Preventing choking is an important focus for parents of any baby or toddler, but it can be extra tricky if there are older siblings. Montessori families and homeschoolers have to deal with the problem of lots of small objects that are a natural part of Montessori education but are dangerous for babies and toddlers. Following are some rules for preventing choking in babies and toddlers in general and then some specific tips for families who have a baby or toddler along with older children.
General Rules for Preventing Choking in Babies and Toddlers
For choking prevention in general, it’s important to keep these rules in mind:
- Supervise babies and toddlers whenever they’re eating or drinking. Children typically can’t make any noise to let you know they’re choking. Make sure you or anyone babysitting knows the Heimlich maneuver and CPR in case your baby or toddler starts choking.
- Only allow babies and toddlers to eat while seated. Don’t let them eat while in their car seat because the recline may encourage choking. Also, you can’t properly supervise your child when he or she is eating in a car seat.
- You can avoid many choking problems by cutting food very small or mashing it so it won’t lodge in your child’s throat. If the food is smaller than the windpipe, it won’t be able to get stuck.
- Wait until your child is older before you allow him or her to eat hard candy, peanuts or hot dogs. With foods like grapes, blueberries, strawberries, and small tomatoes, it’s best to cut them up into small pieces so they can’t get lodged in your toddler’s windpipe. Be careful with sticky foods as well, which can be difficult for young children to swallow.
- Find one of the plastic tubes that indicate the size of the throat. They’re sometimes sold with infant safety items. If you can’t find one, have a toilet paper tube handy. Make sure all parts are larger than 1¾ inches (the width of a toilet paper tube). If something will easily fit into a toilet paper tube, it’s small enough for a child to choke on.
- If your baby or toddler is mobile, place baby gates to keep him or her out of some rooms or away from other dangers such as the kitchen trash can.
- Keep all loose batteries boxed up and in a locked drawer or on a shelf that is out of reach.
- Small magnets are a serious choking danger similar to loose batteries.
- Don’t give latex balloons to babies and toddlers.
- Be careful there aren’t coins, marbles, or small stones where your baby or toddler could find them.
- Watch out for craft supplies like beads, buttons, and push pins that could be a choking hazard. For children who are ready to work with Montessori punching activities, I recommend the Montessori Services puncher for safety reasons.
- Use common sense about which activities to introduce to your baby or toddler. Those of us who are kid bloggers often have a warning on our blogs saying something like the warning on my blog’s sidebar: “All activities on this blog are intended to be executed under adult supervision. You must be the judge of what is age appropriate for your child and/or the children in your care.”
- If you ever choose to allow a baby or toddler who still mouths objects to work with a material that has small objects, such as water beads, remember that you need to supervise your baby or toddler EVERY. SINGLE. SECOND. Don’t turn your back or do anything but give your baby or toddler your full attention, with or without older children present. Put the materials away as soon as your baby or toddler is finished or tries to put the small objects in his or her mouth.
Preventing Chocking in Babies and Toddlers with Older Siblings
- For babies, you can use barriers to make an entire room or large portion of a room safe and available, allowing freedom of movement for your baby while keeping your baby away from your older children’s toys and materials. How We Montessori shows their Montessori baby-toddler room, which allows freedom of movement while the older sibling’s room is closed.
I used the same full-length mirror as one of the barriers for each of my children when they were babies. (See “My Top 3 Natural Parenting Principles.” and “How to Set Up Your Home for an Infant by Using Montessori Principles”)
- Teach your older children to put away their work and toys as soon as they finish using them (a Montessori principle that’s helpful in a number of ways).
Enlist your older children’s help as protectors of your baby or toddler. In multi-age Montessori classrooms, older children are role models and teachers for the younger children. That same concept works well at home. My son, Will, is 5 years older than my daughter, Christina. From the beginning, Will took on the role of protector and was a great help in keeping his toys and small objects put away and safely out of his sister’s reach. My husband and I made sure we showed Will respect and thanked him for his help in caring for his sister’s safety. (Note: If intense sibling rivalry makes it difficult for your older child to take on the role of protector, you might find some of the tips helpful in my post on the “Top 5 Ways to Reduce Sibling Rivalry.”)
- Many families find that it works well to place their baby’s or toddler’s activity trays or baskets on low shelves with their older children’s activities on higher shelves that can’t be reached by the baby or toddler.
- Many families find that it works well to keep small objects in see-through containers that can be opened by older children but not by babies or toddlers. This allows the baby or toddler to have access to small objects without being in danger of choking. (Note: this only works if you can always trust your older children to replace the cover securely on the container.) You can see an example of these types of materials and toddler Montessori shelves at Racheous. (Update: The post with the toddler Montessori shelves is no longer available.)
I have mini discovery boxes containing small objects.
I also use sensory bottles for small objects.
- Many families find that it works well to bring out special activities for the older children during the baby’s or toddler’s naptime.
- Many families find that it works well to direct a baby or toddler to work of his or her own while an older sibling does separate work nearby.
- Many families find that it works well to have separate shelves for the older children and separate shelves for the baby or toddler. The older children are allowed to use their materials and the materials on the younger child’s shelf. The younger child can use anything on his or her shelf and items he or she is invited to use with the older child or has been shown how to use from the older child’s shelf. This can be a good way to introduce a toddler to rules and to train the toddler to take out one thing at a time, learn the traditional Montessori rule of being presented work, and learn to be invited to work with another child rather than interfering with someone’s work. See What Did We Do All Day? to learn more about what worked for their family.
- What works well for your unique family often depends on the personality and age of each of your children.
For LOTS of Montessori baby articles, see my Montessori Baby Resources post.
You’ll find many more activities, including activities I’ve used with my granddaughter in my Infants and Toddlers category.
What tips have worked best for you in preventing choking in a baby or toddler with older siblings?
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