Excessive Mouthing Behavior

By Pam Marshalla

Q: Is it normal for child 4;6 to mouth everything, including toys, walls, and doorknobs? If this isn’t normal, do you have any ideas how to eliminate this problem? I need ideas for mom to try at home.

This always is a difficult topic. This is how I think about it…

Mouthing this much in a four-year-old definitely is not normal. The client is over-doing it for some reason. Oral craving due to significant limitations in the ability to process oral stimuli could be the cause. Or the behavior could be a simple habit or distraction.

Either way, excessive mouthing like this has to come to a stop because it is dangerous. Also an oral habit will not necessarily facilitate improved oral movements because it can inhibit the development of a wide variety of oral movements if the client locks in to mouthing certain things only in certain ways. Also, mouthing at this age is socially inappropriate. This makes the child stand out in the wrong way.

If the client needs the stimuli, then you don’t want to eliminate it completely, but you want to “draw a box around it.” This means that you want to teach him to mouth only certain things under certain conditions. For example, he can mouth baby chew toys only when he is sitting in a certain chair, and only for a certain number of minutes. Then he must get up and do something else. If he wants to mouth, he has to stay in the chair and he cannot be involved in other activities. He is told something like, “If you want to chew, you have to stay in this chair. If you want to play, you have to take the toys out of your mouth.”

To eliminate mouthing, standard behavior modification procedures are employed. For example, use distractions, rewards for putting things down instead of mouthing them, brain washing about how big he is getting and how big boys don’t put things in their mouths, etc. Reward non-mouthing and punish mouthing.

My book How to Stop Thumbsucking contains material that can be generalized to excessive mouthing behavior. It contains strategies for parents to utilize at home.

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