Parenthood is full of infinite joys and, unfortunately, many moments of stress, too. Parents agonize over the well-being of their children, and sometimes it can seem as though danger lurks around every corner. A common fear stems from the possibility that you child might accidentally swallow a toy and get hurt.
These 10 tips will help you understand why children are so susceptible to swallowing foreign objects, how to recognize the signs that they’ve had a swallowing accident, and what to do about it if it happens.
1. Learn About Why They Do It
Children are born with a natural instinct to put things in their mouth. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as mouthing, which is an important step in the development of children. When they put objects in their mouths, babies learn about the world around them by exploring textures and tastes. Dr. Sears writes that “once babies discover the pincer grasp (between 6 and 8 months) . . . they tend to pick up anything they can grab and insert it into their mouths.” This stage can make busy moms crazy as it feels like you are forever trying to keep your child from killing themselves but don’t worry, this too shall pass!
2. Follow Age Restriction Guidelines
Age restriction labels on toys are there to tell you how safe a toy is for children of various ages. According to Lucie’s List, toys with labels indicating they are for children ages “3+” likely pose a choking hazard. A good rule of thumb is to try to drop an object through a toilet paper tube. If it fits, it’s not safe for little ones still in the mouthing phase of development. Make sure to always check for labels like the one shown here from Grimms Wooden Toys.
3. Clean Up, Clean Up, Everybody Do Your Share
Keeping an area tidy and free of clutter makes it easier to spot potential choking hazards that might be hidden otherwise. It isn’t a bad idea to get down on your hands and knees for a better view from a child’s perspective and check for stray toys under beds, couches, and tables. Everyone in the family, including older children, should learn to be diligent about keeping toys that are small enough to swallow out of the reach of babies who are teething. Learning to clean up and be mindful of these things will help teach kids to become eco-friendly citizens too.
4. Participate in Play Time
Getting involved in your child’s playtime activities is a great way to gauge their propensity for putting toys in their mouth. Children who have swallowed items in the past are especially likely to do it again, so once a child has swallowed a toy it becomes even more important for them to be supervised while playing with toys that could be ingested Legos or marbles.
5. Use Substitutes and Positive Reinforcement
If you catch your baby about to put something dangerous in their mouth, don’t yell at them. Instead, gently stop your baby and remove the toy from their possession while handing them something else to help them alleviate their mouthing needs. Carrying around a chewy snacks like beef jerky is a good idea, or for babies who are teething and just need something to chew on, teething toys are designed to help babies work out the frustrations that come with a new tooth breaking through the gums.
6. Teach Your Child Why It’s Dangerous
While redirecting your child as described above, it’s helpful in the long run if you take a moment to explain why you don’t want them to put small toys in their mouth. Even if your little one isn’t quite at an age where they can truly process and understand what you’re explaining, it doesn’t hurt to try!
7. Be Diligent About Supervision
There’s something about babies and small children that makes them extremely adept at making a bee-line for the most dangerous thing in any room. This makes it important for an adult to be supervising children at all times; even the most baby-proofed and tidiest of rooms could have choking hazards laying around. There’s no better way of preventing a little one from swallowing a tiny toy than to be there watching them to make sure that they don’t. Following safety tips can only go so far if you are leaving your little one unattended.
8. Know the Signs of Trouble
Because children are so good at getting into trouble the moment their parents look away, it’s important to be able to recognize the signs that your child may have swallowed a toy or other object. If your child is gagging, gasping for air, wheezing, or can’t talk or cough, then your child may be choking. If you find that your child has a fever, pain in the torso, abdomen, or rectum, or any nausea or vomiting that can’t be explained, it’s possible that your child may have swallowed something despite your best effort to follow these safety tips.
9. Be prepared for an emergency
While following safety tips and prevention protocols are always the best route to avoiding accidents, parents should always be prepared for the worst case scenario. Should you realize that your child has swallowed something, never try to remove it yourself. First, check to see if your child can breath, cough, and speak. If so, then allow them to try and cough it up. If they can’t get it out after several moments, or if they swallow it, then call your doctor. If your child is having difficulty breathing, call 911. You and anyone who cares for your child should learn CPR for infants and small children so that you can administer first aid while help arrives.
10. If All Else Fails, Talk to a Doctor
If you’ve tried all these safety tips and are still concerned about your child’s mouthing habits, then it may be a good idea to talk to your child’s doctor about ways they can help. An expert may be able to work individually with your child to find a solution that will give you peace of mind.
While the hazards that are posed by children swallowing small toys are real and potentially dangerous, it may ease parents’ minds to know that most accidents involving a child ingesting an object are not life-threatening. Following these safety tips while remaining knowledgeable and diligent, however, can make all the difference in preventing scary situations for you and your little ones.