Parents of children, both young and old, have been through the same scary developmental stage that comes with raising a toddler: oral sensory behavior. Toddlers—or children between the ages of 18 and 24 months—are famous for exploring their world using their mouths, which can be dangerous and downright terrifying for parents, especially those who are not prepared with the skills they need to remedy a choking situation.
The desire for babies and toddlers to put things in their mouths is part of their learning and development. Everything is up for grabs for them, which is a safety concern as it can lead to choking or exposure to a variety of germs and bacteria.
So why are they so set on shoving everything into their mouths? Babies’ mouths have more nerve endings than anywhere else on their bodies. They do not have the ability yet to poke, squeeze or stroke things to get a feel for them. Their instincts tell them to put the items into their mouths to find out what they feel like. They also do it to relieve the pain that comes along with teething and to self-soothe.
While it is a completely normal part of development for toddlers to put things in their mouths, there are necessary steps parents should take to avoid the dangers that come along with it. Demanding that they stop is not the answer, but rather redirecting them. Giving them something else to put in their mouth, like a sippy cup or chew toy, as well as kindly explaining to them why we do not put said item in our mouths.
Parents must take on the responsibility of being on the lookout for choking hazards, especially as their children become mobile and can easily pick up dangerous items on the floor, like coins. Parents of older children should reiterate the importance of keeping their small toys and trinkets out of reach of their younger siblings, as these too can become extremely dangerous in a split second.
While we must keep these items out of reach of curious toddlers, mistakes can still happen. Because of this, parents and caregivers should brush up on their Heimlich maneuver and CPR skills. A quick search online will reveal local training sessions where you can receive CPR/Heimlich certifications.
Safety starts at home, so parents should take all the measures they can to ensure inedible objects are locked away. Parents should also help train their children on what is an edible object, like food, and what is not, like a toy. The next time your toddler raises their toy train to their mouth, gently remind them that “That is a toy, and we do not put toys in our mouths.” Parents should also model how to properly play with toys while playing with their children and praise their children when they play properly without putting inedible objects in their mouths.