More than 6 in 10 parents are worried about their children choking. While older children are less likely to struggle with hazardous foods such as grapes, they’re also likely to be more active. As a parent, you should encourage your child to eat with you at the table rather than running around. It’s also essential to know what to do if your child does start to choke.
How common is choking?
Choking is most common in babies and young children as they are not always sure when to chew, swallow and breathe. It’s important to be aware of choking hazards and teach older children good habits.
While younger children are more likely to be affected by round foods or firm fruits, older children are more susceptible to chewing hazards. In particular, chewing sweets, bubble gum and chewing gum can be dangerous, especially if your child is active. You should also discourage them from putting ice cubes in their mouths.
Preventing choking hazards
Even for older children, the ‘Sit, Chop, Chew’ method is still effective. This promotes sitting still while eating, making sure food is manageable and chewing enough to stop food from getting caught in their throat. You won’t need to teach an older child how to chew, but you should make sure they’ve finished eating before running around. Ask them to spit out any gum before they get moving.
Even if your child has chopped their food and chewed it, there are still dangers. For example, some foods can be clagging in the mouth, such as peanut butter. Give them plenty of water to drink at mealtimes if you’re serving foods like this. Remind them to take their time – mealtimes should be a time for you to talk and enjoy your food.
Finally, remember to tell any guardians or carers about allergies. In some cases, an allergic reaction may cause choking.
How to deal with choking
If your child is choking on food, you may be able to remove it with your fingers. You should only do this if the food is visible, otherwise you could risk pushing it down farther. Your child may be coughing loudly – you should encourage them to do this as it may help to bring up whatever it is that’s causing the choking.
You can use the back slap method if the coughing doesn’t bring up the food. Give your child 5 firm slaps between the shoulder blades and check to see if the food has dislodged. If it does not, try the abdominal thrust method (only recommended for children over the age of one). Place a clenched fist between the tummy and breastbone with one hand on top of the other. Make an in and upwards thrusting motion.
Try these in cycles of 5 slaps and 5 thrusts. If this does not work, dial 999.
Recognising the signs of choking
Loud coughing is usually a sign that the food is high up in the throat and can be dislodged easily. Tell your child to keep coughing to help them bring up the food.
If the coughing is silent or you suspect your child cannot breathe, you should shout for help immediately. You can try leaning your child forward and delivering 5 back blows. Call 999 if neither of these works. You should then lie your child flat on the floor and speak to the operator on speakerphone. You may need to perform CPR, which your operator can talk you through. You can also learn more about this in our guides.