Do you know what to do if your child starts to choke on a piece of food? If she burned her hand on a hot grill, would you treat it yourself or head to the emergency room? What if he fell from a tree and came inside the house limping? After you find an open bottle of pills scattered about your toddler’s feet — and a few in his mouth — would you sweep his mouth out with your finger, turn him upside down, make him vomit, call poison control, go to the emergency department?

Aside from panicking during any of these situations, a new poll from the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital indicates that plenty of parents actually don’t know what to do. Many, in fact, have a hard time discerning which situations are truly emergencies in the first place:

“Determining what is in fact an ’emergency’ can be a confusing and nerve-wracking experience for parents who want to make the right decision.”

Researchers questioned nearly 400 parents with at least one child aged 5 or younger.

They found only half would know what to do if their child was choking, 10 percent would take their child to the ER for a minor burn from a hot pan, and nearly one-third would take their child to the ER for swallowed pills.


Parental solutions for swallowed pills, for example, run the gamut, says Robert Preidt:

If their child swallowed medication not meant for them, more than half of parents said they would try to remove any pills from the child’s mouth and one-quarter would make the child throw up. Six out of 10 said they would call Poison Control, while one-quarter would call their child’s doctor. Twenty-six percent would call 911, and almost one-third would rush the child to the ER.

“Generally, calling Poison Control is an excellent first step to take if a parent suspects their child swallowed something harmful,” Freed said.

“Poison Control staff are trained to get important information from parents about the type of medication their child might have swallowed and direct them on the next steps to take,” he said.

Parents who rush to the ER might forget to bring the source of the possible poisoning, leaving ER providers with limited information to determine the child’s treatment, he added.


According to the report, first aid training increases the likelihood that parents will know what to do in the case of a pediatric emergency:

Ten percent of parents said they had received first aid training within the past year, 24% had training 1-5 years ago, and 23% had training more than 5 years ago; 43% of parents have never had any first aid or medical training. Parents with no first aid training had the least confidence, while parents with first aid training in the past year had the most confidence, in knowing what to do for urgent child health situations.


When in doubt, the report advises, call your pediatrician’s office:

Many parents in this Mott Poll indicated that their strategy to handle urgent medical situations would involve calling for advice. This is a sound strategy that allows parents to avoid an unnecessary ER visit, but still obtain guidance from a health care professional. The child’s usual health care provider is a common source of telephone advice; however, not all clinics have trained health professionals answering calls. It is important for parents to understand clinic policies related to telephone advice, so they don’t waste time in an urgent situation waiting for a provider to return their call.


The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends “10 Things for Parents to Know Before Heading to the ER”:

1. Plan ahead and consider a pediatric emergency room.

2. Call your pediatrician first.

3. Treat your child at home.

4. Stay calm and tell your child what to expect.

5. Leave siblings at home.

6. Bring your child’s medical history and a list of medications.

7. A comfort item can go a long way.

8. ERs are not first come, first serve.

9. You know your child best — speak up!

10. Follow up with your pediatrician.


(Image: C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital)