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There’s a story about children and choking that I heard years ago that I’ll never forget. My daughter’s father told me when his younger brother was a toddler, either two or three-years-old, he choked on one of those big round peppermints and died. His brother was the youngest of four children and the candy got lodged in his throat. It’s a horrible story. To this day, I see those peppermints (even the smaller ones) and I pass them by. My kids ask if they can have one, and I always tell them no. Actually, any round candies that look big enough to get caught in their throats scare me too much for me to allow the kids to eat it. Back when my daughter was five, she ate one against my instructions and accidentally swallowed it while jumping around at the hair salon. She cried for about twenty minutes. Luckily, it went straight down, but still scared the crap out of us both.

Whenever there’s anything close to a choking incident, I think of that story of a little boy who passed at such a young age, and how devastated his mother must have been to have to go through that. I don’t know how I would react if one of the kids started choking, but I hope that I would be prepared. Back in college, I took a CPR course because I was working at a child care agency. I vaguely remember what to do if, God forbid, something happens. It’s time for a refresher course.

This weekend, while barbecuing at my house, my friend’s daughter almost gave us all a heart attack. At two-and-a-half, she’s getting into a rhythm and trying to do everything on her own. Happy to be eating with the rest of the kids, she almost choked on her last bite of her hot dog. I was a little relieved when I heard her let out a few coughs. Still, her parents quickly rushed to her. Her father literally almost turned her upside down when he picked her up and gave her a little shake to get the hot dog out of her mouth. He erred on the side of caution. When it was all said and done, I let out a harmless joke about how quickly he was able to turn her over. It was reflex, he told me, after an incident they had with their son a few years ago where a bottle cap had gotten lodged in his throat. He told me that, back then, there was no coughing. Must have been a nightmare, I said. That’s when I realized that I needed to review the steps. Just. In. Case.

In no way is this a substitute for a CPR course. And there are specific rules for children of certain ages (the steps vary depending on whether the child is over a year old). The one thing I know off the top of my head is that if the child is coughing, then the airway isn’t blocked and most of the times, the kid is probably fine. But if he or she is unable to cough or breathe, the first thing is to deliver first quick slaps between their shoulder blades with the heel of your hand. If that doesn’t work, you will need to do a Heimlich maneuver on a child over age one. This is where I get nervous and think, okay, time to actually go take a course. Quick inward and upward thrusts into the child’s belly with one fist (not too much force) should force the object out, reports a few internet sites on choking and CPR. Keep alternating the thrusts and back slaps. Oh, and it never hurts to call 911. Again, just in case.

If the child doesn’t stop choking and goes unconscious, that’s when you’ve got to administer CPR, and I won’t even try to give those instructions. I remember the first rule is to call 911 and let them walk you through it. I hope I never have to experience that, but just knowing how easy it is for an adult to choke, helps to warn me to be more conscious of the kids when they are eating. They have a bad habit of eating dinner and talking, or eating candy while they are running around.

And know which foods are potential choking hazards. Hot dogs are one (a man died from choking less than two weeks ago on the Fourth of July at a hot dog eating contest in South Dakota—he was 47). For toddlers, it’s things like grapes, olives, baby carrots, cherries with pits, and hard candy—especially those peppermints.

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