Stuff parents say

I worked at poison control for 11 years; I heard a thing or two.

You want to keep your child safe, but they don’t make it easy! Kids get into stuff they shouldn’t, and parents worry. If you have a toddler, you may have said some of these things yourself.

I don’t know how he got it open. It has a child-proof cap.

By law, prescription medications and many other potentially harmful products must be sold in packaging that is child-resistant. There is no such thing as child-proof!

Keep in mind that child-resistant packaging is supposed to be difficult for a child to open. At the same time, older adults and people with disabilities have to be able to remove the cap. So that limits just how hard it can be.

Your only hope is that the packaging will keep your child busy until you notice what they’re up to. But even that isn’t guaranteed. Once a child learns to open a child-resistant package, they are unlikely to ever forget.

I don’t know how she got it. It was up really high.

Children are natural explorers, and some are more adventurous than others. For these children, the very fact you are trying to keep something away from them means it must be interesting.

Putting it up high just challenges them to find a way to reach it. It’s safer to keep medications in a toolbox or tackle box that can be padlocked. Cleaning supplies and other large items can go in a locking file cabinet.

Child covered in paint.

The label says it’s non-toxic. I just wanted to be sure.


Some products have to meet set requirements to be labeled non-toxic, others don’t. Art supplies, for example, are well-regulated. When you see an AP label like this one, you know the product is non-toxic.

Products sold in the US must be safe for their intended use, or carry appropriate warnings if they are not.

Selling something that is later proven harmful can be ruinous for a business. The financial risks alone are a powerful incentive to do the right thing.

Of course, that doesn’t mean dangerous products are never sold. Sometimes they are, and enforcement of safety standards is ongoing. But the emphasis is on identifying products that are harmful rather than ones that are not. That leaves us with few standards for “non-toxic” labelling.

If a product is labeled “non-toxic” but lacks certification, it means according to the manufacturer it doesn’t contain anything that is known to cause harm with reasonably proper use.

I made him puke.

Although that seemed like a good idea at the time, it wasn’t. Now and then someone gets lucky and forced vomiting brings up the sought-after item. But whereas the item itself probably wasn’t harmful to start with, the invasive maneuver was both traumatic and dangerous.

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement almost 15 years ago against forced vomiting. The Academy recommends parents call poison control (800-222-1222) instead. You can read more about proper management of accidental ingestions and oral exposures right here.

Should I make him puke? (Or: Should I get some ipecac?)


Mom kissing young daughter. Stuff parents say

I feel like a terrible parent.

You should feel like a terrible parent if you intentionally give your child something you know is harmful. Or if you know your child is in danger and do nothing. Otherwise, you should realize it’s a child’s job to explore her environment. You should forgive yourself for being human, and plan to do better in the future.

I haven’t done anything yet. I didn’t know what to do.

You can be ready for accidents if you plan ahead. Read up on managing accidental ingestions, eye exposures and skin exposures now. That way you’ll know what to do when something happens. If all else fails, remember this number: 800-222-1222.

I tried to rinse her eyes/mouth, but she wouldn’t let me.

Parenting is hard work, and sometimes it isn’t fun. If your child is in pain and you can’t manage irrigation at home, you’ll have to go to the emergency room.

So what should I watch for? (After being told nothing is going to happen)

You should watch for normal behavior and lack of symptoms. Call poison control or your health care provider if you see something else.

Do we need to go to the emergency room?

Here’s the bottom line: You’re the parent, and you have the right to seek medical care for your child whenever you feel it’s needed, no matter what anyone else tells you. Whether you need to go in is another matter.

In most cases if your child appears fine, the ER won’t be needed. Sometimes, though, you must go in no matter what (eg, ingestion of button batteries, multiple magnets and some drugs). You can always rely on poison control or your health care provider to help you figure this out.

Woman typing on a laptop. Stuff parents say

I looked it up on the internet, and now I’m totally freaked out.

Please, please, please call poison control first, before going to the internet. Believe it or not, you will read things there that are not true.

I got scared because the label said to call poison control.

Poison control is always there to help, and you should always call with any poison-related questions or concerns. This helpful suggestion on the label doesn’t mean the product is dangerous.

We’re really careful at home, but the home we’re visiting isn’t child-proofed.

When you’re visiting folks who don’t have young children — even if they did once upon a time — you should assume the house isn’t child-proofed and keep your little ones within sight. It wouldn’t be impolite to ask if there are any medications or other potentially harmful things within reach, though, and to ask to have them put away while you’re there.

I only turned my back for a minute.

That’s all it takes.

Curly-haired child with big eyes. Stuff parents say

I know he is telling me the truth, because he doesn’t lie.

Children don’t really understand the difference between truth and make-believe before they are 5 or 6 years old. So we consider young children “unreliable historians” rather than liars.

I know she is telling me the truth, because she is really, really smart.

Your child may indeed be very intelligent. But that doesn’t mean she won’t go through the same developmental stages as any other child.

He knows he isn’t supposed to.

Before about the age of 6 children aren’t very good at internalizing rules. Your toddler or preschooler may behave well when you’re paying attention. That’s because your presence helps him remember what he is and isn’t supposed to do.

But left unattended he is likely to go where his curiosity takes him, and your rules won’t follow along. It’s important to remember this is normal for his age and doesn’t mean he’s being disobedient.

You can’t rely on your young child to police herself. It isn’t fair to punish her for eating those vitamins that look and taste like candy, even though you told her not to. You just have to pay attention and keep reminding her of the rules. Remember that somewhere around first grade she’ll develop the ability to remind herself.

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Cover of The Commonsense Guide to Everyday Poisons

An informative, fun and useful guide to more than 80 common household products

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Historical and surprising information is often included, as well as suggestions for DIY projects.

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Where to buy the book