Putting Inappropriate Objects in Mouth

My 3-1/2 year old son has been diagnosed as developmentally delayed,

and is receiving county assistance with speech and language

development as well as fine motor. What hasn't been addressed–and

what is of increasing concern to me–is his continuous putting of

non-food objects in his mouth. He often will put a small car, or toy

in his mouth (as well as his fingers). Any thing small ends up in his

mouth, to be held there, or chewed on. Also, he will –impulsively,

it appears–put his mouth on strange things–as if he needs to feel or

taste them–such as the outside car mirror, the recessed part of the

lock on the bathroom door. He doesn't do this hourly–or daily

(unlike the putting if things in his mouth0 but often enough that I am

concerned and puzzled. Except for the fact that he is socially

developmentally more toddler-ish in somce repects, he seems to be a

happy, normal child. Should this behavior worry me? What could it

mean? Should I seek the help of a professional, and if so, what kind?

Hope you can help with some info! Many thanks.

One thought on “Putting Inappropriate Objects in Mouth

  1. Dear Connie


    It's kind of you to suggest I post my comment as an answer. I'm so

    glad you found it useful.

    I started out looking for evidence to back up my reaction that there

    was no need to start thinking about mouthing as a symptom of some real

    difficulty. Your son isn't even 4 yet!

    Two important points are:

    1) Your mother's instincts tell you he's mostly "happy, normal".

    2) The professionals don't seem to be concerned.

    (But do keep on checking with them from time to time.)

    Exploring the world with your mouth can be quite "normal" at your

    son's age, and so is sucking for comfort, chewing for tension relief,

    and just plain mouth play. The research I pointed out in the comment

    confirms that some kids keep on doing it – a lot – after toddlerhood.

    There's not a whole lot more online that's really relevant, but there

    is a rather strict article about mouthing and behaviour modification

    (not my style). For me it just confirms there's plenty of post-3

    mouthing going on!

    "Age 3 and Older


    You can also use a technique called behavior modification to help

    reduce your child's mouthing behavior."


    The Harvard research I mentioned before refers to a very small study

    including two 4-year-olds, which specifically mentions "hard surfaces"

    (like your son and the car mirror?):

    "the objects most frequently mouthed included skin (primarily hands),

    hard toys, and hard surfaces."

    Quoted in:

    An Observational Study of Object Mouthing Behavior by Young Children.

    Pediatrics, Jan, 2001, by Daland R. Juberg, Kathleen Alfano, Robert J.

    Coughlin, Kimberly M. Thompson


    I did look for material on learning with all the senses and the body

    in general, but just came up with this piece about "Learning with your

    whole body":

    "for young children the world is a place to be tasted, touched,

    climbed on, smelled and heard as well"

    Learning with your whole body


    Do please ask if there's anything in this that you'd like me to try and clarify.

    I wish you and your son every happiness.

    Best Wishes – Leli

    Just for tidiness here's the original comment:

    A UK study looked into mouthing behaviour, and came up with some

    figures which may interest you.

    The two columns of figures I've picked out are for 3 and 4 year olds and give:

    1) the maximum amount of time any child in the study spent mouthing

    (all children with no particular problems or developmental delays)

    2) the mean (average) amount of time for all the children studied aged 3 and 4

    3 years old


    maximum mean

    ——- —-

    Soothers about 5 hours 48 mins

    Fingers about 3 hours 34 mins

    Toys 1 and a half hours 11 mins

    Other 1 and a half hours 15 mins

    4 years old


    Soothers about 5 hours 16 mins

    Fingers about 3 hours 19 mins

    Toys 20 minutes 3 mins

    Other 1 and a quarter hours 10 mins

    So you can see there's a lot of variation in so-called "normal" behaviour.

    By the way, the average 5-year-old, according to this study, spends

    nearly an hour a day mouthing something or other.

    This study also says:

    "Non-nutritive sucking (e.g.sucking on a dummy/soother) is thought to

    be adopted by infants as a response to frustration, as a need for

    contact, or as a part of the child?s psychological development in

    exploring the world around them through touching and tasting objects

    with the mouth and tongue." See the study in more detail at:


    (Adobe Acrobat Reader needed to view the document.)


    "None of the children had any physical or psychological problems which

    would either impair or exacerbate the natural tendency to mouth."


    A Harvard study also found:

    "Approximately 300 children showed a wide range of mouthing behaviors,

    from essentially none at all to a relatively large amount. "


    Of course it would be wise to ask your doctor or other child

    development professional about this, but if they are not concerned,

    why not wait a while and see if your son starts to grow out of it?

    Search strategy:

    mouthing study

    mouthing research

    mouthing explore

    mouthing senses

    mouthing learning body

    all phrases combined with:

    child OR children

    and/or with:

    "3 OR 4 OR 5 years old"

    "3 OR 4 OR 5 year olds"

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