ida Dec 3 '14 at 0:37
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If you can't separate the area there's little you can do. Toddlers do follow parents whenever they can, for us it happens even if one parent is engaged in play with the child and the other does something - our LO will "switch" and go from one parent to another with no apparent reason.

You can try to ignore the child disturbing your work in kitchen whenever it's safe. Never pick him up, never entertain him in any way. In time, he may learn that kitchen is not a place to "play" with parents. He'll still do it, but the interruptions may become less interrupting:)

A playpen is always an option, possibly a tourist-portable one. You can't separate the kitchen from the rest of the apartment, but you can separate the baby from it. Your son will most likely not like it, but you'll get something done in the kitchen.

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    Definitely a plus for a playpen. It's so worth it anyway. – SrJoven Dec 1 '14 at 12:27
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    The child pesters the parent who is working because, ideally, they want attention from both parents. All the time! When we have grandparents visiting my daughter is a bit put out if any of the four of us leave the room! – James Bradbury Dec 1 '14 at 12:56
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    +1 For ignoring when safe. My daughter has learned to be a bit patient when one of her parents is cooking. – James Bradbury Dec 1 '14 at 12:58
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    +1 for the ignore when safe part. My nephew loves to pull out all the 'toys' from the bottom drawer, and since it keeps him happy and busy, and none of those things are dangerous (measuring cups, etc.) we let him have at it. This keeps him from trying to reach for more dangerous things. – Bobo Dec 1 '14 at 16:45
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My kitchen also has an "open" plan, so a baby gate wasn't an option. If a playpen or other enclosure isn't possible, or if your son is too distraught at being "abandoned," consider putting him on your back. A back-carrying position keeps a toddler satisfied at being attended to, but away from any dangerous kitchen activities. This can be achieved with a backpack (which can a bit on the expensive side) or a cloth wrap.

picture of baby riding on parent's back
picture from WrapYourBaby.com, which also includes instructions and video

I personally found back-carrying to be the simplest solution when I needed to putter around the kitchen with a baby. I avoided things like frying (risk of grease splatter), but I found most typical kitchen tasks could be easily accomplished with little to no worry.

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You don't need a door to the kitchen in order to divide it off - you can get little baby-fences that are kind of like baby-gates but wider.

Example:

BabyDan Configure Gate

That's a 'BabyDan Configure Gate' but there's a bunch of different brands. With most of them you can buy extra modules to go on each end, to make it as long as you like.

Of course you can make the gap narrower first with some judicious placement of cupboards / booksheves / etc.

Erica's suggestion of a sling is good as well, of course.

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    The problem with these are that by the time the child is 2 or so he/she probably will figure out how to either climb over them or open the door (my 3 yo learned both around 2). Safety gates in general tend to state 2yo as the upper age limit for that reason (they become unsafe when the child can climb over). – Joe Dec 1 '14 at 21:06
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    But a 2-year-old is also smarter than a 1-year-old, and less likely to hurt himself since he understands (to some extent) that knives are sharp, dropped glass shatters, ovens are hot, etc. Also, while our now 3-year-old would be entirely capable of scaling the gate, he also understands that a closed gate means he's not welcome in the kitchen right now, and doesn't even try to get in. – lambshaanxy Dec 2 '14 at 5:31
  • @Joe, depends on the child IMO. Ours were generally ok with firm admonitions not to climb on the gate, whereas some of our friends has more vigorous kids who they just wouldn't have been able to keep off it. Also the different kinds of gates have different kinds of locks - of course anything that's harder for the kid to open is also a total pain for adults to open. The best ones have locks that need finger strength to open so it's physically impossible for small children because they just aren't strong enough. – A E Dec 2 '14 at 11:18

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