Babies and toddlers love to make our hair turn gray on the spot. Case in point: when a toddler is sticking their fingers down their throat.
Even a baby can be gagging themselves, though a toddler gagging himself is always a terrible phase to find yourself in.
My eldest once stuck her fingers down her throat and gagged. We were alarmed, but we were also lucky in that she’s one sensitive kid. She didn’t like that sensation, and we never had to deal with it again.
Same with my youngest. She even to this day cries about vomiting. “I’m afraid to throw up!” she’ll cry.
“Do you feel like you’re going to throw up?” I ask, gently patting her and showing concern.
“No, but I am afraid of it!”
Ah, my anxious child.
My friend Sam said her baby puts fingers in his mouth and vomits. She went from having really nice, long, brown hair to frazzled, graying hair pretty quickly.
The good news? Babies and toddlers too gag themselves for attention. Here’s more on this revolting topic!
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Is it normal for babies and toddlers to gag themselves?
While it’s not as common as babies faking coughs, babies and toddlers do gag themselves. They do so initially because they are exploring. Some will, like my eldest, try it out and not like what they’ve discovered.
Others will see that your hair instantly turns white and that you get upset about it, and they will thrive on the reaction. It’s not that they want you to feel bad. It’s that they love that you’re paying attention to them.
Overreacting to this kind of behavior, though, is a terrible thing to do because you wind up encouraging that behavior. Children at this age can’t make the distinction between good and bad attention. They just want your attention.
Be honest with yourself…are you spending too much time working? Playing with the new baby while ignoring the toddler in your home? Staring at your phone? Hey, no judgment. None of us are perfect.
What you should NOT do if you see this finger down the throat gagging come up, pardon the pun, is:
- Get aggressive and yell at them to stop
- Be visibly upset, excited, or angry
- Pull their fingers from their mouth
If you do any of these things, you will turn this temporary curiosity on their part into a long-term problem.
But Leslie! My toddler vomited from doing this!
Yes, Sam’s son was doing that too. The key in getting him to cut it out? She’d just stay calm, not freak out about the vomit, clean it up, and act like nothing ever happened.
When I had first told her what to do, she doubted it would work. But she listened thankfully and he stopped this gross behavior.
Another thing that will work is to be proactive by keeping toddlers busy with their hands when they would otherwise be inclined to stick them down their throats. A good routine for meals and sleep (nap and bedtime) is also ideal for keeping stress from causing gagging.
Why does my toddler put her fingers down her throat?
Well, this is often from exploration. As my eldest did this, she didn’t know what she was in for. Once she realized how unpleasant it was and saw that we weren’t like, “OMG ARE YOU OK?!?!?” she didn’t trifle with it ever again.
But if your baby or toddler starts sticking their fingers down their throat often, it is usually because they’ve found an entertaining way to get your attention. Like the fake coughing.
At this age, they learn cause and effect. For little people that have zero control over their lives in that someone is always telling them when and what to do, this is an interesting way to shake things up.
So, now that you know try not to freak when they do it. Most little ones will see, like my eldest, that gagging is a horrid sensation. If you keep from reacting, they will likely never try it again.
However, if your toddler is doing this during mealtime, this is something you’ll want to discuss with your pediatrician. And naturally, it should go without saying, but if your child is vomiting with a fever and is not sticking their fingers down their throat, that should be checked out too.
If your child is deliberately doing this, you have to get to the root cause. Many children at the toddler stage are transitioning to new beds or new rooms. This could be the reason why your little one is gagging themselves. Note the time of day or what is happening when they do it.
For example, if your child only does this at bedtime, you may need to provide a more soothing nighttime routine. Perhaps your toddler doesn’t like the new toddler bed and wants the crib back, but you have a new baby on the way.
This is what happened to my friend Terri. When she was pregnant with her second child, her son Leo started gagging himself, but always around bedtime. I told her that she could contact the pediatrician if it would make her feel better but that Leo was likely doing this because she reacted to it the first time and he wants attention.
I know it seems nuts, but kids don’t think the same way we do. They are not developed in this way.
Anyway, with Terri and Leo, she would sit there at night and tell him it was time for bed and that she would stay there until he fell asleep. She’d soothe him there, and he’d fall asleep. Eventually, she didn’t need to sit there anymore, and Leo stopped trying to gag himself.
She did go to the pediatrician, too, but he said the same thing I did. Leo only wanted attention, and the less of a big deal Terri made about the gagging, the less likely Leo would be to do that.
How to get my toddler to stop gagging himself?
These quick tips will break it all down for you on how to stop your toddler from gaging themselves!
Nip it in the bud
If you make a big deal about this (and anything else for that matter), your child is going to go over the top with it. Trust me on this. Keep your reaction to yourself.
Act like nothing ever happened
If your child threw up from sticking their fingers down their throat, be like the cleaning crew at Disney. They just pop out of nowhere completely emotionless and clean things up. Your child would be less likely to try this again if there was no acknowledgment.
Do check for illness or obstruction
Sometimes your child will gag or vomit if something is caught in there. Allergies can do it too. To be on the safe side, stay calm and emotionless either way. If your child is trying to get something out, you may need to help them with choking.
Monitor for illness
Some toddlers will stick their fingers down their throats because mucus is bothering them when they’re ill. You’ll generally know this if they have a fever, have a runny nose, and exhibit other symptoms of illness.
In other words, ignore your toddler when they gag themselves. Keep their hands busy with something else, a far more fun activity. If you do the activity with them, it is very unlikely they will continue gagging themselves. They just want your attention.
However, if they keep doing this and are not eating well, having problems starting on those solid foods, not gaining the weight they should, or are often fussy, it’s definitely time to talk to the pediatrician.
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs. She loves eating too much sushi, exercise, and jamming out on her Fender.