6 parenting scares (and how to deal with them)

The goods on swallowed coins, in-house graffiti and other common childhood disasters from seen-it-all experts

Photo credit: Mark Burstyn

Your little one may be destined for NASA, but she probably won’t escape childhood without a bonehead move, whether it’s plugging her ears with Silly Putty or chugging the contents of her piggy bank. After the fact, these moments may become part of family folklore, keeping you laughing around the dinner table for decades. But at the time, it feels like a crisis when you’re unsure if your child’s in real danger. Here’s how to get through these emergencies — often without the emergency room.

Your baby swallowed a penny

Danger rating: Pretty low for a penny; potentially high for anything bigger.

How to deal: If your child swallows something and she can breathe, swallow and speak, there’s no need to panic, says Ian Marshall, a paediatric emergency physician at Janeway Children’s Hospital in St. John’s. But if it blocks her airway, it’s life-threatening and a true-blue emergency; in that case, call 911 and/or rush to the nearest hospital. “Luckily, 95 percent of the time, what kids swallow passes through the digestive system without any major concern; anything smaller than a loonie should show up in a week or two,” says Marshall. If you’re concerned, call your family doctor or the local emergency department for advice. At the emergency room, they will likely do an X-ray or use a metal detector to locate the coin’s position. If it’s stuck in the esophagus, the hospital may call an ear, nose and throat specialist to remove it or push it into the stomach. And she may recommend another X-ray to confirm that the coin has passed through.

Your toddler ate dog food

Danger rating: Low to moderate.

How to deal: If your child noshes on Fido’s kibble or biscuits, and then gets diarrhea or a tummy ache or starts vomiting, call his doctor or head to the local emergency department, says Calgary community paediatrician Peter Nieman. Some brands have been linked to cases of salmonella poisoning in people, according to a study published in Pediatrics in 2010. Even if you think it’s amusing when your child raids the puppy treats — and it makes his coat really shiny — “you should definitely discourage him from eating pet food because there is a small health risk,” says Nieman. Keep the dog’s dish off the ground when it’s not feeding time and store the kibble out of reach. Also, encourage everyone to wash their hands after handling dog food.

Your preschooler redecorated the couch with a permanent marker

Danger rating: Zilch to your child, but your sofa needs a speedy intervention.

How to deal: Since fresh stains are easier to remove, treat as quickly as possible. The marker manufacturer Sharpie recommends [Amodex Ink & Stain Remover http://www.amodexink.com/], which is formulated for upholstery and fabrics. Remove the cushion insert and lay cover, stain side down, on a clean white cloth or paper towel, then apply stain removal solution to the underside of the stain so it’s removed from the surface rather than pushed into the fabric. Once you delete the masterpiece, hide permanent markers until your budding artiste hits her teens.

Your four-year-old shoved a corn niblet up her nose

Danger rating: Low to moderate. It’s not urgent, but it must come out since it’s obstructing airflow and could lead to a nasal infection.

How to deal: If it’s hanging out of the nostril, ripe for the picking, then grab it with tweezers and yank it out yourself, says Bruce Minnes, a consultant in the Division of Paediatric Emergencies at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. “If the child is old enough, you can also ask him to forcibly blow it out of his nose. But if he’s unco-operative or the object is deeper inside, you run the risk of scratching the nose lining or pushing it in further, which makes it more uncomfortable and more difficult for the next person to remove.” Call your child’s doctor, who can tell if you should go to the hospital, where a doctor will likely use a grasping tool or suction to remove the object. “Things up the nose don’t usually cause breathing problems, so if your child isn’t bothered by it or in pain, you can wait until morning,” says Minnes.

Your first-grader stuck a peanut in his ear

Danger rating: Low to moderate. If your child needs to be sedated to remove the peanut, the risk is a little higher due to the potential — though small — for complications.

How to deal: Resist the urge to go on a fishing expedition or you may push it further in. If the ear is hurting or bleeding, see a doctor, says Minnes. He may use graspers or wash the object from the ear canal with fluid. If your doctor finds something in one ear, it may be part of a matched set. “With kids, the rule is if you find one, you have to look for more,” says Minnes. If your child isn’t co-operating or there are multiple items in his ears, he may need sedation so a doctor can remove them.

Your eight-year-old Krazy Glue’d his fingers together

Danger rating: Low. Worst-case scenario: He loses a bit of skin.

How to deal: Soaking the fingers with acetone, or nail polish remover containing acetone, will gradually break the bonds between the adhesive’s molecules, according to the [Krazy Glue website http://www.krazyglue.com/]. If you don’t have acetone on hand, soak your child’s fingers in warm soapy water and slowly peel skin of fingers apart — don’t pull it. Once the glue is gone, rinse the fingers well.

Your 10-year-old got gum in her hair

Danger rating: Zero.

How to deal: No need to reach for the scissors. The International Chewing Gum Association suggests using mineral oil, cooking oil, peanut butter or a solvent made from citrus peel. Put a small amount on the gummy locks, then knead the gum with your fingers. As the gum softens, gradually pull it out and rinse the hair with soap and water. Then give your child a good shampooing.

Rhea Seymour, an Oakville, Ont., writer, is amazed that her daughter, Sophie, has made it to age six without swallowing anything weird.

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