When kiddos (who aren't teething) constantly mouth, chew, or bite on non-edibles, we describe them as having oral-seeking behaviors. Putting fingers, toys, or other objects in the mouth provides multi-sensory input that helps to organize a dysregulated nervous system. While such behaviors may pacify the child, these oral-seeking behaviors tend to cause us adults a lot of stress! Nobody truly wants a child to chew on his shirt, lick the wall, gnaw on Lego's, or bite a board book! Another point to ponder is that if the child is chewing on the toys, that means he's not playing with them in an appropriate or expected manner. Since children learn best through play, the lack of purposeful play can contribute to developmental delays.
Let's examine some strategies to support the oral-seeking child.
Cari's Straw Hierarchy (from least to most resistant)
Milkshake straws first (cut them in half to make the task easier)
Next offer bendy straws
After that try coffee stirrers
Finally, offer crazy straws
Try creating a "Biter Bucket" filled with a variety of objects that are allowed to go in the mouth such as:
When the child puts something inappropriate in his or her mouth, block and redirect to the "Biter Bucket." Pair these non-food options with some of the food options listed above, and over time, you should start to see a decrease in the oral-seeking behaviors.
*Note: When back molars come in around age 2, expect an increase in mouthing until those teeth erupt!
What therapists and educators need to know about early child development
Cari Ebert, MS, CCC-SLP, is a pediatric speech-language pathologist who specializes in apraxia, autism and early intervention.