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Lessons for Life

Why do kids put things where they don't belong?

Experts share reasons and give tips on how to cope

Jen Weigel

Lessons for life

September 4, 2012

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When my son decided to stick a Lego up his nose earlier this summer requiring a trip to the emergency room, a lot of questions swirled through my mind: Is this normal? Why did he do this? Should I ban Legos from the house?

Then in early August a boy in Utah made headlines for having a Lego wheel removed from his nose. Apparently it had been there for years, causing breathing and sleeping problems.

All this activity got me wondering — what's the deal with kids jamming stuff up their noses?

"This is how children investigate their environment," said Dr. Jonathan Powell, a pediatrician with Resurrection Medical Group in Chicago. "When they are babies, they stick everything in their mouth. As they get a little older, they try other places. It's very common."

Dr. Michael Pitt, the director of the Pediatric Convenient Care Clinic at Lurie's Children's Hospital of Chicago, said this happens most often in kids between the ages of one and six.

"I think there's a misconception that boys do this more than girls but that's not the case," Pitt said. "For items found in the ears, it's equal between girls and boys, but for the nose, it's 2 to 1 (ratio) girls."

The most common things found in the nose, Pitt said, are Barbie shoes. Other popular items, according to Pitt and Powell, include Legos, beads, seeds, coins and erasers. And Pitt said parents need to understand that some lodged items are more dangerous than others.

"Any time you get lead from older toys or a magnet inside the body, this can be very bad," Pitt said. "If you ingest more than one magnet they can connect and when they connect they break down your tissues. Also button batteries, which can be found in the older remotes, watches, or hearing aides — once they get inside you they start conducting so they can cause an electrical current."

Clinical psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo said while kids are "natural scientists," some might be putting things in their noses or ears for the laughs.

"They want to do what's funny, silly or naughty," Lombardo said. "Whether it's burps or gas, those things tend to make kids laugh — even if their mom isn't laughing — they learn they can get a laugh so it could be a form of getting attention."

The joking ends when the item can't be removed and the fear of punishment takes over, Lombardo said. This could mean something may go undetected until there are physical symptoms.

"Kids develop shame as much as adults do," Lombardo said. "Get their take on what has happened. If it was horrible and they are obviously traumatized, there's probably no need to give further punishment."

Here are some things to keep in mind if you think your child has put something where it doesn't belong:

Look for symptoms.

"If you notice your child's nose is only draining from one side and there's an odor, this is a problem," Powell said. "I had a boy who stuck a wad of paper up his nose, followed by a Lego and a thumb tack. The paper started to rot which caused the odor...He had to be operated on to remove everything."

Don't blame yourself.

"Is this strange? The answer is 'No,'" Pitt said. "If it becomes recurring behavior then it's something to worry about bit it's not a reflection on your parenting ability and it doesn't mean something is wrong with your child. It's really important to remember that."

"A child's brain isn't working in the same way an adult's brain is functioning," Lombardo said. "Young children are very present-oriented, focusing on the here and now rather than the future consequences."

Don't pretend you're an expert.

"If something is lodged in the nose, the first thing you can do is close their mouth and blow hard in the other nostril," Powell said. "Make sure they are sitting up and leaning forward. If that doesn't work, however, don't try anything else and get professional help immediately."

"Assume it's an emergency if you don't know what the item is that's gotten stuck," Pitt said. "A vast majority of the time the first line medical team can take care of it. You don't want to be taking out the tweezers and try to do this yourself. You could put it further up there and really make things worse."

jweigel@tribune.com

Twitter: @jenweigel