If your child is mobile, it’s time to think about making your home as safe as possible. Today, we’ll focus specifically on preventing accidental poisoning at home. In other words, we’ll discuss how to keep dangerous chemicals out of their mouths and bodies. I’ll focus mostly on adults modifying their behavior as well as a few basic storage tips. Finally, we’ll review what to do if your baby or child does accidentally eat or drink something that could be poisonous.
Pill boxes and medication containers are not toys.
I say this without judgement. There are a lot of well-intentioned parents on the internet recommending pill containers as the perfect toy, specifically for travel. And, I get it. They’re conveniently sized. The ones with individual compartments labeled with the days of the week would be great for fine motor development. They’d be fun to put candy or small toys inside for little treats. The list goes on. I get it.
However, I’ve chosen not to use these as toys for my young children. If they come across a pill box anywhere (in our home or elsewhere), I don’t want them to even consider it as a toy or something to explore. We can’t expect them to know the difference between a fun treat and a potentially poisonous pill. So, despite the appeal, I suggest using other containers for fun and travel.
Adults can consider taking their medicines out of a child’s view.
Children love to mimic adult behavior. Even the youngest toddlers might try to sweep a floor with an oversized broom, apply deodorant, or pretend to speak on the phone. Why would taking pills be any different?
If adults in your home take daily pills (vitamins or medication), consider taking them at a time or place when young children won’t be watching. It could be in the bathroom, in a bedroom, or during meal prep or kitchen clean up. Every family can decide if this is practical or if it feels useful for their situation. I suggest at least considering it.
Once children are older, families can adjust as they see fit.
Teach children a few basics.
Remind everyone of all ages that people only take medication specifically prescribed to them. It’s okay to state what seems obvious. Mom takes a medication that Dad does not. Dad would never try her medicine.
Starting as young as possible, teach children to never eat or drink something without asking an adult first. Not even “just a taste,” to quote my own child. For children with allergies or families with dietary restrictions, this is a given. For everyone else, it can help prevent innocent curiosity leading to something more dangerous.
Do not refer to medicine as candy. Some families have done this to avoid discussing complicated topics. However, referring to something as “Grandma’s candy,” will confuse and possibly entice. If a medication will bring up topics you’d like to avoid with your young child, consider, as discussed earlier, taking the medicine when the child is not present.
Store medications, cleaning supplies, and any other potential poisons out of reach.
Anything that could potentially poison a child should be stored out of their reach. Do not rely solely on cabinet or drawer locks. This means cleaning supplies should not be kept under a bathroom or kitchen sink, however convenient. Medications should be kept completely out of reach. Some even keep them in a locked box. Regardless of the storage spot in the home, it’s ideal to keep prescriptions and pills in their original containers. This is helpful if there is an accidental ingestion. Also, some prescription bottles are child-proofed.
It’s worth remembering other potential toxins at home: cosmetics, other personal care items like lotion or shampoo, lawncare chemicals, certain plants, etc.
Use extra caution when supplies are actually in use.
Kids may accidentally drink a household chemical when an adult is using it, not just when it’s stored. This makes sense. I’m scrubbing the toilet and set down the toilet cleaner on the floor beside me. For just a second . . .
Since having toddlers at home, I’ve made the very inefficient change to never have a cleaner out of my hand unless I’m placing it back in the high cabinet down the hall. This means that if I spray something and then need to use that hand, I walk down the hall and put the cleaner away before continuing. It’s slows things down a lot. I’ve learned that there are too many potential distractions to keep everything immediately available. (I’m curious if others have solutions. Please comment below if you do).
Consider non-toxic household cleaners.
This is an entire topic itself. For more reasons than reducing the risk of acute poisoning, families may consider making a switch to less toxic cleaning supplies.
Many can be made at home with simple ingredients like vinegar, baking soda, Castile soap, rubbing alcohol, and water. I appreciate “recipes” for non-toxic cleaning from http://cleanmama.com
What to do if a child accidentally ingests poison.
Starting in the 1960s, it was recommended to have ipecac syrup on hand in order to induce vomiting if needed. There were readily-available charts about which ingestions required ipecac.
Guess what? It didn’t help. It did cause people to vomit, but overall it didn’t make a difference. (This was based on population-level research. Individual results varied, of course). Depending on the ingestion, it could actually make things worse. Some chemicals cause more injury if someone vomits after drinking them.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and Poison Control no longer recommend having ipecac syrup at home. It’s not even available to buy anymore. I mention it because its use was so ubiquitous. Many grandparents still have it in their medicine cabinets. In fact, according to Poison Control, there’s no need to keep any vomit-inducing drugs, like activated charcoal, at home.
So, what to do if a child has ingested something that could be poisonous? If they’re acting sick or having trouble breathing: call 911.
Otherwise, call Poison Control 1-800-222-1222 (in the United States). Don’t try to make the child vomit unless specifically told to do so by Poison Control. This is not a common recommendation.
Most ingestions discussed with Poison Control can be treated at home! It’s a free and confidential call. They’re available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Keep all medications and household chemicals completely out of reach of young kids.
Avoid making medications or pill bottles part of play or pretend.
If there is concern about an ingestion and you child is acting well, do not try to induce vomiting. Call Poison Control 1-800-222-1222. If they are not acting well, call 911 or go to the emergency room.
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