Choking happens when a child’s airway gets blocked. Anything smaller than a 20-cent coin can cause an airway blockage and be a choking risk for children.
Examples of choking risks include:
- food items like lollies, marshmallows, raw apples, pieces of meat (including chicken and fish), nuts, raw carrots, uncooked peas, seeds (including popcorn kernels), grapes, fruit pips and stones, hot dogs and sausages
- household items like coins, small batteries, small magnets, the tops off pens and markers, and jewellery
- toys and toy parts like plastic shapes, marbles, the eyes of stuffed toys, table tennis balls and balloons (uninflated or popped)
- garden objects like pebbles
- any other small items.
Do you know what to do for a choking child? Our choking first aid article and illustrated guides to choking first aid for babies and choking first aid for children and teens take you through the steps.
Preventing choking while your child is eating: tips
These tips can help you protect your child from choking while they’re eating:
- Sit while eating. Your child is more likely to choke if they eat while lying down, running around or playing, so sitting at a table or even on the floor will reduce the risk. If you sit with your child while they eat, and talk to or entertain them, they’ll be less tempted to get up and run around.
- Encourage your child to chew food well. Teaching your child to chew and swallow properly, and to take their time during meals, will reduce their risk of choking.
- Keep food pieces small. Until your child can chew well, give your child food in pieces smaller than a pea. Anything bigger than this is hard for little children to eat safely. This is because their airways are small, and they’re still learning to chew and swallow properly.
- Cook, grate or mash hard foods, particularly hard fruit and vegetables like carrots and apples.
- Avoid whole nuts and similar hard foods until your child is three years old. Corn chips, marshmallows, lollies and grapes can also be choking risks.
- Avoid giving your baby a bottle in bed. Babies who fall asleep with a bottle can draw liquid into their lungs and choke on it.
Preventing choking around your home: tips
These tips can help you protect your child from choking around your home:
- Try to keep small objects out of reach. Curiosity leads children to put unusual things into their mouths. Check the floor for small objects by getting down to child height and looking around.
- Always follow the age recommendations on toys. Use toys that are solid and sturdy, and avoid toys with small parts, breakable parts or brittle surfaces. Check toys for exposed stuffing and loose screws and buttons.
- Avoid buying toys with button batteries. Check the battery compartments on items in your home to make they’re secured. Keep loose button batteries out of reach.
- Keep toys for small children and older siblings in separate boxes. Encourage older siblings to keep their little toys out of reach. This might include Lego, doll clothes, beads, car parts and so on.
Product Safety Australia’s free, do-it-yourself Choke Check tool can help you identify toys and other objects that pose choking or ingestion hazards. You can also visit or subscribe to Product Safety Australia Recalls to keep an eye out for product recall information.
Children at higher risk of choking
Children with disability or chronic illness might be at higher risk of choking than other children.
Children are more likely to choke if they have a disability like cerebral palsy, epilepsy, intellectual disability, asthma or gastro-oesophageal reflux disease. If your child has one of these conditions, talk to your doctor about how best to avoid choking.