Why your kid won’t stop putting stuff in their mouth!

By special guest blogger Lawren Wellish, MD


Every single day, the poison center gets calls from parents or caregivers asking for advice after their child has gotten a hold of one of those no-no products and taken a sip or a swim.   Parents often feel guilty and frustrated about this. We hear lots of callers say, “I just turned my back for a second!” or “I TOLD him never to touch that!”  We’d like you to know, this is a VERY common occurrence, you are not alone, and you are not a bad parent!

Placing objects in the mouth is actually a normal and necessary part of child development.  Infants use their mouths as a way of learning about their world, to assign taste and texture to pretty much every new thing they encounter.  If they are teething they may be seeking comfort for their sore gums, but even on days when their teeth aren’t causing any problems at all, they are still going to want to put everything they see in their mouths.   Have you ever noticed that books made for babies are made out of cardboard?  They are specifically made to be safe for baby mouths and to stand up to multiple encounters with baby saliva!

Toddlers and slightly older children may not put everything they see in their mouths, but believe it or not, it is still completely normal.  Kids are often really curious about the taste of non-food objects (come on, we’ve all licked a penny at some point or another) and frequently engage in imaginary play that includes cooking, baking, and magic potion brewing!  It might be make-believe play-doh pizza, but that doesn’t mean your child won’t try a real nibble.

By the time kids are in middle school, they are less likely to put things in their mouths as part of natural development or imaginary play, but can still have curiosity about non-food products and of course, there is the dreaded game of truth-or-dare.

While you may not be able to control everything that goes in your child’s mouth, you can help reduce their risk of swallowing something serious by keeping potentially harmful substances locked away and out of reach and sight.  The following substances have the potential to be especially tricky if ingested by a child:

Button batteries: These can corrode in the intestines and cause burns and even death.

Magnets: If more than one small magnet is swallowed, they can stick together in the intestines and cause tears in the intestinal tissue, decreased blood flow to the intestines, and death

Medications: Children are often taught that medication is “good for you.”  Never play pretend games with medication or call it candy!  Use child resistant caps to slow kids from getting access to the contents.  A safety cap won’t prevent them from opening it completely, but it can provide time for you to intervene.

Coins: While the material coins are made out of isn’t toxic if swallowed, coins can get stuck in the esophagus and sometimes require multiple doctors’ visits and/or surgical removal.

Chemicals/cleaning products: These are often brightly colored and can look delicious, but can be dangerous if they are ingested in large quantities.   Some can even cause problems just by touching the skin or eyes.  Always store these in their original container, locked up and away from food products.

Luckily, if your child does decide to sample something they shouldn’t, help is just a phone call away.  Make sure you have the poison center’s number 1-800-222-1222 in your phone.  It’s a trusted source that many pediatricians use as well. The poison experts at the IPC will tell you what you should expect and what you need to do for your child.  They helped over 33,000 kids last year alone—they have heard it all and will be able to help you immediately—the call is free and confidential.   Click here for an IPC complimentary packet that contains a sticker and magnet.

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