This is not an activity I would plan to do with a baby or toddler, but as they become more independent, their own explorations often go in a direction you wouldn’t have chosen. Cian, who turns one next week, is no exception.

SAFETY: The coal was non-toxic. Never let your child put anything potentially harmful in their mouth. For further information, refer to the NHS guidelines at the bottom of this post.


We don’t use our fire, so don’t have a fire guard. As a result, Cian discovered the coal in the fireplace. My first reaction was to grab it off him, and say “No. That’s dirty. We don’t play with coal.”

Previous experience has taught me that an outright, “No!” at this age, even when accompanied by an explanation, just makes them more determined to repeat an action.

I can’t remove the fireplace, which is in a room he spends time in daily. So I didn’t want to make the coal even more desirable.

Instead, I decided to change tactics. When Cian picked up a piece of coal, I pointed to it and explained what it was. He put it in his mouth to taste. Young children use all of their senses to explore a new object, so I didn’t react. Once he was satisfied that it wasn’t a food, he took it out again.

He lined some of the coal up on top of the toy baskets, so we counted the pieces together.

The point at which I said “No!” was when he moved the coal on to the floor. I pointed out the dirty marks it was leaving on the carpet and asked him to put the coal back on the basket. He did without a fuss, accepting the boundaries and happy to play within them. Had I said “No!” earlier on in the process, it would have resulted in a tantrum.

Once he’d lost interest in the coal, I asked him to tidy away the pieces back in to the fireplace and he did.

During his nap time, we sorted the toy boxes on the fireplace. They had held his brothers’ toys. We moved those and put some of Cian’s toys in there instead, with the lids propped open. Next time he went over to the fireplace, he delved into the toy boxes instead of the fireplace itself, his curiosity about the coal satisfied.

NHS Guidelines on ‘Keeping Children Safe From Poisoning’

Children under 5 years of age have a particularly high risk of poisoning. To reduce the risk for your children:

  • make sure all medicines, cleaning products, chemicals and potentially harmful cosmetics, such as nail varnish, are locked away out of the sight and out of reach of children
  • don’t store medicines, cleaning products or chemicals near food
  • keep all chemicals in their original containers and never put medicines or chemicals, such as weedkiller, in soft drinks bottles
  • when encouraging children to take medicine (when they’re sick), don’t refer to tablets as sweets
  • don’t leave old medicines lying around – take them to your local pharmacist to dispose of safely
  • keep cigarettes and tobacco out of the reach of children and don’t smoke in front of children
  • small batteries, such as those used for television remote controls, can be easily swallowed, so keep them out of the reach of children
  • whenever possible, buy medicines that come in child-resistant containers
  • rinse out medicine or cosmetic containers and dispose of them in a place where children can’t reach them
  • don’t take or give medicines in the dark, to avoid taking an incorrect dosage

If you have young children, be extra careful when you have guests to stay or when you go to visit other people. If your friends and relatives don’t have children, they may not keep certain items out of reach and their home is unlikely to be childproof.

Keep an eye on your children at all times and politely ask guests to keep items such as alcohol and cigarettes out of their reach.