When my son was a toddler, the minute I took him out of the bathtub, he would blast off running naked around the house. Since this happened often, I figured he got a kick out of it. The more I restricted him, the more he tested my patience. Ultimately, I decided it was just a part of toddlerhood. Though it took a while for my son to move on from this Birthday Suit Bandit phase, I let nature take its course.
You can’t always explain the bewildering behavior of toddlers. Some things they do are silly, some are acts of defiance — as they begin to assert their independence — and a few can be potentially harmful. I spoke with Dr. Lauren Mitchell, a pediatrician with Pediatrics East, and Dr. Toni Whitaker, developmental pediatrician and associate professor with University of Tennessee’s Boling Center for Developmental Disabilities, to learn how to respond to baffling behavior.Memphis Parent: A friend’s child swallowed a Barbie shoe and it never was recovered. Why are toddlers fascinated by things they can put in their mouth? Can this behavior be harmful?Dr. Lauren Mitchell: Barbie shoes are a potential choking hazard. If a child choked rather than ingested a Barbie shoe, he would need prompt medical attention. However, I don’t think that swallowing a tiny plastic shoe poses a serious medical threat.
Dr. Toni Whitaker: If a toddler has a small object, simply remove it, and say, “No, that’s dangerous.” Toddlers often don’t understand a long speech about what will happen if they continue to play with something they shouldn’t, but they do understand it’s no longer in their possession. If you suspect your child has swallowed anything that is larger, rigid, or sharp, it’s a good idea to contact your pediatrician for advice, since these types of objects can get stuck in the digestive tract and cause significant harm.
MP: A pediatrician shared an incident about removing a bead from a child’s ear. What are the dangers of getting small objects stuck in the ear?
Whitaker: Fortunately, the eardrum stretches across the ear canal to protect the fragile middle and inner ear parts. Most objects would therefore be kept away from the sensitive structures, unless they are sharp or pushed forcefully into the ear. Any object down in the ear will likely need to be removed by a medical professional since more damage may be caused by attempted removal from the small ear canal.MP: Children sometimes like to act silly by sticking string beans or French fries up their nose. Why are they interested in sticking food in places other than their mouth?Whitaker: They’re being kids. A French fry probably won’t cause much damage to the nose, other items could. It’s a good idea to redirect your child to other activities: “Lets’ eat our food,” or “If you’re ready to play, we’ll finish eating, then pick some toys,” so the message of “No, silly, we don’t stick things in our noses” is reinforced consistently.MP: We often come across kids at the playground who are tasting sand or mud. At home, they’re sometimes fascinated with pet food. What’s going on?Mitchell: Children are experimenting, they’re curious. Some put just about everything in their mouths. So remind your child that only people food is for eating. Watch out for objects that are choking hazards, and remember that playgrounds or sand boxes can potentially contain lead contamination.Whitaker: The good news is, most children lose the desire to put everything in their mouths after their babyhood. Redirecting young children to more acceptable activities without overreacting is usually effective. Tell him, “No, that’s yucky. If you’re hungry, we can go get a snack.” If you simply tell him “No” without offering a substitute, you are more likely to have problems. Children often need help in coming up with alternatives. Let your child exercise some independence; try offering two choices and let him decide between them. He’ll feel great being in charge.MP: Why does drinking bathwater appeal to kids? Does it taste better?Mitchell: Kids probably think it’s funny to drink bathwater. Divert their attention by having bath toys to play with. Children should be taught about hygiene at this age. Toddlers should be taught to brush teeth, comb hair, and take a bath daily.MP: I have noticed some kids try to lick your face, arm or other body part. What’s up with that? Mitchell: Children are most likely imitating an animal and engaging in pretend play for fun. A parent could suggest a kiss instead, gently reminding your child that we don’t lick each other.MP: Toddlers love to run naked. How should we respond ?
Whitaker: Many toddlers go through a phase when they want to dress and undress. From a developmental standpoint, it’s easier for a child to figure out how to take clothes off, but it’s harder to get them back on. If you react, it often makes it more difficult to stop this behavior.
Be consistent in stating, “We need to keep our clothes on,” or at least for the basics: “We keep our private parts covered,” then allow your child some choices beyond that within reason to satisfy their need for emerging independence.