I was recently taking my 11 month old 10 kg (22 lb) baby son downstairs and doing a few things with him in my arms, when I realized that I’d issued a few voice commands almost subconsciously: what’s the weather like tomorrow, turn on my lights, and playing Baby Shark.
This subtle shift away from controlling things on my phone (which my son then tries to steal out of my hands, the moment he sees it!) made me thankful for smart home technology, so I wanted to write this article to cover which smart devices I’ve found useful since having becoming a dad – and which other tech I could make use of.
Being able to quickly check the weather whilst changing your child is really helpful, as is playing their favorite song when they won’t sit still during a nappy change. Being able to pause TV and control your lights without getting up is also really helpful. As are dozens of other smart home features when having a young child.
If you prefer video, feel free to check out my YouTube video on this topic – otherwise please keep reading for the text version:
Okay, that isn’t a real voice command but it does highlight a key feature of smart homes: voice control. Whether you use HomeKit’s Siri, Google Home’s Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa, having a ‘smart voice assistant’ is quite important for answering simple questions and controlling your smart home.
When I’m changing my son for the day ahead, I frequently ask what the weather is like today. This is so that I can determine whether to put him in a long or short sleeve top and how many layers to dress him in.
If I have to pull out my phone to check this, my son (who loves stealing… I mean playing with… other people’s mobile phones) will get up and do everything he can to get his hands on my mobile. Putting it back in my pocket doesn’t help either, since he’s crafty enough (I mean smart enough) to know exactly where my phone is.
In short, pulling my phone out when changing my son’s clothes or nappy is not a good idea – so a smart speaker is a great help here.
Equally there’s certain songs my son loves. One of these is Baby Shark:
Oh yes. I’ve probably heard that a thousand times over the past year! Funnily enough, my son also loves ACDC’s Thunderstruck so there’s hope for him yet!
Anywhoo, if my son is constantly trying to get up and move during a nappy change, playing Baby Shark is a good way of distracting him and making the rest of the nappy change a lot easier.
If your chilld struggles to get off to sleep, or wakes a lot at night, playing white noise can help. I say ‘can’ because sometimes nothing much will work, unfortunately – been there, done that. Night’s with barely any sleep aren’t much fun!
But sometimes white noise can help. After all, when a baby is in the womb, they’ll hear constant talking and other noises. It’ll be muffled as the sound is coming through the skin, meaning that it comes across to the baby as – you guessed it – white noise.
If your baby hears noise throughout the day and then is laid down to sleep in a completely silent room, it can be disturbing for them. So try any of the following Alexa and Google Assistant commands and see whether they like any of the white noise sounds:
- Hey Google, play country night sounds.
- Hey Google, play white noise.
- Hey Google, play ambient noise (which will choose a random one from their list).
- Alexa, play spa music.
- Alexa, open rain sounds.
- Alexa, play white noise (and then “Alexa, play on loop” so it’ll play all night).
- “Alexa, list sound” for a further list of noises she supports, although most of the white noises she supports comes from third party skills (saying ‘open rain sounds’ actually opens a skill).
Smart lighting is something that I’d always been a bit sceptical of, but I eventually seen the light (get it? I’m so funny...) and purchased a Hue starter kit and four other Hue bulbs.
This allowed me to turn on lights in various places around my house using just my voice – or set up time/sunset based schedules for them to come on instead. Simple. This is a lot easier than running around my house turning on various lights when we deem it to be a bit too dark to not have any lights on, especially when you’re carrying your 2 ton baby around the house too!
Equally when going to bed, instead of going into some rooms specifically to turn their lights off, I leave them on and just say “Alexa, goodnight” and use a custom routine to turn them all off at the same time.
I also now use an E14 candle bulb in my landing’s table lamp which I dim down to 10% brightness (at night), which acts as a night light. This gives off a nice light/feeling to it than a separate night light, and it’s also move convenient to control (my goodnight routine automatically dims this from 100% to 10% brightness).
Equally with the Hue White Ambiance bulbs, you can switch to bluer light in daytime to simulate more active/energetic light, or a warmer yellow light at nighttime to simulate more relaxed/sunset light.
Or you can go all in and use Hue Color bulbs to randomly flick between bright orange and florescent orange!
It’s really up to you, which is the beauty of smart lighting. Yes it can be pricey at times (but you get what you pay for – Hue and LIFX bulbs are better quality than cheaper no-brand alternatives, and they emit better quality color light), but it somehow makes your home a more fun and flexible place.
This is great for babies and young children, and being able to control it via your voice or routines means that you don’t have to be running around flicking light switches on and off.
The other useful thing I’ve found is being able to control your TV with your voice. This has been possible for a little while without any ‘smart technology’, of course, however the advent of the Fire TV stick and Chromecast mean that you can use your Echo or Google Home device to control your TV stick in quite an open way (compared to having to use a single, proprietary remote, that is).
This can be useful for saying “Alexa, search for [baby show] on YouTube“, or simply putting on your favorite show when your child has fell asleep in your arms and you know that standing up (to get the remote) will almost certainly wake them up.
Of course, this doesn’t help control your standard cable TV box, but with so much TV available on Prime/Netflix/Disney+ nowdays, you’ll almost certainly be able to find something to watch using just your voice.
Feeling secure in your own home is always important, but never more so than the unnerving time of coming home from hospital with a tiny, fragile baby and knowing that you’ll do anything you can to protect them.
Smart cameras and doorbells are a good first step in helping to protect your home, increasing the feeling of security around your home, and being able to check in on things if you’re away.
Putting indoor cameras in ever room in your house might be a bit unnerving (especially to visitors), but a few cameras in key locations can make a lot of sense – especially since the Ring stick-up cam looks more like a security alarm sensor than a camera (ignoring the camera lens, of course!).
This can include a camera in the baby’s nursery, and you can then use a Google Nest Hub or Amazon Echo Show device to check-in on the video feed from time to time.
A Ring or Nest doorbell is also a good idea, not only because it deters would-be burglars, but also because if you’re in the middle of a nappy change and the doorbell goes, you can speak to the visitor/delivery person (through your smart speaker or mobile phone) and tell them to hang on a minute.
Being able to set a quick timer or reminder is a really useful feature that is often not spoken about. You might have just put your child in a jumperoo, but you only want them in it for 10 minutes.
You can either try and remember to take them out in 10 minutes (and invariably forget!), or say “Alexa, set a timer for 10 minutes” and Alexa will ring to remind you. I know which I prefer!
I’m also a fan of having quick ‘TODO lists’. For example, you might suddenly remember that you have to do something really important (or boring: take the bins out?!) later that evening. Well you can either try and remember… and probably forget (again!)… or you can say “Alexa, remind me to take the bins out at 8pm tonight“.
Then when you’ve just settled down to watch TV after a frantic day of caring for your child, you’ll be rudly interrupted by the reminder to take the bins out! Of course, this is better than completely forgetting and having a smelly house the following morning!
Timers and reminders can also be great when making up a baby’s bottle, since this task often requires you to boil the kettle and wait 30 minutes, or stand a pre-made bottle in warm water for 15 minutes.
I’ve listed the main smart home features that have helped me above, although there’s plenty of other useful uses of smart home technology which I thought I’d list below as possible inspiration:
- When your children get a little older, you could build a routine that:
- Announces that dinner’s ready
- Pauses any TV that’s on
- Turns the internet off
- … yes this may seem drastic, but it could be a useful thing to remember..! Even if this specific example is too drastic, routines are simple to create and can be tailored to your specific needs – which is really the whole point of smart homes.
- Use smart speakers as a makeshift baby monitor. I spoke about this previously and I personally preferred to buy a proper baby monitor, but sometimes using a pair of smart speakers can work well either as a backup baby monitor, or to supplement your existing one.
- Smart smoke and CO alarms are also really handy to have. They provide genuine peace of mind because they’ll notify you of any issues, even if you’re all out of the house (unlike standard smoke/CO alarms which will ring, but no-one will be around to hear them!).
These can really help to track down intermittent CO leaks, which can be really damaging and hard to detect with standard CO alarms.
- You can use smart thermometers to monitor the temperature in your baby’s nursery (or your room if you’re co-sleeping), and notify you if it’s too warm or too cold. This can help to avoid one of the factors of the always-scary SIDS, and also make your child more comfortable when asleep.