Raising Children IN A HIGH-RISE.
"This is the life; it's totally convenient," boasts Bradley Gibson, a Chicago commodities broker who lives on the 13th floor of the Newport condominium with his wife Rhonda, and their 2-year-old daughter Hunter. "My free time is important to me, and I never have to pull out the lawnmower or the shovel. There is a supermarket right on the premises and I have valet parking."
Rhonda Flowers Gibson, a marketing and promotions executive who works from home, agrees with her husband about the convenience of residing in their Chicago condo. She adds that condominiums are havens for families with small children.
"We have many families in the building, which gives Hunter the opportunity to interact with other children her age," Rhonda Gibson says. "We have parents visit us with their children, and Hunter can visit their homes. And because I work from home, I'm occasionally the emergency baby-sitter. It works out for everyone."
Aside from the convenience, around-the-clock safety is also a perk for many high-rise families, according to the Fallis family, Washington D.C., natives who now live in a 34th floor condo on Chicago's lakefront. Melvin Fallis, vice president of Black Voices.com, a nationwide web site tailored for African-Americans, travels frequently and says that his condo living arrangement assures him that his family is safe when he leaves town. At-home mom Sheron Banks-Fallis agrees that she and the couple's 2-year-old-son Joshua always feel secure in their building.
"We didn't know the area well when we moved to the city, so security was a major issue for us," Banks-Fallis says. "Living in a condo is perfect because there is always a doorman or security guard on duty and there are family activities built-in on the premises for families like us who are not familiar with our surroundings."
Life can be good in a high-rise, but as with any living arrangement, certain precautions must be taken to provide a safe environment for your child. Because most children are two-parts curious, two-parts mischievous and can cross danger's path at the speed of greased lightning, constant supervision and strict home safety rules are necessary in order to ensure a safe high-rise home. Parents who live in high-rises or condominiums face different child-safety issues than single-family homeowners---obstacles that reach above and beyond covering electrical sockets.
One major safety concern that is unique to high-rise parents is the elevator, and both the Fallises and the Gibsons stress the importance of elevator safety. "Safety is very important because almost everything is dangerous," says Rhonda Gibson. "We taught our daughter the word `danger' before she was potty-trained and she knows not to go near the elevator unless we are present. And once inside the elevator, she knows what button to push." Banks-Fallis adds that it is important to begin working with your child immediately. "My son is only 2 years old, but he recognizes when we get to our floor because when we're on the elevator we count the numbers together to spark his awareness of where he is."
When rearing a child in a high-rise, safety inside the home is only half the battle, argues clinical psychologist Helen Evans, who also specializes in child development issues. Dr. Evans says parents also must create a home environment that will be conducive to their child's growth and social development.
"Ideally, a high-rise can be a great place to raise children if the parents make their [unit] optimal for their child's development," she states. "Your high-rise should have adequate space for the children, and/or parents should create a fun, creative, environment by providing games that can be played in a small space. Remember, the most important thing is not where you live, it's the type of home life that is created for your child."
Banks-Fallis agrees. "My son has his own room, but he has toys throughout the house, and when guests visit, it's quite obvious that this is Josh's house," Banks-Fallis says. Rhonda Gibson also believes in allowing her child to roam the house at playtime. "The child will make her own play area, and you should let her do that," she says.
Chicago psychologist Francine Bellamy Ph.D., agrees. "It's not the space that's most important, but rather the psychological mindset of `play,'" says the child and family expert. "It's more important for parents to allow time for play, which is much more vital than space. However, if you live in a [high-rise], you must have structured play with your child and be more creative and diligent about it."
Condo dads also can be very creative when it comes to spending quality time with their children. Fallis has established a "walk about" time with his young son, and he says they both enjoy it. "Some evenings we leave the apartment and walk throughout the entire building, from the north building to the south building," he says. "We go out in the lobby and watch passersby, and sometimes he likes to drive his little [toy] car all around. He loves it."
Gibson and his daughter are also fond of walking the grounds of their condo. "Sometimes, kids just like to be out of the apartment," he says. "Our lobby is made of all glass, and sometimes we just look out the window for a while, and then we'll walk the rest of the building or head to the park."
Dr. Bellamy warns that parents who don't actively participate in playtime with their child are not only missing out on a great bonding experience, but are also denying the child the opportunity to learn pertinent social skills from adults.
"To send a child to play unsupervised is not only putting that child at risk, but it's also depriving him of a wonderful opportunity to interact with other adults," Dr. Bellamy says. "It's important for children to play with adults because they learn social rules like sharing, fairness and the reward system--lessons they can't learn from other children."
Constant parental supervision not only ensures the well-being of your condo kid, but it is also an effective means to avoiding "stranger dangers" that could be lurking in and around the property. Parents agree that children should be taught early on to trust no one, other than a neighbor who you've designated as a "safe person" in case of an emergency situation.
"Children take the signals from their parents; if you give them the signal that it's okay to approach someone, they'll do it," Banks-Fallis explains. "I don't encourage my son to speak to or approach anyone unless I'm with him, and I give him our okay signal." Gibson emphasizes that high-rise children should definitely be made aware of the stranger-danger element by the time they reach 3 years of age. "My daughter knows her comfort zone; she feels safe inside the building, but once we're outside, she'll immediately hold my hand. By this age, they should really become aware of strangers," he says.
Despite the added safety concerns facing high-rise families, there is at least one parenting resource that is to their advantage---the opportunity to form play groups with other parents in their building.
"Play groups are relatively easy to form and develop and can include children of different ages," Dr. Bellamy says. "In a play group, each parent takes turns supervising play activities with all of the other children. High-rise parents should take advantage of these groups because they free up personal time for each individual parent."
The Fallis family and their neighbors have taken the play group concept to a higher level--a bona fide moms-and-tots program that's specifically designed for entertaining restless youngsters on bad weather days.
"We have a play group set up in our building's hospitality suite," Banks-Fallis gushes. "The mothers and the children bring their toys, and the suite is so huge that we can have nap time and watch movies. We also have structured swimming lessons for toddlers and family night at the pool where everybody can come and have a good time."
Experts agree that whether or not your youngsters realize it, a happy, safe childhood is primarily dependent on your parenting skills rather than your living arrangement.
"Many children grow up in small apartments or high-rises and their development is fine, and they do well in school," Dr. Evans says. "All children can achieve great things in life, but a lot of it depends on how the parents parent their child."
Dr. Bellamy adds, "Parents should recognize that it doesn't matter if you reside within four walls or 40 rooms, ultimately, you are in control of your child's environment."
RELATED ARTICLE: 10 Safety Tips FOR HIGH-RISE PARENTS
For high-rise parents, the failure to recognize a hazardous situation can result in a traumatic childhood experience, or in the worst case, fatality, according to Richard Shandelman, CEO of Safe & Sound, a Pennsylvania-based company that provides parental safety education and design solutions to parents. Shandelman says high-rise parents in particular must always be alert because various everyday appliances and misplaced furniture can pose serious accident risks for children. He and some high-rise parents offer the following safety tips:
1. Keep your home clutter-free. If you are in a confined space, you must keep the clutter to a minimum so that your children will have the space to move and play. Banks-Fallis says her home can get cluttered sometimes, so she allows her son to play where he wants to prevent him from feeling confined. "My son has his own room, but I don't keep him from playing anywhere he wants," she says.
2. Buy child-friendly furniture. If you have small children, make sure your coffee table has rounded edges or place soft materials on the existing edges. All armchairs should be cushioned. Make sure your furniture is not jutting outward or close to the end of a wall, and always keep a clear path in hallways. Never place climbable furniture or objects near windows, stoves or medicine cabinets.
3. Window screens are designed to keep insects outside, not children inside. In many high-rises, the windows are very low and open from the top down, so parents should have child-resistant locks on all windows, and should restrict the opening of the window to less than 4 inches. Rhonda Gibson says it is best to prevent small children from going near the windows altogether. "The windows are very dangerous; parents should teach their children to stay away from the windows at all times," she says. Additionally, keep all window blinds and cords out of children's reach. The Harbarview Injury Prevention Research Center estimates that the majority of falls that result in severe or fatal injuries occur in high-rise settings. The average height for a fatal injury is six stories.
4. The balcony is no place for unsupervised children. The sliding glass doors on the balcony should be locked at all times, and parents should remove all climbable objects (i.e. chairs, toys and grills etc.). Balcony railings shouldn't have in-between spacing of more than 3 inches apart because children can squeeze through and fall. Parents may also childproof their balcony with a safety rail which prevents the door from sliding open. When selecting their condo, the Fallis family opted for a unit without a balcony altogether, Banks-Fallis asserts: "I have a 2-year-old and I was concerned about having a balcony, so we chose a building that was more child-friendly," she says.
5. Cover and protect all electrical outlets. It is necessary to cover all outlets because curious children may attempt to insert an object into the outlet, which may result in dangerous consequences.
6. Conceal all electrical cords. Excessive cords lying around are extremely hazardous to children, so it is best to attach them to baseboards or secure them behind furniture. "Children love to run, so parents should not have cords in their way; they can trip and injure themselves," says Mrs. Gibson.
7. Keep bathroom doors and medicine cabinets secured with child-resistant locks. And prevent hot water burns by affixing anti-scald valves to your faucets. Residents of apartment complexes and condominiums often use common boilers, and with most tap water temperatures ranging from 140-160 degrees, a child can get a third-degree burn in less than five seconds.
8. Learn your building's fire safety and natural disaster evacuation plans, and practice these procedures with your child.
9. Find out your building's birth date. If your building was built prior to 1978, the year lead-based paint was outlawed, check your apartment for lead paint. If your building was built prior to 1986, check your plumbing for lead-based solder.
10. Never let your child leave the apartment unsupervised. Children should not have access to other units, hallways, trash incinerators or chutes, elevators or stairways. Parents can install a child-resistant lock on the door and replace the lock with a double cylinder deadbolt if your child learns to disengage the original lock.