How to Prevent Choking

Two Parts:Reducing Access to Small ObjectsPracticing Food Safety

Choking is a common problem for young children. When a piece of food or small object blocks someone’s airway, he or she will choke. Prevent choking by teaching children to take small bites, cut their food properly, and chew thoroughly. Also, if you have children age 4 or younger, childproof your home.

Part 1
Reducing Access to Small Objects

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    Childproof your house. When you have small children, it is best to keep some household items out of reach. This does not mean you must eliminate them from your household. Instead, put them in high cabinets and consider getting child safety locks. You also can put special covers on doorknobs to prevent access to some closets or rooms. Items to remove from the reach of children include:[1]
    • Latex balloons
    • Magnets[2]
    • Figurines
    • Decorations like tinsel or Christmas tree ornaments
    • Rings
    • Earrings
    • Buttons
    • Batteries
    • Toys with tiny parts (e.g. Barbie shoes, Lego helmets)
    • Little balls
    • Marbles
    • Screws
    • Safety pins[3]
    • Broken crayons[4]
    • Staples
    • Erasers
    • Small rocks[5]
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    Check recommended ages on toys. Toys with small pieces are not intended for young children and should include a warning label. Follow age guidelines on toy packaging. Do not give children toys from vending machines as these do not have to follow safety regulations.[6]
    • At restaurants with kids’ meals, ask for an age-appropriate toy.
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    Clean up any messes involving small objects. If you spill a bag of pasta, for example, pick it up immediately. Check under tables and chairs for extra pieces. Anything on the floor is fair game for a child to place in his mouth.[7]
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    Ask older children to clean up. When your older children play with items like Legos or Barbie shoes, ask them to pick up their messes. Explain that they too need to be careful about small objects.[8] Consider making it a game for school-age children to see who can find the most small items.
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    Watch children when they play. Although you cannot watch children 100% of the time, try to be as vigilant as possible. If you see them getting into something they should not, intervene immediately. Set ground rules for items that they can and cannot touch.

Part 2
Practicing Food Safety

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    Cut food into small pieces. Remember that a child’s windpipe is as wide as a drinking straw. Remove seeds from foods like watermelon and pits from foods like peaches.[9] This practice applies to both children and adults.
    • For hot dogs, slice the hot dog lengthwise. Then cut it into smaller pieces widthwise.[10] Remove the skin.[11]
    • Quarter grapes.[12]
    • Be especially careful when eating fish with bones (which should only be done by older children and adults, not young children). Tell your children to try to take very small bites and remove any bones beforehand if possible. Do not swallow too fast.
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    Demonstrate an appropriate sized bite. Show your children how big a bite should be. Show that the piece of food should be smaller than their child-sized spoon or fork. Talk about how we need to eat slowly for safety and also to be polite. Instead of praising children for being done eating quickly, praise children who eat at a moderate pace.
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    Discuss thorough chewing. When discussing healthy eating practices, explain to your children the importance of chewing their food well. They should chew their food until it is soft and easy to swallow. You might consider having them count to ten while they chew. After a while, they will be used to slower chewing.
    • Do not feed children solid, chewy food until they have sufficient teeth and are developmentally ready. Talk to your doctor to see where your child is in terms of development.
    • Children learn based on what they see. Try to plan enough time for meals so that you are not rushed.
    • Alternate drinking and eating. Teach your children not to drink and eat at the same time.[13]
    • Encourage your children not to speak and chew simultaneously.
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    Eat while seated and stationary. Do not feed your young children while they are walking, standing, or otherwise moving. Sit at the table whenever possible with a straight back. In no case should your child eat and run. Also avoid eating in the car or while on the bus or subway.[14] If you make a sudden stop, you or your child could choke.
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    Avoid foods that often cause choking. Children under the age of five should avoid several food items. If you do give these items to children, you should cut or cook them very carefully (e.g. hot dogs). Although older children and adult can eat these items, they too should practice caution. Foods for young children to avoid include:
    • Hot dogs cut into coin shapes
    • Fish with bones
    • Cheese cubes
    • Ice cubes
    • Peanut butter in spoonfuls
    • Peanuts
    • Cherries
    • Hard candies
    • Fruits with skins (e.g. apples)
    • Celery
    • Popcorn
    • Raw peas
    • Cough drops
    • Nuts[15]
    • Caramels[16]
    • Chewing gum
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    Cook vegetables. Instead of serving raw vegetables, steam, boil, or fry them. Aim for softness.[17] You want your child to be able to chew and swallow easily. Steaming is a good option because it removes less nutrition than boiling.[18]



  • If your non-infant child is choking, Perform the Heimlich Maneuver immediately. If you are choking, perform the Heimlich on yourself or signal to people near you that you need help. Put your hands on your neck. Acting quickly can save you or your child’s life.

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Categories: Childhood Health