Your Plan Of Action For When Your Child Locks The Door (Literally!):
Anyone who thinks kids aren’t fascinated by door locks either doesn’t have kids, or hasn’t met every kid I know:
- At first, pushing that shiny button is the “let’s see what this does?” curiosity of a toddler.
- When your kid hits preschool age, it’s a knee-jerk response to being mad at their parents.
- As preschoolers become school-age kids and tweens, locking the door becomes a way to assert their developing sense of privacy (and/or hide something from you. Liike that stash of candy they sneaked into their bedroom even though they know it’s against the rules).
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If you haven’t developed an effective strategy for dealing with children’s love of locking doors before your child hits the teen years, you’re sunk.
Haven’t thought about this before? Then you should. This is another great example of where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Since both of my darlings were adept at locking themselves into rooms (and parents out) by the age of two, I’ve had more than a little experience in this realm. Hence the tips in this post, most of which (as always) come straight from What We’ve Learned The Hard Way.
If you haven’t experienced this yet and you’re a parent, trust me: it’s only a matter of time. That’s why you need to know
Ways To Avoid Your Kiddo Locking You Out (And What To Do When It Happens)
This is a collaboration post. However, please know I stand behind everything written here, and only include links to products/services/resources I’m willing to recommend personally.
Again, it’s not a question of IF, but WHEN your kid locks you out. And the best way to play defense here is with a solid offense. Which involves anticipating the situation, and mitigating things BEFORE it becomes a problem.
1. Change the doorknobs, BEFORE this becomes a problem
This is the 100% spot-on easiest thing you can do. Just swap out the knobs with one-sided lock buttons for ✅ knobs that don’t lock. (These are called “passage door knobs,” for what it’s worth.) You can easily do this for less than $15 per knob set – though of course you can spend more, if you prefer.
This was literally one of the first things we did to the girls’ rooms, before they ever slept a single night in them. We were repainting baby Kimmie’s room with the windows open for ventilation. While the walls were drying, a gust of wind suddenly slammed the door shut.
The door’s “lock” button just happened to be pushed in. With no one inside the bedroom.
All it took was one “accident” like this for us to envision years of children locking doors on us, and make a quick trip to the hardware store for some new doorknobs.
2. Keep a “key” nearby, but out of reach
But let’s suppose that there are interior rooms to your home where you still want to keep doors that can lock from the inside. (Say, a bathroom, so that poor Mama can take a shower or sit on the loo in peace and quiet.)
But of course, it’s not possible to have a one-sided-locking doorknob that Mama can use, but that somehow magically vanishes whenever the children touch the handle. (If only!)
And other options, like adding some sort of lock high up out of kiddos’ reach, means drilling holes into your doors and their frames – not always the prettiest option. Not to mention that it means drilling holes into the wood, which you can’t easily “undo” later on.
In this case, may I draw your attention to the fact that knobs that lock only on one side have a small hole in the center of the non-locking side.
I am embarrassed to admit this, but I never knew what that hole was for until the day the wind blew Kimmie’s door shut.
I started to panic. Dear Husband, on the other hand, calmly went to the garage, hunted around for a bit, and came back with a small nail.
Yes, a nail! If you push a small nail that’s narrow enough to go into the hole, but long enough to reach to the locking mechanism at the center of the lock, you can “pop” the lock open. Thereby unlocking the door.
Since that day, if you visit our home, you may notice blue splotches of masking tape, high up on every bathroom door in our home (as well as any other interior door that locks). If you look closely, you’ll see that each piece of masking tape is there to attach a small nail to the door, out of children’s reach.
Now you know why those small nails are taped to the doors.
Note that some of the newer locks have, instead, a small “key” shaped like an Allen wrench with one flattened end, and only this “key” will pop the lock. In this case, because the key itself is bigger and thus easier to find, we just keep it on the ledge at the top of the door frame.
3. Or consider a master-key system
If you don’t like the aesthetics of taping small nails to all your interior doors, another option is to consider doors with keyed locks, and a master key system to unlock them in the event of an emergency.
This is an especially useful option if you, say, have a house with many bedrooms and you rent out one or two to students or other tenants. That person will definitely want to have some privacy, but would not appreciate such easy access to their rooms from children who figure out how to climb on a chair and take down the nail so they can pop the lock.
But why use a master key system? In short, this is a guaranteed way to gain access in the event of illness or emergency, whether for a renter or for your teenager. Anything can happen, after all, and you need fast access just in case. And again, it’s better to have this sort of system installed long before you think you need it – not after the fact, when it won’t go over so well.
In fact, I’d argue that a master key system is essential in any situation involving renting out that extra bedroom, whether to a regular tenant or on a platform like AirBNB. It’s an appropriate balance between privacy and safety.
4. Last-resort options: Carrots, compromises, and sticks
While these tips may help you deal with the immediate aftermath of when your kid locks you out, they won’t address the underlying root causes of what makes your kiddo want to lock you out of their room in the first place. (I could write a whole book, or a whole library, but I won’t – partly because I’d be the first one lining up to read such a book!)
So I propose you consider which carrots and/or sticks are appropriate to use, depending on your child’s age and the surrounding circumstances:
- For younger children, focusing on producing desired positive behaviors is often a good plan of action. Think of what carrots you can dangle in front of your child to get them to stop locking themselves away in their room. For example, my girls are super-fond of “nesting.” So creating cozy, secluded places within their rooms where they can curl up helps to lessen a desire to lock themselves in their rooms just to “get away.”
- Another problem we sometimes have with the girls is having them excuse themselves from the dinner table to use the facilities. Which is fine in and of itself – but the problem comes in when 15-20 minutes have passed, the rest of us have long since finished eating, and we go to the bathroom door to find it locked, while Child On The Other Side is engrossed in a good book. Saying something like “We’re going to have dessert now; too bad you’ll have to miss it” does wonders at getting them to finish their business and unlock the door, faster than you can blink.
- Respecting your child’s wishes and privacy, especially as they get older, is important. Perhaps they’d feel less of a need to lock the door if you made a point of knocking before entering.
- It’s also worth explaining to your child all the reasons that it’s not appropriate for them to lock themselves in their rooms. Remember that younger children are still developing the skill of seeing other people’s point of view, so explaining to them that you’re sad/hurt/scared when they do this may be helpful.
- If you really feel it’s appropriate for them to be able to lock themselves into their bedroom, then try compromising with your teen. No, it isn’t always easy – but with the right approach, it’s doable. Your child doesn’t want you constantly nagging, so this alone gives them a reason to meet you halfway. As one example, maybe they can lock their door for an hour but must keep it open at all other times. Or, you may request that they let you in if you knock. These examples of compromise are one way to balance your authority as parent with your teen’s desire for privacy.
- Whenever one of our girls starts proclaiming that it’s “her” room, we remind her of who owns the house. Yes, it’s her space, but Mama and Daddy were the ones who signed the mortgage papers, and it’s our names on the deed. So until and unless she moves out or starts paying rent, the room technically belongs to us. (Needless to say, the girls drop this subject as soon as we mention the notion of paying rent in exchange for increased “ownership” of their rooms.)
- Finally, if for whatever reason you continue to have a problem with your child locking themselves into their room – or exhibiting other inappropriate behavior that you haven’t effectively addressed through other means – it’s time for drastic measures: removing the door. (And/or swapping out their locking knob for a passage knob.)
Taking a door off its hinges is as simple as removing the three pins that hold said hinges together. I’m not saying this is a permanent solution, but a few days of this last-resort treatment should be enough to bring your child back to the bargaining table, and/or modify the problematic behavior. In our case, that would be slamming a bedroom door in anger. All we have to do is suggest removing the door so there’s nothing to slam, and we see a swift and dramatic disappearance of this particular behavior.
Have you had a problem with your child(ren) locking themselves into a room? At what age(s), and how did you handle it? Let us know in the comments!
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