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Is It Okay for My Toddler to Eat Playdough?

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Boy playing with play dough
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Question: Is It Okay for My Toddler to Eat Play-Doh?

Every toddler does it. You turn your head for just a second and look back to find your toddler eating playdough. But is it safe? What should you do if it happens to you? Keep in mind that this is perfectly normal. Toddlers explore everything with their mouths and playdough is no exception.

Answer:

Commercial Playdoughs Intended for Toddlers Are Non-Toxic

The good thing is that the commercial brand of modeling clay Play-Doh is non-toxic and has been since the first day it was marketed to children. Other brands such as Mary's Softdough, Crayola Dough or Rose Art Clay are also non-toxic. Be sure to check the product label for an age recommendation and any warnings before offering it to your toddler.

Homemade Playdough Is Only as Safe as its Ingredients

The safety of playdough you make at home will depend on the ingredients you use. Most playdough recipes call for edible ingredients that you would find in your pantry but probably not in amounts you'd serve to your child during a meal. This is generally not a problem though, since as the salt or baking soda content increases so, too, does the unpalatability of the dough. Your toddler might take a taste, but will probably spit it right back out.

Even if she does swallow a small amount, no harm will be done. Chances are, the taste will be so bad, she won't want to try it again. Make sure you discourage tasting of playdough in the future and offer your child plenty of water in case the salt content of the dough makes her a little thirsty.

When To Be Concerned

In the unlikely event that your child does manage to swallow a large amount of playdough that contains salt, you should get your child to drink plenty of water and seek emergency medical attention. Based on the Material Data Safety Sheet for table salt, for a 28 pound toddler, for example, a toxic dose of salt could be just under half an ounce (3 grams per kilogram of body weight will kill half of rats that get the dose and the lowest published dose lethal to a human is 1 gram per kilogram of body weight). So for a recipe of playdough that contains 1/4 cup of playdough, you should be concerned if she's eaten a quarter of the entire batch. That's pretty hard to do given the awful taste and considering that the 1/4 cup of salt is probably spread out between a cup or more of flour and other ingredients, making 1/4 of the entire batch quite bulky. Still, it's definitely something to be aware of.

Another ingredient concern you should consider has to do with allergies. Before making playdough at home, make sure your toddler isn't allergic to any of the ingredients such as wheat flour, powdered milk, peanut butter or dyes.

Consider Edible Playdoughs

Be aware, too, that if you're still worried about your child eating playdough or you don't know what she'll do the first time, there are recipes for playdough that are meant to be eaten or that are at least safe even if consumed in large amounts (like this recipe for peanut butter playdough -- again making sure your child is not allergic to ingredients -- or the oatmeal dough in this playdough recipe collection). Give those a try first and then move on to other doughs.

Choking Hazards Are a Bigger Risk than Ingredient Toxicity

Commercial playdoughs are labeled for use in children under 3 years of age, but you should still offer constant supervision just in case your child makes a ball or pulls off a large chunk and places it in her mouth. Know how to perform the Heimlich Maneuver on a child in case of a choking emergency.

What to Do if Your Toddler Won't Stop Eating Playdough

Very rarely, a toddler will enjoy eating playdough or will make attempts to eat it each time the activity is offered. While it's not harmful, nobody wants playdough to play a major part of their toddler's otherwise balanced diet. In this case, the best way to make sure she doesn't eat it is with prevention. Here's how:

  • Don't offer playdough until your child is 2 years old and outgrowing the need to explore her world orally.
  • Keep your toddler constantly supervised during playdough activities and remove the playdough if your attention is needed elsewhere, even for a moment.
  • Don't offer heavily scented playdoughs (like those made with Kool-Aid or peanut butter) until she's old enough to understand that she shouldn't eat it. The smell can make it just too tempting to eat.
  • If she continues to eat it after taking the above precautions, don't offer playdough activities again until she's much older.

 

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