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Is Your Child Orally Fixated?

June 23rd, 2014 | By: Sydney Loney
Why some kids just can't stop putting things in their mouths

In This Article

Is Your Child Orally Fixated?

For infants and toddlers, there’s no such thing as the three-second rule – anything on the ground, whether it’s a fallen morsel of food, the dog’s gnarled chew toy or an old gob of gum, is fair game. And while it may not exactly meet your preferred standards of hygiene, the tendency small children have to put random objects in their mouths is, for the most part, completely normal.

“Infants explore everything with their mouths,” says Dr. Carla Fry, a registered psychologist in Vancouver. “Sucking and chewing on things is how they learn about their environment.” But, she says, if a child still mouths everything in sight at age two, whether it’s toys, school supplies or her own hair and clothing, the issue could be one of oral fixation.

How to tell if your child is orally fixated

 The biggest clue lies in the severity of the behaviour, like when your kid’s clothing is soaked with saliva after a few hours, or you suddenly discover she’s chewed through a pencil-case-worth of school supplies. Usually, it’s a combination of things, says Dr. Fry. Nail biting on its own is probably just a habit, but nail biting coupled with hair sucking is more likely an oral fixation.

Holy shirts and soaked sleeves aren’t new to Dr. Fry, who has seen many orally- fixated kids in her 15-year career. “Sometimes, it’s caused by a developmental glitch and the child doesn’t quite make a full transition from oral exploration to other forms of sensory learning,” she says. It’s also common in kids who are shy or anxious. “Sucking or chewing on objects becomes a self-soothing behaviour, or a way to release jittery energy.” Oral fixation can also occur in children with developmental issues, such as Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), which affects a child’s ability to respond appropriately to sensory information.