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Toddlers gain more control over their fingers and pick up things to put in their mouth. This can be food or more dangerous items, so parents need to take care.

Picking things up

As babies move into toddlerhood, they’ll gain more control over the small muscles in their fingers and hands as their fine motor (small muscle) skills mature. This helps them learn to feed themselves finger foods, but can also create additional safety worries for whānau. Choking risks increase as they can now pick up the smallest of items, and they’ll continue to put whatever they’ve picked up into their mouths.

In the Tākai Whakatipu booklet Te Pihinga 3 (page 4), pēpi says: ‘I’m great at picking up little items using my thumb and index finger — kai, small toys, bits of fluff, stones. Yep, I’m a little vacuum cleaner!’

Ask whānau:

  • What is your child interested in lately?
  • What do they pick up using their pincer grasp?
  • What toys or activities do you have that might require them to use their pincer grasp?

Normal, not naughty

At this age children have limited understanding of what’s acceptable to go into their mouths and what isn’t. Parents may misinterpret this as ‘naughty behaviour’ rather than what it really is – an expected developmental milestone.

Talk about why a young child naturally puts things into their mouths to explore – they aren’t hungry or being naughty.

  • Have you had to remove anything ‘yuck’ from your child’s mouth lately?
  • What words do you use to tell them something isn’t safe for mouthing?
  • What can your toddler access that could be unsafe?
  • What could your whānau do to limit what they can get?
  • What do you need to do to make your home childproof?

Read the article on Small muscle development for more information on this topic.

How does this relate to Tākai resources?

Baby wall frieze – Tukuna ahau kia mahi, kia mōhio ai ahau me pēhea te ako – Let me do things over and over again – it helps me learn

Six things children need – Te aroha me te mahana – Love and warmth

Helpful resources for whānau