Every parent of a young child must at some time have longed to have eyes in the back of their head. You can take every precaution – get a stairgate, a baby monitor, and a washing machine with a childproof lock. And still there is only so much you can do.
And I speak from experience. As a kid, I drove my poor mum mad with worry when I went through a phase of picking up stones and coins to lick as soon as she wasn’t looking – seeing it as a game. And stuffing objects in my mouth to gnaw on them – even if the object in question happened to be my sister’s fingers.
Turns out it’s pretty normal for babies and young children to lift objects up to suck, and explore their taste and texture. Which is why a story about children eating laundry tablets doesn’t seem so surprising to me…
In fact, there have been more than 2,000 cases involving children and gel or liquid laundry capsules in the past five years, according to the National Poison Information Service.
Apparently the problem is that the tablets are so often brightly coloured, small and enticing-looking that children are mistaking them for sweets. But the capsules contain chemicals that can cause burns, internal swelling, breathing problems, temporary blindness and in severe cases can induce a coma.
Of course parents will do all they can to keep these out of reach or in locked cupboards, but it only takes a second for the child to reach out and grab one.
It must every parent’s nightmare and, try as you might to keep them safe, there is simply no way to watch everything they do, every minute of the day.
As Sheila Merrill, Public Health Adviser at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), says:
‘Children are naturally inquisitive and tend to explore the world with their mouths – coupled with the fact liquid laundry capsules can be mistaken for sweets, and that the casing dissolves in contact with saliva, it makes it important to safely store them out of the reach of children.’
To be fair, action has been taken to tackle the problem. Many laundry capsules do now come in plastic sealable boxes, and European rules introduced in 2015 mean they must taste horrible and be more water and pressure-resistant than previously. But despite this, children are clearly still drawn to these brightly coloured jelly-like tabs.
So has your child ever gone through a phase of putting objects into their mouth that they shouldn’t have? What did you do about it?