Parenting can often feel like a never-ending list of dos and don’ts. It’s understandable—we are all trying our best to safeguard our kids from harm and help them grow up into happy, healthy humans. And while many rules and guidelines are obvious, there are some surprising things we don’t think about that could actually be highly dangerous. As a pediatric emergency medicine physician and a mom, here are four things that I would never do (plus one that I do my best to avoid).
1. Never put a baby in a walker with wheels
There is a reason that babies don’t start tap dancing on day zero of life. There is a reason they take their time learning to crawl, walk, run, etc. And yet, the design behind baby walkers is meant to speed them up, to give them more mobility than they should have at that fragile age. This is dangerous, as it exposes babies to risks associated with moving around the house: sharp corners, unexpected staircases, hot fireplace covers, and tall drops. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has called for a ban on walkers, and yet they still appear in baby store aisles or as hand-me-downs from relatives. It can be tempting to see your baby in a little semblance of a vehicle, to watch their tiny feet paddle furiously as they explore their surroundings. But ask yourself: Is this toy worth the risk of serious bodily injury, or worse? No, it’s not.
2. Never give a young child uncut grapes or hot dogs
Grapes and hot dogs are common culprits when it comes to choking hazards, but any solid and round food can pose a threat. Because these foods also happen to be slippery when they enter the mouth, they are the perfect texture and size to become stuck in a child’s airway. Think about it—the diameter of a standard hot dog is about the same as a nickel, if not a quarter. Imagine a coin that is also thick and squishy, entering a toddler’s small mouth as they excitedly gobble up the treat without bothering to chew. It’s a disaster waiting to happen. So, be sure to cut up all food into small, lengthwise pieces before you serve it to your little one. This way, even if they forget to chew or accidentally swallow the piece whole, it won’t get stuck and result in choking. I’ve seen more than a few tragic outcomes from this, so I take it very seriously.
3. Never store medication in a purse or a bag that a child can get into
Let’s face it: A parent’s bag is a tempting mystery and a forbidden fruit, just waiting to be explored. Now, in a best-case scenario, a curious child that goes through their mom’s purse will find some jingly keys, a shiny credit card, and a pair of stylish sunglasses. Worst case scenario, however, involves a kid accidentally consuming an adult medication, which can be incredibly harmful, if not deadly. Children use their mouth to learn about the world. If they’ve seen you eat what looks like candy from a fancy orange bottle, you can bet that they will be interested in trying it out for themselves. And if they do, they could get seriously poisoned. If you must keep over-the-counter medicine in your bag, make sure the tops are all childproof and consider getting smaller, specialized containers or—even better—individual blister packs which are a lot harder for a young child to get into!
4. Never let a child play with toys powered by disc batteries
You think that I am coming back to choking hazards here, don’t you? True, bigger disc batteries can certainly pose a choking risk but that’s not the only concern here. Disc, or button, batteries are valued for their conveniently small size, so the physical and congestive effect of swallowing them is not the biggest issue. Rather, it is the function and chemical composition of these little guys that can cause serious burns within the digestive tract, especially esophagus, of anyone who consumes them. When swallowed, the battery can still produce an electric charge, burning the esophageal tract as it travels down. At the same time, the chemicals inside the battery can leak out, causing further burns and damage. If your child, or anyone you know, has swallowed a disc battery, it is crucial to contact a medical professional right away.
5. Avoid red food coloring
OK, I appreciate some red Jell-O as much as the next person, but as a medical professional, I know that this funky treat will have its own peculiar effect the next time nature calls. Red food coloring turns stool red, and as much fun as it is going in, it can actually be quite disturbing coming out. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen panicked parents bring their kids into the office, concerned about blood in their stool. And of course, without proper explanation, this can be traumatic and confusing for the child, as well. A silly treat should not be the reason to stress yourself and your child out with an unnecessary doctor’s visit. So, isn’t it easier to just cut out the colorful snack altogether? I think so. Buy yellow- or orange-colored items instead! Or even better, no food coloring dyes at all.