I have a 5 year old daughter who continuously puts things in her mouth: toys (barbies hands, dinosaurs tails, playmobile heads, etc.), books, paintbrush ends, chewing on straws, things she picks up of the floor (that's been getting better over the last year), the list is pretty long. Every time I tell her to take the item out of her mouth, she almost seems embarrassed and also sneakily sticks it back in her mouth as soon as I turn my back (all stealth like). I'm concerned for her health, of course, but also worried if this is a precursor to more dangerous behavior the older she gets.

I guess my questions are: is this common? Is it dangerous (outside of the normal led paint, plastic chips, and so on)? Is this an "illness"? Is it something that I can help her stop w/out being rude about it? Any other thoughts or advice on this would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks a lot!

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There are many nerve endings in the mouth-- more than the hands-- and they can help a child understand a lot about objects in general, especially when they are younger. At 5 though, there is probably something else going on.

Have you been asking her to stop for a long time? Do you think at this point it might just be the fact that she knows she isn't supposed to, but this is something she is in control of? The description "sneakily" suggests it may be a bit of a push/pull with you as a mom-- which is typical.

Another thought-- do you notice any low muscle tone in her face or mouth? Drooling a bit more than other kids, perhaps?


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This was a very interesting reminder about the nerves, I'm sure that's one of the reasons she did it so much when she was younger. What struck me was your idea about the control issue. I think that's always something to consider with young kids who have so much decided for them that they always try to find one thing that they can take control of. That was interesting about the muscle tone, I don't see her drooling at all so I don't think that's the problem, but still something I will keep in mind to look into. Her mouth seems strong and we were just at the dentist right before year's end and he said everything looked normal. Thank you very much for your advice!
When I was a little girl, I chewed on everything. You could be describing me as a 5 year old. All of my keepsake barbies and dolls have their fingers and toes chewed off. I always just chalked it up to an oral fixation. This has followed me through my life. I chew pens, pencils, and worst of all my fingernails. I have been able to stop biting my nails for months at a time, but when something stressful is on my mind i can't help but chew. I actually don't notice until I feel pain, and there is some sort of satisfaction that comes with the chewing. One thing that really takes away some urges is chewing gum (xylitol only no artificial sweeteners) or if I take time to focus on what's bothering me and how I cam relieve the stress in a different way.
I was always a nervous little girl and felt a lot of pressure to be good in school. Does your daughter seem nervous or stressed? I wish that way back them my parents would have addressed my nervousness and stress instead of just "stop chewing." I think if I would have been taught coping strategies I wouldn't be a nail-biter to this day. Maybe just have some dialog with your little one and ask her why she does it. If she's worried about anything and how you can help her to stop.
This was so touching, thank you for sharing. It also really hit home and reminded me of something I don't really think of a lot because it's just such a normalcy in my own mind and day to day. I'm a single mom, so that stress you're talking about that my daughter could be experiencing may come from not being able to see her dad. It's obviously difficult to read a child's mind and remember that they react and think of "traumas" like that differently then adults. Do you think, speaking from your own experience, that something as drastic as seeing a child counselor would be a good idea? I figure that could be a way to go because talking to me, her mother, may not be the most objective way of "dealing" with the situation. But really a great reason of why she could possibly be chewing on everything and thanks for reminding me that I need a "time-out" before jumping on her case for something that she's probably doing very absentmindedly.
Glad I posted this question, I thought it was kind of dumb at first but figured there are other moms and dads who deal with the same thing, and now I was able to have a light switched on in my head that says "ahh, that could be the reason."
Thank you and best of luck to you!
I definitely could have benefited from seeing a counselor in my younger years. Stress always took a physical toll on my body because I also have stress-induced irritable bowel syndrome. So, yes had my parents actually recognized my chewing and nail-biting as a cry for help, I think a counselor could have helped me cope better. I still have issues dealing with high stress situations and I'm a bit of a nervous Nellie, but am slowly recognizing my issues a learning better ways to handle myself. The earlier you make sure that your daughter's concerns are heard and addresses, the better off she will be later. I also sucked my thumb until I was 12 for security and had to endure painful dental work plus 3 years of braces. Safe yourself the trouble and money while you still can. And most importantly help your daughter develop the coping skills she will use the rest of her life. Sounds like you are doing good so far.
My eight year old and my five year old still chew on their clothes. I sucked my thumb until I was about 5 or 6, and my sister sucked hers till she was about 7.

I think we all have a natural tendency to find pleasure with putting things in our mouths. Freud, I think, would say that she is stuck in some phase, but I'm not much of a Freud fan:) I would say what she is doing is quite normal. I wouldn't necessarily discourage it, but just make sure that she isn't putting dangerous things in her mouth. My opinion would be that as long as she's not hurting herself or anyone else, there's no harm in it.
Haha, I'm not a "Freudian" either but every now and then I hear something of his and think "well, that does make sense and he made a good point." I guess it's the fact that I worry about her putting dangerous objects in her mouth when I'm not around just because she thinks it's alright to whatever she wants in her mouth (if I don't discourage it at home where it's a safe environment to learn). I'm glad to know that other folks' opinion is that it's normal which means that I have to train myself to stop making her out to be bad for doing it. Thanks for the encouragement, I appreciate the advice from other mom's who've got the experience under their belt;-)
Does she seem to do it in response to stress or to comfort or calm herself--situational? Or is it more of an unconsious, habitual behavior? Sometimes "oral fixations" can be an indication of insecurity/anxiety and are a way to "self soothe." Just as often though, it is just a leftover habit from early years. When my daughter was this age she did the same thing. She is now 13 and still sometimes puts things in her mouth--mostly when she is concentrating and/or really focused on something. Like chewing on her pencil when she does her homework. But, not to worry, because she is a well-adjusted kid and has no other indications of emotional issues, nor does she exhibit any other abnormal or dangerous behaviors.

As a child development professional, my recommendation would be to explain that it is dangerous, esp of it is a choking hazard (to test this have her drop it down a toilet paper roll, if it falls through it is a choking hazard, great visual lesson for her at this age) and that even though she can't see them there are germs on things and putting them in her mouth could make her sick this will help her understand why it is a habit that needs to be broken.

Let her know that from now on anything that goes in her mouth is lost and make her forfeit it. Don't admonish her for doing or make a big deal out of it, just matter of factly have her forfeit whatever it is. If possible make her throw it away, if not she has to put it in a box/baggie for several days (she must get rid of it don't take it from her and do it). This "consequence" should help her if it is just a mindless habit. However, if you find that she starts hiding to be able to do it, or if the behavior doesn't begin to diminish considerably within a few weeks of doing this consistently, then you should assume it is related to some issue and talk to your pediatrician or consult with a counselor about it, because as I said it can be an indication of insecurity and/or anxiety.

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