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Preventing choking in toddlers and preschoolers

Preventing choking in toddlers and preschoolers


Children under the age of three are at highest risk for airway obstruction (blockage of the tube from the mouth to the lungs). This is because their airway is very narrow and they are still learning about chewing and swallowing.

Choking is one of the most preventable injuries and leading causes of death in infants and toddlers. It is important for parents to learn choking first aid and to supervise children while they are eating.

Common causes of choking

Food and latex balloons are the causes of most choking cases in Canada and the United States. Most food linked in these choking cases tends to be small, round or cylindrical such as hot dogs, whole grapes, nuts and hard candy.

Inflatable latex balloons are often used during children’s birthday parties. They are hazardous because children may accidentally swallow them while trying to blow them up or choke on pieces of the balloon if it bursts.

Foods to avoid in children under four years of age

  • Hard candies, cough drops
  • Gum, gummy candies and chewable vitamins
  • Peanuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Fish with bones
  • Snacks on toothpicks or skewers

Foods that need special preparation

  • Grapes – slice lengthwise
  • Hot dogs and sausages - slice lengthwise
  • Carrots and apples - finely chop or grate

Tips to keep your child safe from choking

  • Supervise your child during all meal and snack times.
  • Don’t let other children feed your child unless they are supervised closely.
  • Sit at a table, encourage a relaxed, safe eating environment and have your child chew their food well before swallowing.
  • Discourage your child from walking or running while eating.
  • Cut potentially hazardous foods into smaller bite-sized pieces to prevent accidental choking.
  • Be aware of and remove choking hazards in the home by vacuuming or sweeping regularly.
  • Be careful when new toys arrive or older children visit in case unsafe food or toys are within reach of your child.
  • Avoid using latex balloon​s. Use shiny foil or Mylar balloons instead.
Original author:
Samantha Thiessen, RD, MHSc.
Reviewed by:
Elly Berger, BA, MD, FRCPC, FAAP, MHPE


Cyr, C. (2012). Preventing choking and suffocation in children​. Ottawa: Canadian Paediatric Society.