COVID-19 Updates: Latest Information for Parents

First Aid & Emergencies

Babysitting: Dealing With Choking

Choking can be a life-threatening emergency.

Kids might be choking if they:

  • gasp for air
  • cannot talk, cry, or make noise
  • turn blue in the face
  • wave their arms and seem panicky
  • clutch the throat
  • cough hard but can’t get an object out
  • are suddenly breathing with a high pitched sound

What to Do

If you think a child is choking, ask the child if he or she is OK. If the child is able to breathe and talk while gagging or coughing, then the airway is not blocked. Keep an eye on the child if this happens — most likely, he or she is having a coughing attack and will be fine afterward.

If the child is conscious but can’t cough, speak, or breathe:

  • Call 911 or have someone else call.
  • If you are trained to do so, perform abdominal thrusts (also called the Heimlich maneuver) immediately. If you are not trained in the Heimlich maneuver, wait for medical care to arrive.

If a child starts choking and becomes unconscious and stops breathing:

  • Call 911 immediately.
  • Start cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) immediately. If you are not trained in CPR, wait for emergency medical care.
  • Do not pat the child on the back.
  • Do not reach into a child’s mouth to try to remove the object.

If a child had a serious choking attack and has difficulty breathing or speaking, call 911 immediately. After you call 911, call the child’s parents.


Preventing choking is much easier than treating it. To help prevent choking:

  • Never feed kids younger than 4 years old foods that are easy to choke on, such as nuts, raw carrots or celery, popcorn, fruits with pits or seeds (like cherries), and hard or gooey candy. Cut hot dogs lengthwise (in half from one end of the hot dog to the other) and then into small pieces. Cut grapes in half.
  • Make sure that kids sit down to eat, take small bites, and don’t talk or laugh with their mouths full while eating.
  • In a house with babies and toddlers, pick up items that might be dangerous if swallowed and put them out of the child’s reach. These include deflated balloons, coins, beads, pen caps, and batteries. Keep toys or gadgets with small parts out of reach.

And if you’re not already trained in CPR, get trained. The lifesaving interventions you learn will help make you the best babysitter you can be.

Reviewed by: Rupal Christine Gupta, MD
Date reviewed: September 2014