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Ignoring Bad Habits

Question

My 9-year-old daughter still puts things in her mouth and chews on them like a toddler: Lego pieces, wrappers, etc. It seems like she has an oral fixation and always needs to be chewing or sucking on something. How do I get her to stop?

Answer

Thanks for reaching out to Parent Guru; this is a great question. First, it’s important for you to understand that YOU can’t make your daughter stop putting things in her mouth. In fact, it’s likely that the more you try to stop her or pay any amount of attention to her when she is putting things in her mouth the more she will do it. To get your daughter to stop doing these things you are going to have to motivate her to want to stop.

Aside from any obvious safety issues or choking hazards, the first thing you need to do is ignore these types of behaviors. Kids crave attention and will do anything for it. Kids are also weird and like to explore their world in a variety of ways including putting things in their mouths. Right now, your daughter is getting tons of attention for putting things in her mouth that you don’t like, so ignore, ignore, ignore. If you find yourself unable to ignore her then tell your daughter that it's not good manners to chew like this around others and that she is only allowed to chew in this manner in the bathroom or bedroom and then send her there.

If WHAT she is chewing on is really bothering you, you can offer her some options for things that you are OK with her chewing (gum or mints) however doing so is still just accommodating an otherwise undesirable habit of constant chewing. Reducing the frequency of this chewing habit should be the goal and eliminating any attention she is getting for doing it is the most important step. Make sure that all adults in her care are aware of this and get them on board with ignoring it too.

The internet is filled with a number of reasons as to why kids will engage in these behaviors, many of which are simply bad habits, so I caution you to focus less on why and more on helping her overcome this behavior or, at the very least, help her find more appropriate ways to engage in her chewing habit until she is ready to stop. I suspect once she realizes her chewing habit is no longer getting her extra attention and she is having to miss out on things by being sent to her room or the bathroom to engage in her chewing habit she will be motivated to stop. Let us know how it goes!

Lisa Woodman
Certified Leadership Parenting Coach
coachingbythecup@gmail.com

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