Childproofing an RV is a unique challenge compared to a regular home, particularly when your child is in the walking and exploratory toddler years. From securing screen doors and steps to ensuring the safety of bunk beds, this guide offers practical solutions for common concerns in an RV setting. As a father of a little one, I know the importance of making an RV camping trip stress-free and safe for young ones. I have compiled some easy-to-implement tips and insights from my real-world experiences to transform your RV into a kid-friendly space.
For a quick summary with essential tips on childproofing your RV, consider these key points:
- Secure Doors and Windows: Ensure all doors, including screen doors and windows, are secure to prevent accidental opening.
- Safe Sleeping Areas: Modify bunk beds with appropriate railings and ensure cribs are safely installed.
- Kitchen Safety: Use stove knob covers and secure drawers and cabinets with childproof latches.
- Bathroom Safety: Keep medications and toiletries out of reach, and consider a non-slip mat in the shower.
- General Safety: Cover sharp corners and edges, secure loose items during transit, and have a designated safe play area for toddlers.
Each tip is designed to make your RV a safer environment for children, especially toddlers who are exploring. For more detailed explanations and additional tips, keep reading.
RVing with a baby or kids older than five is pretty simple, aside from the normal everyday worries. However, the time between when your little one starts walking and through the exploratory toddler years can create a stressful situation for RV camping trips. Simple things that you may not have considered a problem, like screen doors, steps, bunk beds, etc., soon become a concern for your little one’s safety.
Luckily, you’re not the first person to go through this struggle. There are many simple steps that you can take to make your RV safer for your little camping buddies. To ensure that camping is fun and safe for the whole family, let’s look at some of the following tips to make your RV kid-friendly.
Bunk beds and sleeping
If you purchased an RV with kids in mind, the chances are that you opted for a bunk bed. Bunk RV floorplans are widely popular for family campers. However, the one thing nobody ever tells you about bunk beds is how to prevent your little one from rolling out of them. This can be one of the biggest challenges you face with a new RV and young kids.
It seems like some RV manufacturers go out of their way to make finding a solution to this concern near impossible. Luckily, some ingenious RVing parent have crafted up some great solutions to help you solve this problem.
Before we get into the solutions, I’ll share one tip: reserve the bottom bunk for the youngest kid and the top for the older, more sound sleeper. While you can craft top bunk solutions for toddlers, it’s much easier to reduce the risk of injury by confining them to the lower bunk. Here are some solutions:
Baby Gate Option
If you’re lucky enough to have two solid sides marking the entrance to the bunk bed, a really easy solution is to bring along your traditional baby gate (or purchase one for the RV) and secure it in the bunk bed opening when you put your kid to bed. Baby gates are probably the easiest solution if you have the right bunk setup.
However, many RVers have a challenging corner bunk setup. The problem is that the opening is at an angle, and it’s almost impossible to secure a tension-style baby gate. However, you can get a little creative by flipping the baby gate 90 degrees and installing it with the tension ends on the top and bottom of the bunk. Voilà! You now have a secure barrier between the bunk bed and a drop to the floor.
Retractable gate solution
Like the baby gate, you can use a retractable gate to keep your little one secured in the bunk. These gates get mounted to the wall with screws, but they make opening and closing the barrier super easy and provide quick access to the bunk area. They’re also usually made from mesh, so the bunk bed won’t look and feel like a mini jail. On a corner bunk, you can usually mount these on the flat wall on the interior of the bunk. Even though the opening may be at an angle, it shouldn’t be a problem because the gate is flexible.
Another popular solution is to install a regular bed guard. With some bunk setups, you may find that the guard is too long for your opening. Be sure to measure the opening and guard. You may also be able to purchase a wooden guard, and you can cut it down to size to accommodate the opening to the bunk bed.
This pillow is an easy solution and one that may work well if your main concern is your little one rolling out of bed while they sleep. You may even have a big, curved pregnancy pillow at home. These pillows make great barriers, preventing your child from rolling out of bed. They’re curved, so you can easily get them to block the bunk opening while still secure enough to prevent your child from pushing it out while they sleep. We used this solution for my daughter, and it worked great.
Also, if you’re little one isn’t ready for a bed, a pack and play makes a great temporary bed for your toddler. If a pack and play is just too big, there are smaller solutions that you can purchase online such as portable cribs, inflatable mattresses, etc. Below are a few good examples.
Screen Doors and steps
If you thought about this concern before buying your RV or having a new baby, then congratulations. Unfortunately, most RVing parents discover this problem the first time they catch their toddler leaning against the screen door as they run over in a panic, trying to prevent them from opening it.
The screen door was one of the things that I never considered as a potential safety issue for my daughter. Luckily, several good solutions exist to keep your screen door open and kid in the RV. The great thing is that some of these solutions also double as pet protectors, preventing your furry friend from escaping out the front door. Here are some solutions:
Stairs safety handle latch
Here’s an easy solution for curious toddlers if you have a security handle for your RV steps. After opening the main door, simply reach through the slide opening and pull the handle into your tow/drive position. This setup will position the handle so the screen door won’t open. In addition, it adds a little extra security preventing small kids from inadvertently pushing through the screen door and tumbling down the steps. You can install an aftermarket handle if you don’t have one.
The Lippert Screen Defender is a great product inspired by RV pet owners. It’s also a great option for parents who want to childproof the screen door. For small kids, I also suggested adding an extra latch. The Screen Defender Entry Door Screen Protector is a black, powder-coated aluminum screen that helps ensure your pet and kids can’t damage or break through your existing entry screen door. It’s available in different sizes to fit pretty much any RV screen door.
The Perma Child Retractable Baby Gate is a great solution that is there when you need it but hidden when you don’t. This barrier was a great solution for my young daughter when she was too small to be trusted by the screen door. The one thing that you need to be aware of before installing this is to ensure that you have two opposing verticle surfaces where you can install it. We were able to install it against the interior wall and cabinet without a problem. The retractable gate is 33 inches long and can extend up to 71 inches. It’s also a great option for keeping pets away from the front door.
Cabinets and drawers
For the most part, cabinets and drawers are less concerning in an RV than in a house. This is partly because most cabinets and appliances are securely attached to the walls. The drawers and cabinets will likely have hardware that requires extra force to open them, keeping them more secure for traveling.
However, if you have some areas of concern and want to child-proof them, simply pick up some kid-proof cabinet locks that you would use at your residential home. The added benefit is that they will also double as an added safety latch when you’re traveling. You may even choose to add them to an overhead cabinet for this reason. Security latches will give you peace of mind as your child navigates that RV.
Outlets and plugs
Keeping little hands and fingers away from electrical outlets is no different in an RV than at home. Luckily, RVs have much fewer outlets to worry about. However, childproofing them is always a good idea. While you don’t need to go overboard with this, a good strategy is to locate the most accessible outlets for your toddler and simply use safety plugs or outlet covers. For example, in my travel trailer, only a handful of outlets were within my daughter’s reach.
Sinks and showers/tubs
You may have realized after using your RV that hot water is a precious resource if you have a standard water heater. However, the water can get pretty hot when running only the hot faucet. Most traditional RV water heaters will have a single setting. If you’re lucky, you may have a model that allows you to adjust the water temperature.
The hot water can be a concern when camping with young children, especially if it’s hot enough to cause scalding. While most people simply run a hot and cold water mix to get the right temperature, parents need to worry about young kids turning on just the hot. So, if you can’t adjust the temperature on the water heater, what should you do?
One simple option is to use your bypass valve (the one you close when winterizing your camper) to allow a little cold water to mix with the hot. Simply open the bypass valve just slightly, which will serve as a homemade mixing valve. First, you’ll want to test the water to ensure it’s still hot enough. Then, you make small adjustments to find the right temperature. You may also be able to install an adjustable thermostat.
If you don’t want to use the mixing valve method and want to keep your hot water hot, you’ll need to teach your kids how to adjust the cold and hot water together and spend more time monitoring them when they are taking charge of the water. Luckily, this is a short-lived problem, and as your little one grows, so will their experience with using the water. However, it’s always really important for parents to take control when it’s bath or shower time since it’s much easier to get scalded with the larger faucet.
Another thing that you may want to purchase is a toilet latch. Kids love water, but you don’t want them to create their own water playtime activities in the toilet- Yuck!
Switches and controls
If there’s a button to press, a curious toddler will want to press it. In addition to talking with your kids and informing them that the control center is off-limits, you can also purchase and install a control cover. While this may not be necessary for most parents, extra-curious kids may benefit from this added barrier. You don’t want to be watching TV while your toddler is retracting the slide.
Oven lock and stove
Just like at home, you want to practice kitchen safety in the RV. A must-have is an oven latch if your kid likes to pull on things as they maneuver around the RV. The other item that I highly suggest for all RVing parents is to purchase some child-proof knob covers for your RV stove. One of my biggest fears was having my toddler accidentally turn on the propane stove.
One of the best parts of camping is the campfire. Before having kids, it’s a relatively fun and relaxing experience. However, introduce a rambunctious two-year-old, and a stressful experience quickly replaces that relaxing atmosphere. Some parents may abandon the idea of a campfire altogether when they’re constantly worried about their little one getting too close or tripping into the fire. This is even true for older kids if they’re not familiar with campfire safety rules.
Fortunately, you can set up a safe campfire for the entire family with a little work. The first and most important tip is teaching your little one campfire safety. You may think they’re too young to understand, but even a toddler will pick it up quickly. Now is also a good opportunity to use your “I mean business” voice. Take some time to talk with them about fire and how it can cause a very big and painful boo-boo. You should plan to have this conversation before leaving for your trip, not as the campfire is going.
Kids are curious, and they like to push limits. However, this is one time where parents need to have firm boundaries. Practice with them what they can and can’t do around a fire. A great way to focus this conversation is to start with a few simple questions to make sure they understand the rules:
- Can you run around a campfire? No. Only walking at the campsite when there’s a fire.
- Can you go to the campfire by yourself? No, when by the campfire, you need to be with mommy/daddy at all times.
- Can you throw things into the fire? No, only grownups can add wood to the fire
It’s important to have this conversation multiple times. You should start at home, but you should repeat it when you get to the campsite (with no campfire) and then have it again when the fire is being built. With small children, repetition is very important.
In addition to talking with your child about campfire safety, there are other things that you can do to make the campfire area safer for everyone. Here are a few helpful tips:
Keep the campfire free of tripping hazards: You should keep an open space all around your campfire, so if someone walks near it, they can’t accidentally trip on something and potentially fall into it. This includes wood, kindling, chairs, etc.
Keep chairs back from the fire ring: Make sure that you model a safe distance from the campfire. With kids, I like to make sure that everyone has their own chair and that it’s back far enough from the fire that they can kick it, reach it, or feel the need to play with it.
Share supervision: Whenever your fire is going, there should always be an adult supervising the kids around the fire. It can be stressful, especially with younger kids new to camping. However, this job shouldn’t fall to just one person. Take turns with your partner. Always check with them when you’re getting up from the campfire or switching supervising duties.
Get long roasting sticks: If you’re planning to roast marshmallows, plan ahead and get some long sticks for the kids. You can even purchase some inexpensive extendable roasting sticks on Amazon for under $10. The further back from the flames that you can keep those little hands, the safer it will be.
Finally, remember that this stressful period doesn’t last forever. With each camping trip and new campfire, your little one will get better adjusted to campfire safety rules. It’s also wise to start teaching them early rather than simply avoiding the activity. Before you know it, you’ll have a little helper working with you to build a fire and teach others about being safe. Campfires are a great option for unwinding and having some quality time together as a family.
Car and traffic safety
The RV park can be an extremely fun place for young kids. However, depending on your child’s age, one of your top concerns may be keeping them safe outside at the campsite. As an adult, you may not have given a second thought to the cars driving through the campsite, the neighbors backing in their large fifth wheels, or golf carts zipping around. Some of the most dangerous areas at the campsite can be the edge of your site where it meets the road. While most RV parks have speed limits in place, not everyone abides by them. Also, large RVs may have a harder time seeing your little ones if they run out in from of them.
When my daughter was really little, one of the first things we did was talk about safety on the roads. We stressed, over and over, that she was not allowed near the road without an adult. We worked with her to define the areas where she could play but clearly marked the areas that are off-limits. Since every campsite is a little different, it’s a good idea to have the same conversation at the start of every trip. Also, remind them that if a ball or anything else goes out on the road, they need to get an adult to retrieve it.
Off-limit areas around the RV
Just like setting boundaries for the road, you’ll want to do the same for the RV. Kids love to explore, and explore they will. However, let them know where it’s safe to explore and where it isn’t. One place you’ll want to keep your curious kids out of is under the RV. While it’s extremely rare, an RV can shift if it’s not properly secured. You don’t want little hands and feet near tires or other moving parts of the RV.
Also, if you have a towable RV, you want to keep them away from the tongue jack. In fact, I suggest purchasing a jack cover to prevent little fingers from exploring the power switch of the jack. Likewise, you will want to limit your kid to the front side of the RV. The backside, in addition to being in your neighbor’s areas, is full of enticing pulls, buttons, and other gadgets used to connect your RV water, sewer, and electricity.
I like to set up a kid play area, which has all of their outdoor toys, and fun activities, and is out of the way from dangerous areas. A Picnic table makes a great home base for your kids (and you can usually move it where you want).
Setting up your RV
When I get to the campsite, the rule is always that my daughter stays in the tow vehicle until the camper is ready. I don’t want her around a moving vehicle while I back it in, and I also don’t want her around the RV until it is completely secured. While it’s easy to want to give in to an excited kid after a long RV road trip, this is one time that my Dad Voice comes out when camping. This is a good time to break out the iPad to keep them entertained.
Also, once I get the RV secured, I usually try to do a short walk around and through the RV, checking for anything that may have shifted when traveling. Make sure that all unsecured items are in a safe place. Also, check to make sure that no sharp objects shift to a place that’s within reach of your toddler.
Other Kid-friendly ideas
Install night lights: A little extra light around the RV at night is helpful for kids if they need to navigate to the bathroom or your bedroom. Since the RV may be new to your little one, an easy way to make it safer for them is to install a few plug-in night lights in strategic areas.
High Chairs and baby seats: Rather than lugging around a high chair, consider purchasing one that attaches to the table. This option is the best way to save space but also have a way for your kids to sit at the dinette or picnic table for family meals.
Pad sharp edges: RVs aren’t built with many safety features for kids. There are many areas for your small kids to trip, bump their heads, or get cuts and scrapes. If you have any sharp edges around your RV, it’s a good idea to pad them with some foam. Some common areas to check to are the edges of the beds and cabinets in the RVs interior and around doors and steps outside the RV. Pool noodles are great tools for getting a little extra padding.
By following some of the simple tips for child-proofing your RV, you can make your RV adventures fun and safe for the whole family. RVing shouldn’t be stressful, but it can be unless you take some steps to keep your kids safe. Before you even begin to make your travel plans, begin prepping your RV for camping for kids. You may need to purchase some additional supplies and have a game plan for the most important things when it comes to child safety.