Gagging Vs. Choking

A Halloween Safety Guide For Parents

By Chelsea McMann - The Mama Coach October 10, 2023

As Halloween approaches, parents everywhere are gearing up for the festivities, making sure costumes are ready and treats are prepared. Amidst the excitement of all the Ghouls and Goblins, it’s crucial to prioritize safety, especially when it comes to little ones. One of the most important things you can do this Halloween is to understand the difference between gagging and choking and know how to respond effectively. This knowledge is not only valuable during Halloween but also in everyday situations. Did you know that hard candy accounted for 15% of all choking episodes, and other types of candy caused an additional 12.8%?! With Halloween coming up are you prepared to save your little one (or your neighbors) from a choking event? Let’s unravel the difference between gagging and choking and ensure a safe and enjoyable Halloween for everyone.

Understanding Gagging vs. Choking


Gagging is a natural reflex that occurs when something triggers the back of the throat, prompting a child to gag or cough. It’s the body’s way of preventing choking by pushing the object forward or out of the mouth. Gagging is a natural and protective reflux. Children often gag when they try new foods or when a piece of food isn’t chewed thoroughly. While gagging can be alarming, it’s generally not a cause for concern. Signs of Gagging include;

  • Child will open their mouth thrusting their tongue forward
  • Child's face may appear red
  • Child may cough or sputter
  • Gagging is loud; the child will cry, cough, make noise

If your child is gagging, it is best not to interfere, as startling them could lead to choking. Stand by and be ready to assist them if necessary. Remember the phrase “RETCHING, COUGHING, OR CRYING, LET BABY KEEP TRYING”


Choking, on the other hand, is a life-threatening emergency. It happens when an object obstructs the airway, making it difficult or impossible to breathe. If there is a partial obstruction to the airway you may hear a wheezing type sound, this is not adequate breathing! If you hear wheezing your child is choking and needs immediate intervention. Choking can occur suddenly and silently, and it requires immediate intervention to clear the airway and restore normal breathing. Signs of Choking include;

  • Look of terror
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing sound
  • Inability to cry
  • May look like they are gagging but no noise
  • Child will begin to turn blue
  • Choking is silent

Choking requires IMMEDIATE intervention. Remember the phrase “PANICKED, SILENT, OR WHEEZING, BABY IS NOT BREATHING”.

Tips to Ensure Halloween Safety

Choose Age-Appropriate Treats:

Thoroughly inspect your childs candy and ensure you only keep treats that are safe for your child’s age group. Avoid hard candies, sticky candy, popcorn, and small toys that could pose a choking hazard for any child under the age of 4. 

Supervise Snacking:

Keep an eye on your child while they enjoy their Halloween treats. Encourage them to chew their food thoroughly and sit down while eating to minimize the risk of choking. While its tempting to eat all that delicious candy on the run, it increases the chances of choking so be sure children are safe when eating. 

Learn Basic First Aid:

If there is an emergency with your child, or someone else’s child, you are going to be the first person to respond! While its imperative to call 911 immediately, you can equip yourself with life saving measures to perform while you wait for First Responders.  Being prepared can make a significant difference in a critical situation. There are two opportunities this month to learn how to respond to gagging and choking, and learn CPR. Chelsea McMann, The Mama Coach is offering a Safe Starts Workshop (October 15th) perfect for parents who are starting solid foods with their little ones and want to be prepared in the case of an emergency and an Always Prepared Workshop (October 29th) perfect for every single member of the community to learn all about CPR, Choking and AED machines. Both of these workshops are held virtually. You can read more and sign up HERE.

Stay Calm and Act Quickly:

In the event of choking, stay calm and act swiftly. If your child is gagging but can still breathe, encourage them to keep coughing. If they can’t breathe, call for emergency assistance and perform life-saving measures immediately.


This Halloween, let’s focus on creating not only fun but also safe memories for our children. By understanding the difference between gagging and choking and taking proactive measures, parents can ensure a worry-free Halloween celebration. Stay vigilant, stay prepared, and most importantly, enjoy the festivities with your little ones, knowing you’ve taken the necessary steps to keep them safe. Happy Halloween!

About the Author:

Hi! I’m Chelsea McMann, The Mama Coach, a Registered Nurse, and a Child Development Expert in private practice. I am here to make parenting easier. From Prenatal to Potty Learning and all the milestones in between. Parenting education and support are severely lacking and I am here to help. With close to a decade of Emergency Room experience, I am proud to offer and teach life-saving measures to parents like you and members of the community alike. I am also a mom of two young children and understand that thinking about an emergency with your kids is every parent's worst nightmare. Join me this month in being prepared and confident to save your or someone else’s child in an emergency. 


Chapin MM, Rochette LM, Annest JL, Haileyesus T, Conner KA, Smith GA. Nonfatal choking on food among children 14 years or younger in the United States, 2001-2009. Pediatrics. 2013 Aug;132(2):275-81. doi: 10.1542/peds.2013-0260. Epub 2013 Jul 29. PMID: 23897916.