What Are The Biggest Choking Hazards For Kids?

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The scariest part of parenting is seeing your child in distress, especially when they’re choking. Choking is one of the most common causes of death in infants. When children are that young, they use their hands and mouth to explore. Their curiosity inevitably leads to any and every object ending up in their mouth.

So, what are the biggest choking hazards for children? How can you tell what is and isn’t a choking hazard? Some handy tricks and guidelines can help you.

What Qualifies As A Choking Hazard?

A choking hazard is any item that can become lodged in a small child’s throat. These are typically small toy pieces like LEGOs and doll shoes. If you aren’t sure whether or not something is a choking hazard, you can perform a simple test.

All you need for this is an empty toilet paper roll and whichever item or items you wish to test out. If the entire thing can fit inside the toilet paper roll or falls entirely through, it’s considered a safety hazard.

If your child gets their hands on one of these items and starts choking, it’s imperative to perform the Heimlich maneuver right away. It’s worth noting that the Heimlich maneuver is done a little differently for infants than it is for toddlers and small children.

For infants, you should follow these steps:

  1. Hold them face down on your forearm.
  2. Rest your arm on your thigh.
  3. Use the heel of your hand to hit their back five times.
  4. Back blows will typically work, but if they don’t then flip your baby over.
  5. Make sure their head is lower than the rest of their body.
  6. Do chest compressions with two fingers in the middle of their chest.
  7. Alternate back blows and chest compressions as needed.

If you still can’t get the lodged item out, call 911 right away.

For children who can walk, performing the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge the item is a bit different. You can do this by positioning yourself behind your child, so you’re at their height. Lean them forward and start with back blows, then wrap your arms around their waist. Then, you’ll make fists and push up just above the belly button.

Regardless of whether you have an infant or toddler, it’s imperative to keep performing these steps until help arrives or until your child can breathe and cough.

The Most Common Choking Hazards

Some items are more dangerous than others. These common choking hazards are also common household foods and kids’ toys. I’m not saying you have to purge your house thoroughly, but these items require some extra attention.


Food is a significant choking hazard for babies who are just starting to learn how to eat. Between the ages of six and 12 months, your child will be learning how to chew and swallow. Food will likely trigger their gag reflex frequently, so make sure to keep an eye on them.

When starting solids, it’s best to keep your infant away from these foods:

  • Corn kernels.
  • Hard, raw fruits and vegetables.
  • Uncut fruits and vegetables.
  • Any nuts or kinds of nut butters.
  • Large chunks of meat.
  • Bony meat.
  • Uncut hot dogs.
  • String cheese.
  • Cookies.
  • Chips, pretzels, crackers.
  • Hard candies, marshmallows, gum.

This list may seem extensive, but some items on there can be safe if appropriately cut. Grapes, tomatoes, and hot dogs are some of the more well-known of these foods.

When preparing something for your child, the general rule of thumb is to cut their food, so they’re smaller than the width of your thumb. No pun intended—this is the size of the airway. To avoid choking, cut hot dogs into small pieces, and grapes/tomatoes should be cut longways into thin strips.

Parenting pro tip: if you want to be even more proactive with grapes and tomatoes, cut them longways again after you halve them.

Toys And Household Things

Toys can easily become an issue if you have an older child who enjoys building LEGOs or playing with dolls. These typically come in small pieces or with tiny accessories. Those little parts pose an issue if you have a young child who is still exploring with their mouth.

If a toy fails the toilet paper tube test I mentioned above, keep it away from your small child. Here are a few helpful guidelines you can use in your home to prevent choking:

  • Watch for age recommendations: Toy companies always provide age recommendations for their products. These recommendations will tell you if a toy is appropriate for your child’s age.
  • Teach older children to clean up after themselves: Your older kids need to know that leaving small toys around a baby poses a major risk.
  • Get down to the baby’s level: This will allow you to check any spaces your baby might get into. Make sure to pick up everything you see, even if you don’t think it could be a choking hazard. Specifically, look out for pen and marker caps, toy car wheels, foam balls, and buttons.
  • Uninflated balloons are a no-no: Even if inflated, you shouldn’t let your child play with balloons unattended if they still put things in their mouth.

Other household items like bottle caps, batteries, and coins should always be picked up as well. Magnets are another risk that can pose more than just a choking hazard. If a child swallows a magnet or multiple, they can wreak havoc on the digestive system and other organs.

Keeping Baby Safe

Parenthood is tough. As parents, we have to be responsible for keeping these tiny human beings alive for at least 18 years. Our duty is proven difficult by curious hands and mouths, which lead to potentially scary choking situations.

Being a proactive parent and making sure you’re keeping choking hazards away from your children will make our job at least a little easier. Even if you see something you aren’t sure of, the handy dandy toilet paper tube test will give you the answers you need.

Don’t be afraid to cut your kiddo’s hot dog into smithereens. You’re better safe than sorry, anyway!

Howard is a co-founder of Smart Parent Advice. When he isn't spending time with his wife, Kristin, or his two children, he can often be found running around on the tennis court.