How do we get our kids to lock the door?
February 24, 2014 1:56 AM   Subscribe

We have always lived in secure places and rarely locked our front door (a metal screen and a wooden door), but today our 2 year old demonstrated vividly that she can open the stiff high handle on the door and make it to the lift lobby fast. We need to socially engineer the rest of our family to keep the damn door properly locked all the time now. And to hide the key that the toddler is obsessed with and able to use.

There are six adults and teens going in and out of the house, and given that they sometimes forget to even close the gate, let alone lock it, and have lost keys frequently, we can't rely on them to take the extra hassle of locking up.

What are ways you've socially engineered for people to remember to lock-up? Posters next to the door, an alarm that rings, rewards etc? Also, is the cost of a fancy fingerprint lock worth the ease of usage?

Please note ahead of comments that she is very aware that going out alone is wrong and gets her in huge trouble, but as her strategy is to wait until people aren't watching to do this and we already have to lock her in at night in our room because she was sneaking out to play/raid the fridge, we are not relying on her brilliant behaviour and our great parenting to keep her safe. We need LOCKS.
posted by viggorlijah to Human Relations (32 answers total)
The kind of lock that locks automatically when the door is shut, mounted high enough that kiddo can't reach the latch. You'll have problems with everyone else locking themselves out for a while, but hopefully a few hours sitting on the doorstep will cure them.

In addition, teaching the kid her address and your phone number!
posted by emilyw at 2:10 AM on February 24, 2014 [5 favorites]

Sorry, to add: She climbs. She uses furniture to climb and has no hesitation about going 12 feet up to get something, so putting a lock high up will not deter her.
posted by viggorlijah at 2:12 AM on February 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

An option might be a double sided keypad lock (note: I know nothing about this website, just showing what's available). The people in the household just need to remember a code, it will lock automatically, and they enter the code from either side, OR use a key. There are mechanical and electronic versions available.
posted by HermitDog at 2:21 AM on February 24, 2014 [5 favorites]

Your child sounds fantastic! I hope you can take her for climbing lessons somewhere.

Just wanted to point out that it sounds like any good solution to your problem could also be a fire hazard, if your bevy of adults need to leave in a hurry.

Hang a bell in the doorway, like a shop bell? Or perhaps it would be possible to rig two spring loaded door handles such that they both have to be used at the same time, and they are too far apart for little arms to reach.
posted by emilyw at 2:26 AM on February 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Since the goal here, as you have stated it, is to change the behaviour of the other adult-ish residents of the house, I would focus on them first (as you suggest in your question), and let a toddler be a toddler for the limited time she gets to be a toddler on this planet.

There has to be some way to personify the risk of leaving the damn door unlocked etc.

Why not make keychains with a laminated picture of the toddler smiling. Make it a largish picture, or least visible and not easy to get used to.

Maybe, if you can, include a picture of your toddler taken together with the person provided with a key (each keychain would be a different picture of a different person posing with the kid). This way the risk becomes more concrete, and they remember "hey, I like this kid, I gotta lock the door.

Make it a lanyard or something.

Have a big meeting where you serve cake and juice, and formally hand over the keys. Have the members, at the meeting, make a simple pledge, in 10 words or less, stating "when I leave the apartment/house I will lock the door to protect ?toddlername."

I wonder if this would work.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:19 AM on February 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Getting people to change their behaviour is hard.

Instead, change the conditions to ensure the behaviour you want. Install a deadlock.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:20 AM on February 24, 2014

I like emilyw's idea of two door handles that have to both be used, but I have a feeling that even if it was set so that she couldn't open both with her hands, she'd somehow manage to get her feet in use to open one while she turned the other with her hands.

And since my front door requires me to turn the door handle while also turning the key in the deadlock, it can be a real pain to have to turn two things with one hand if you can't quite reach both. My husband can open the door one-handed (using his elbow to turn the door handle while his hand turns the key), I have to put everything down and then open with both hands.

A magnetic lock with a keypad might work, but that would probably require a bit more installation and work - not to mention that it probably wouldn't take much for her to learn the sequence (if not the exact numbers, then which buttons are pressed in which order).
posted by Katemonkey at 3:24 AM on February 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I like the double sided keypad idea a lot. We use a single sided one and love it - no need to remember/fumble with a key. Though as pointed out above, for fire safety reasons there should be a key near by.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 3:57 AM on February 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

It might be helpful to teach the kid and the adults that there's a leaving the house routine. For me, it's just to check that I have my cell phone, keys and wallet but once you have a routine, it's easy enough to add to it to lock the door. Maybe you can frame it in terms of "this is what big girls do" to make it more appealing to the kid. As for the adults, you could put a bowl where people can drop their keys near a sign hat says "phone, wallet, keys, lock the door."
posted by kat518 at 4:18 AM on February 24, 2014

I like KokoRyu's idea of sitting down with the household's adults and teenagers and discussing the importance of locking the front door for the safety of [toddler]. Adults and teenagers are simply too old to be consistently forgetting to secure the front door of their home anyway. Perhaps a small sign on the inside of the front door reminding people to lock it on their way out would help?

Because seriously:

There are six adults and teens going in and out of the house, and given that they sometimes forget to even close the gate, let alone lock it, and have lost keys frequently, we can't rely on them to take the extra hassle of locking up.

These behaviors, especially forgetting to shut the gate (!!!) are mind-bogglingly irresponsible. This behavior needs to be corrected ASAP.

posted by schroedingersgirl at 5:18 AM on February 24, 2014 [9 favorites]

I'd be wary of an auto-lock mechanism because you know there's going to be a moment when an adult dashes out for a moment (mail/garbage/etc) and that door will auto-lock. Then Baby V will be free to raid the fridge and steal your credit cards.

Signs and photos are a good start, but there also should be consequences for both adults and teens for not locking the door, starting now. For the teens, loss of activities/screen time/money is the place to start. The adults should have things pulled together, but a fine of $25USD (or equivalent) for each infraction would drive the point home quickly.

KokuRyu's pledge is a great idea and it's easy to add to. "When I leave the apartment/house I will lock the door to protect ?toddlername... OR ELSE (consequence)."
posted by kimberussell at 5:44 AM on February 24, 2014

Just wanted to pop in to share a story about this. When I was a child, we lived with my grandmother, who ran a daycare center out of the home. I had my own room there, and it was my space. The rule of the house was that if a door was open, a kid could go in, but if it was closed, they were off-limits. (This was helpful for things like bathrooms, napping rooms, my grandparents' bedroom, etc.) One three-year-old was very interested in me and everything about me, and he'd just gaze longingly at that door. He wanted to go in and play, but he knew the rules. One day, while I was clear on the other side of the house, I had an inkling that I'd failed to close my door, and made a mad dash across the house to close it before Tommy could get in. I arrived there just in time to see him at the end of the hallway, closing the door himself, and saying, "You have to close the door or Tommy will go in there!"

The moral of this story is, you can teach kids things and they'll internalize them, even if they don't understand why. I'm sure you don't leave her alone, so there's always going to be at least one teen or adult in the house left with her. Make it a habit, whoever is with her, to always go to the door together after someone leaves and check, "Is the door locked? Did Katie lock the door today?" If the door was not locked behind the last person who left, lock the door together. Make sure that everyone in the house is on board with this game, and do it daily. Teach her to report on door locking at the end of the day, because nothing shames a teenager into compliance like a toddler telling them they forgot to lock the door. (Not sure about the adults, but teens, yeah, that'd be good and shameful.) Just because we as adults understand what it means to lock and unlock a door for egress/ingress doesn't mean she does; she knows she can waltz out an unlocked door, but she doesn't understand that the reason she can do that is because it's unlocked. She just goes.
posted by juniperesque at 6:12 AM on February 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

I think a lock with a keypad would soon be observed and imitated by your incredibly clever toddler. Likewise, using an RFID controlled lock would lead to a stolen keypass or swipecard. I think the idea of biometric identifiers such as a fingerprint is the best and most secure option for you right now. Policing the established behaviour of six adults and teens will soon drive you crazy.
posted by saucysault at 6:12 AM on February 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

My coworker ties the house key to her kids' backpacks. A long lanyard or piece of string that's knotted to one of the zipper pulls or pockets inside their bags keeps the key attached to the bag at all times, so it's harder for them to lose it.
posted by PearlRose at 6:15 AM on February 24, 2014

Maybe sit down with all the adults/teens and say "We need to keep the door locked so that Toddler V stays safe. We're all having trouble remembering. What do you suggest that would enable you to lock the door every time?" Then collectively come up with something (or several somethings, if different things work for different people, so that you have some group buy-in rather than a solution you come up with from the outside. (If you think people will only suggest terrible solutions, let them talk for a while and only then make your suggestion - it may actually be the best and people may buy into it if they have had a chance to talk through their own ideas.)

I also like the idea of a penalty.

IME, although unfortunately solutions to domestic problems do not always work, solutions that originate from the problem-causers are more likely to work, both because people can structure solutions that they are more likely to use and because the conversation helps them to remember.
posted by Frowner at 6:30 AM on February 24, 2014

People are faulty so relying on them is always dangerous. Better to change the environment/system so that you never have to say, "Well, as long as the people are reliable this will work...".

That said, if you really want to try to change the behavior of people, it needs to be a habit. I always lock up when I leave, and I've only once locked myself out in the past 10 years because I have muscle memory to 1) set the lock horizontal inside, 2) step out, 3) pat my left pocket (to feel for the keys), 4) pull the door shut. It's so ingrained to the point that I find myself patting my pocket before pulling shut lots of random doors that don't even have locks.

Habit requires repetition. So maybe bring everyone together, sit them down and explain the importance of the situation, and then drill them? Come up with a simple 3 or 4 step process for closing and locking, and then make everyone go through the motions several times in a row, verbalizing the steps. It will probably require a few days of doing this to internalize it, but that should help the process.

Without it being a subconscious habit there's no way this works. People will step out lost in thought all the time and no matter the signs that are there they can miss them.
posted by losvedir at 6:38 AM on February 24, 2014

I don't have anything to suggest, but just want to note that posters or signs next to the door are probably NOT what you are looking for. When my brother and I were teens, my father tried to get us to check for open windows before leaving the house by using signs. It was a total failure. You see the signs for the first few days, but after that they just blend into "what the wall beside the front door looks like" and you stop seeing the sign as a sign at all.

Until your friends come over and ask why there are all-caps signs all over your house. Then you notice them for about five incredibly embarrassing minutes, before promptly forgetting about them again.
posted by snorkmaiden at 7:06 AM on February 24, 2014 [5 favorites]

We solved this problem with a sticky note on the door.
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:15 AM on February 24, 2014

I think you need a lock with a spring. I think your chances of changing six adults' habits are low; fix the door, not the people. Get something like this: Night Bolt and Locking Cylinder. People will lock themselves out a few times (I know I did!) but you can always hide a key in the garden somewhere.
posted by mskyle at 7:30 AM on February 24, 2014

If the adults/teens have smartphones, they can use location-based "when I leave home" reminders to prompt them to think about whether they've locked the door after leaving.
posted by drlith at 7:39 AM on February 24, 2014

mskyle: "I think you need a lock with a spring. I think your chances of changing six adults' habits are low; fix the door, not the people. Get something like this: Night Bolt and Locking Cylinder. People will lock themselves out a few times (I know I did!) but you can always hide a key in the garden somewhere."

Seconded. As for changing habits, the habit of not locking oneself out will be a lesson that everyone will learn for themselves, since the consequences will affect them directly.

That will work much better than trying to prevent totally accidental lapses in door-locking in order to prevent a hypothetical toddler-escape. No-one means to forget, but it happens -- that's a lot of people in and out of a house.

(Also, can you move furniture so that the child doesn't have anything to use as a ladder?)
posted by desuetude at 8:05 AM on February 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Why don't you add an alarm to the door? That way, when she tries to go out, there's a loud alarm that goes off alerting you to her escape attempt (and reminding her that it's wrong to go out). Something like this pool door alarm. There are similar things sold for seniors with dementia.

If she's figured out the door handle, I imagine she can figure out the lock as well, so having the other adults/teens lock the door doesn't seem like a solution (though they should just do that anyway). A door that must be unlocked from the inside with a key could solve your problem, but unless you have another means of egress, I'd be concerned with fire safety.

Other than these ideas, maybe you can block her access to the room with the outside door by confining her to the room you're in with a baby gate or locked interior doors. Even if you get this issue solved, she might turn her mischievousness to some other outlet, which may be even more dangerous (playing with the stove, for example). I'd personally not feel comfortable letting a precocious child like this out of my sight (and potentially even hire a mother's helper for the times I'm home but can't necessarily give her full attention).

Often when there are more adults around, toddlers can get hurt much easier because everyone assumes someone else is watching the kid. There are six people in your house who are old enough to care for a child (or even have children of their own). Someone is dropping the watch-the-toddler ball here. I think the problem goes beyond what locks can solve.
posted by melissasaurus at 8:20 AM on February 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

I hope this isn't bypassing the question, but when we had this problem with our toddler, and went for the cheapest option. Doorknob covers. We lock the doors behind us when we leave, but we keep the doors unlocked when we're home.

The issue is that our kid figured out, right after learning how to open an unlocked door, how to actually unlock the door, because that was stopping him from opening the door. Extra/intricate locks might not be the best plan and might wind up being expensive. Extra locks just become a problem to be solved (which was funny for like, two days).

Adults and non-toddlers can figure out doorknob covers easy enough, but the toddler has yet to figure out how to open the door with that contraption on there. It's like a $5 fix.
posted by furnace.heart at 9:21 AM on February 24, 2014

Thanks for all the suggestions so far! We're going to look at a double-sided keypad door handle to replace the front gate, and we've just ordered some safetytat tattoos for another layer of security. She removed her previous ID bracelets and tags.

Some quick answers:
1. We've tried the visual reminders, but it's true that they get ignored after a while.
2. The pool alarm is a great idea, but either it would go off all the time and get ignored after a while or need a child-proof keypad. Putting things up high is not an option as she will stack and climb furniture to reach high-up things. She has opened cupboards to drag out a ladder and climbed it to reach something interesting.
3. Doorknob covers get pried off with fingers and a butter knife. We have given up on safety locks and rely on a safe and putting dangerous things buried behind a cupboard.
4. She is supervised constantly, but she is aware that if she wants to do something forbidden, she has to sneak away quietly and she will do this. She is very fast, more than most toddlers.
5. Not all of them have smartphones.
6. We live in an extremely low-crime area where most families leave doors unlocked, and where children are allowed to wander around alone.
7. She opened the front gate by climbing above it and pushing down on the stiff lever with her foot, then holding on while it swung open, hopping down and racing to the lift lobby. This happened while two adults were in the same room. It took 20 seconds tops.
posted by viggorlijah at 9:58 AM on February 24, 2014

We duct taped the child door knob covers together so toddler can get it off. Also we switched to those magnetic cabinet latches. We had to take all the magnets away and only the "key" will open them.
posted by saradarlin at 10:45 AM on February 24, 2014

This is a big problem with kids (and adults) with autism. You could try browsing some tips for those families and see if there's anything that sounds like it would work with you guys. For example.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:56 PM on February 24, 2014

The kindergarten my kids went to had two lever door handles, one near the top of the door and one near the bottom, that had to be engaged at the same time to open the door. You needed an adult's arm-span to do it. As far as I know they haven't had an escape in 40 years.

Your toddler sounds extremely clever and active. A friend of mine had to be bolted into his cot before he was two because if he got out he might actually be next found on the roof of the house. His mother had someone make a grill that locked on to the top of his cot so it was a baby cage, really. A play-pen with a lid. He is still a person who can't keep still, who has to climb anything he sees, and he makes his living by team sports coaching at the elite level.
posted by glasseyes at 1:00 PM on February 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

My doors had duct-tape over the knobs and locks for a while, but thankfully there were only two adults using them. I did sometimes resort to pushing heavy furniture (i.e. a couch) in front of the door at nighttime. I have no idea what I would have done were there other people in the household, I just want to sympathize... nobody else I know has anywhere near this level of Houdini-child, yours sounds very similar to mine.
posted by celtalitha at 10:51 PM on February 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

In terms of social engineering, perhaps you could all sit down and watch Jurassic Park? One of the most dramatic scenes deals with the realisation that velociraptors can open the doors, and locks are consequently very important. I saw this movie in 1993 and I still sometimes think about it when I'm not sure if I've locked the door or not, so it might well help your family to keep this issue front-of-mind.
posted by escapepod at 2:28 AM on February 25, 2014

We will be upgrading our gate to a fingerprint or keypad door lock, with the lock on the inside, one that automatically locks when closed. For the time it takes us to get the correct one installed, we got a resettable combination-lock bicycle chain to wind round the gate, brightly coloured and with a reminder on it to lock it. Every other lock solution suggested either couldn't be installed on our particular type of gate (we have to use this one for building codes) or we could figure out a way to break it.

We're also teaching her our phone numbers as well as getting the temporary safety tattoos that she will have applied fresh each week.

I also picked up a dog leash and reworked an old dog choke collar into a comfortably-fitting super strong wrist bracelet for her (half-choke, so I used the very short chain as a bracelet, clipping the leash to the two D rings to fit perfectly. As she grows, I can sew on adjustable lengths of strong ribbon to widen it. This gives enough slack that it doesn't bite but also can't go over her hand), as she is able to undo the regular buckles on her old backpack harness, undo velcro and pull apart duct tape, previously used, so we have a wrist harness that she can't escape as she also decided today that she will go where she likes, shouting "goodbye!" as she flees into a crowd.

Thanks for all the suggestions! It was interesting to see how divided opinion is.
posted by viggorlijah at 2:37 AM on February 26, 2014

Not that you asked, but I've seen child safety harnesses that fasten in the back. I think this is one, and this. I don't know about either product, just showing them as examples.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:27 AM on February 26, 2014

she will go where she likes, shouting "goodbye!" as she flees into a crowd.
Oh dear! Still, when she's winning medals it'll be a good story to tell round the tv when you're watching.
posted by glasseyes at 9:37 AM on February 27, 2014

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