Why Your Toddler Is Too Young For Candy Canes, According to Doctors

Getty / NSimages / Isabel Pavia

The iconic red and white peppermint candy is a holiday staple, but is it safe for your toddler? Whether you’re navigating the grocery aisle, visiting a family member’s house, or hosting a holiday party, candy canes are practically everywhere during the winter months. As parents, we often face those pleading eyes from little ones, urging us to indulge in sweet treats throughout the season. And let’s be honest, what child could resist a brightly colored treat that practically doubles as a toy?

Amid the chaos of hosting family gatherings, finding the perfect gifts, and inevitable holiday stress, we may find ourselves giving in and saying yes. But is this sticky hard candy the safest choice for your toddler? Ahead, we consult two pediatricians to get answers.

Are Candy Canes Safe to Give to Toddlers?

While the allure of the sugary treat and the irresistible temptation of those pleading eyes may be strong, doctors collectively agree that giving hard candy to a toddler is a big no-no. In line with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Los Angeles pediatrician Valerie Watiker, MD says that hard candy under the appropriate age can be a serious choking hazard. “Most young toddlers are going to bite the candy cane, and the hard, sticky texture of the candy poses a choking risk,” says Dr. Watiker. She also notes that the force of the bite at such a young age could lead to a chipped or broken tooth.

At What Age Can Kids Eat Candy Canes?

According to the AAP, hard candy, such as candy canes, should not be introduced to kids before the age of 5. Elizabeth Hawkes, MD, another pediatrician based in Los Angeles, notes that even for children over the recommended age, “parents should always make sure the child is sitting down and focusing on the act of eating.” In other words, your child should not be walking or running around while trying to eat hard candy. For younger children, adult supervision is crucial to prevent any potential choking hazards. “If your child is developmentally delayed or has problems with chewing or swallowing, then I would wait until they are even older,” says Dr. Hawkes.

What Sweet Alternatives Can You Give to Your Younger Children?

Just because your little one can’t have candy canes doesn’t mean they’re completely devoid of sweet treats for the holidays. “It just has to be age appropriate,” says Dr. Watiker. Think soft chewable cookies (even ones with fun candy-cane-colored frosting) or other soft candy for a 3- or 4-year-old. Either way, there are plenty of options for your toddler to satisfy their sweet tooth. “Just remember to always brush the teeth well after any type of candy!” says Dr. Hawkes. By making thoughtful choices, you can ensure a festive and safe holiday experience for both you and your toddler.

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