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How to Talk to Your Kids about Choking Prevention

April 18, 2019

Talking to Your Kids About Choking Prevention

No family wants to think about the risk of a child choking, but that risk is unfortunately persistent. About every five days in the U.S. alone, a child dies from choking. We believe that the best way to cut that risk is to prepare for it.

Here, we’ll discuss strategies for getting your whole family involved to learn to prevent choking and what to do if an emergency does occur.

Start the Conversation: What Is Choking?

Talking to children about emergencies such as choking can be tricky, because we want them to understand the seriousness of the situation, but we don’t want to scare them. As for so many things in life, we believe when it comes to choking, honesty is the best policy.

Start your conversation with your kids simply, by asking them if they know what choking is. Work from that starting point, depending on how they answer and how old they are. The most important concept they need to understand is that the things we put in our mouths can sometimes get stuck, and that can be very dangerous.

If you think it’s appropriate, you may ask your kids to take a few deep breaths or to hold their breath for a moment. Point out how they can’t hold their breath for long, because breathing is very important, and our bodies need to keep breathing. Then ask them to try to swallow and to notice how that feels. Do they feel it in their throats? Explain that when someone chokes on a piece of food or another object, it gets stuck there, in the throat, which is also where we breathe. “If you couldn’t take a breath, that wouldn’t feel good, would it?”

These concepts may seem rudimentary, but we believe it’s important for kids to understand what choking is so they will feel motivated to prevent it.

The Next Steps: Preventing Choking Together

Once your kids understand what choking is and why it’s dangerous, you should work together as a family team to prevent it. Talk about the kinds of things kids can choke on, such as toys and other small household hazards. Instead of just saying, “don’t put that in your mouth,” try adding, “that might cause choking. Remember what we learned about choking?” Get older siblings involved by teaching them why it’s so important to pick up little toys.

It’s also very important to talk about foods that cause choking, which are more of a risk than household objects. Work on developing good eating habits and explain them to kids using the following phrases, tying each back to what you learned together about choking:

  • Chew your food fully and carefully. There’s no need to rush. Sometimes people choke when they try to swallow too much, too fast.
  • Don’t eat while running around. You might not be able to swallow your food easily! Eating should be calm and still.
  • Don’t eat while lying down. Sure, it sounds nice to have a snack while lying down, watching TV, but it’s hard to swallow when you’re lying down, even for grown-ups. You should always be sitting upright while you eat.

What to Do in an Emergency

Finally, if your child is old enough, you may want to talk to them about what to do if someone is choking. Teach them the “universal symbol” for choking, wrapping your hands around your neck. Tell them you will ask them, “Are you choking?” if they make that sign, and that they should try to answer by nodding. Teach them that if they or someone they see are ever choking, they must get an adult immediately.

If you believe it’s appropriate, you can also show them video demonstrations of choking first-aid treatments, such as this video of how the Dechoker works. Answer their questions without overloading them with information, and let them feel empowered by their understanding. Just as being prepared helps us adults feel less worried, so too can information and planning help kids feel safer.  

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