By Celeste Meiffren-Swango
When I got pregnant with my second kid, I was excited and nervous to have a new baby in the house. One night while my husband and I were discussing what life would be like with two kids, he said, “we are going to have to figure out what to do about the small toys.”
My four-year-old daughter V had recently started playing with a bunch of toys with big choking hazard warnings on the packaging: Hatchimals, Legos, board games, you name it. Like many kids, she would make a playroom out of any space she was in — including our living room. Toys would often spread out across the floor as she imagined big new worlds and tiny characters with dramatic storylines, leaving a minefield for unsuspecting feet.
But soon we would have to worry about more than hurting our feet — those same toys that were so much fun for V were serious choking hazards for our second daughter E. When E arrived, we started pointing at Legos left on the living room floor: “Those can’t be in here. Small toys are really dangerous for babies.” As usual, this new rule was met met with resistance. After all, she was used to have free reign, and now everything was changing.
As E got older and more mobile, I was getting more frustrated and worried. But then I remembered a tip from U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s annual toy safety report, Trouble in Toyland. I triumphantly grabbed an empty toilet paper roll, stood on my soapbox, and declared “no toys that can fit through the toilet paper roll are allowed in the living room.”
It worked. We showed V how different toys from stuffed animals to play fruit to blocks to Legos fit or didn’t fit in the toilet paper roll. If the toys went through the tube, we would say “dangerous.” If the toys didn’t fit, we would say “safe!” And suddenly, V had a new game — and probably her first scientific test. Eventually, all the small toys were gone from the living room.
Now, we keep an empty toilet paper roll on the bookshelf in the living room. And any time V wants to bring a toy out of her room, it goes through the tube test. It’s not the most attractive home décor, but we all sleep a little bit better at night. And with a new baby, that’s a small price to pay.