“The parents insist that their child is ‘fine’ eating grapes at home - and keeps sending him to nursery, despite me asking them not to. For me, all that means is that an accident hasn’t happened – yet! I don’t know how to convince them of the dangers here. I have witnessed a choking incident – it is terrifying how quickly a child can lose consciousness. How can I get this message across?”
On a popular discussion forum for local Nursery Managers, participants complained that despite awareness campaigns and regular communication within their nurseries, parents continue to send children with lunch boxes containing potentially fatal choking hazards.
The UK has seen a number of distressing, well publicised cases of children choking on grapes. The outcry surrounding these tragedies has, at the very least, served to raise awareness for the general public.
In the UAE, Nursery Managers and teachers agree that parents and guardians of young children must also be made aware of the very real dangers.
Doctors writing for the British Medical Journal highlighted a number of deaths and near tragedies in the UK, such as:
Nursery teachers and leaders have asked parents to be vigilant over food items in lunchboxes to avoid a similar and ultimately, preventable tragedy.
Speaking to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, Kiara Siddall of Hummingbird Nursery DIFC explained why grapes in particular might be considered dangerous for young children:
“To ensure grapes aren’t a hazard, we make sure that they are cut into quarters for all our children. Grapes are a sweet and healthy snack and we’d obviously prefer fruit over processed foods. However, they should be given to young children with caution as they can block a child’s airway quickly. Added to this, very young children are still learning to chew and may not yet have a full set of teeth.
"It’s also worth thinking about where these hazardous foods tend to be consumed. Choking in young children seems to be correlated with distracted eating, and many of the foods identified as the most dangerous (candy, hot dogs, grapes) appear in places where kids might be focused elsewhere, like birthday parties, get-togethers and fast food restaurants. So, while some food items might appear more hazardous than others, meal and snack times always require complete adult attention, whatever a child is eating.”
Siog Moore, a Registered Nurse and owner of Little Land Nursery in Umm Suqeim, highlighted that grapes are not the only food choking hazards that nurseries contend with. Siog cited cherry tomatoes, hotdogs, cocktails sausages and even large blueberries as problematic, stressing that parents should remember that "children generally learn to chew well between the ages of 2½ and 4 years, adding that during this time, "all foods should be cut."
"It’s okay for children to practise with larger bites of food at home when they are being supervised one on one, but this is not practical for life in a busy nursery."
Little Land, and most other nurseries, have a general policy on cutting food for consumption in class. "This protects not only the children but their teachers and carers”, Ms Moore notes.
So whilst the primary solution to choking hazards is to cut your child’s food and to always, always practise vigilance – it is vital that all parents and carers have a basic knowledge of first aid should a child begin to choke. Rapid intervention could mean the difference between life and death.
Kate Lyon, Nurse at Mindchamps Al Safa suggests that anyone responsible for or working with children should take a first aid course and that in the event of a choking incident, the following steps should be followed:
“Should you notice your little one struggling with food, are unable to breathe, or unable to make a sound you need to act very quickly to help them. If they are coughing, encourage this, coughing will help to remove the object."
For Children below the age of 1
If the item is still lodged, call the emergency services and continue the cycle of back blows and chest thrusts until the item is removed or medical help come and take over.
For Children above the age of 1 you need to administer back blows followed by abdominal thrusts.
For more information on this important topic: visit ROSPA.