10 Ways to Prevent Choking in Kids

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Choking can be scary enough when it happens to you, but when it happens to your child, it’s downright terrifying. This is especially concerning because children don’t have the strength or reflexes necessary to “power through” a choking incident the way an adult might; according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “choking is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality among children,” especially for kids three and under. The best way to prevent this is to stay alert when your child is eating and playing, but what exactly does that mean for you? Here are some steps to take:

Never leave a small child eating unattended

Never ever. It’s far too dangerous to let a young child eat by themselves. The first step in preventing choking incidents is to be on guard, and that starts by being present when your child eats. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to worry at every hiccup or cough. What it does mean is that you’re feeding them or sitting right with them whenever your child is snacking or having a meal.

Set a good example

Many parents underestimate the power of setting a good example for their kids when it comes to the act of eating. Take modest bites, and chew your food carefully. Don’t rush through meals. Pause between bites, and make sure you drink plenty of fluids. You’ll be amazed at the way these lessons will sink in, especially when your child connects the behavior you’re teaching them with the way you actually behave.

Watch your child’s posture as they eat

This is a small but very helpful tip. Basically, make sure your child is sitting up straight and is ready to actually eat, not slouched back or flopped over. Again, adults can pull off the couch potato look; kids, though, need to treat meals as proper activities, and that means being able to sit up and take nourishment.

Cut food properly

This is so important. It might sound too obvious to bear mentioning, but children have much smaller bites than adults, and their ability to chew and tear food isn’t nearly as strong as yours. As a result, it’s imperative that you cut their food into reasonably small chunks that they can handle. Don’t be fooled by softer foods like hot dogs, either. They’re just as liable to cause choking and should be sliced lengthwise, then lengthwise again before slicing into smaller pieces for serving. If you think a bite of food is too big, even just a little, cut it in half.

Don’t eat in the car

A moving car doesn’t offer nearly the same stability and control that a dining table does. For starters, the kids aren’t with you, they’re in separate rows. On top of that, they’re eating while bouncing around and strapped into a car seat. It’s just not a safe environment in which you can expect a child to properly eat and chew food.

Separate snack time from play time

Play time is great: it’s for running around, laughing and having fun. Snack time, though, is for sitting. A reliable way to reduce choking hazards is to teach your children that snack time should be calm, leisurely and free of the roughhousing that defines playtime. The calmer they are, the more they’ll focus on eating correctly.

Avoid mixing activities with things like gum or candy

Giving your child a candy to suck on or a piece of gum to chew and then turning them loose to play is a recipe for disaster. One trip, one gasp, one accidental swallow and the treat you thought was harmless can become lodged in their windpipe. As with the other tips on this list, you need to be present when they eat and they need to eat in a controlled environment.

Don’t give young children foods that can block their throats

A young child’s windpipe is about as big around as a drinking straw. Because of that, smaller foods that might seem fine to you can actually be dangerous for children. If the child is under four, you should avoid the kinds of hard foods that can easily block airways, like popcorn, sunflower seeds, raw apples and raw carrots.

Prompt children to drink as they eat

Your child should be taking plenty of liquids with meals and snacks, but it’s important to make sure they aren’t taking giant swigs of liquid at once, and that they aren’t trying to swallow liquids and solids at the same time. Have them chew a bite and swallow it, then take a sip of their drink, then repeat.

Watch out for small objects

Perform regular checks in your house for little things that might have fallen to the floor and that could find their way into your curious child’s mouth. Coins, paper clips, pins, batteries; literally anything you find is something they’ll probably try to eat. You should also carefully monitor what toys they play with and make sure they’re age-appropriate to prevent choking hazards.

Ultimately, the name of the game is smart prevention. Whether you’re prepping for playtime or a refreshing meal, stop to examine the situation for potential choking problems. A little prevention goes a long way.

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