Technique to decrease oral fixation
anonymous Asks ...
My son is constantly chewing or sucking on things. He is 12. His shirt, pens or pencils, his fingers, bottle caps – whatever he can get his hands on. I tell him to stop and he stops for 5 seconds and then his hands just go back to his mouth. You can see that he trying to fight the impulse but it just keeps coming every few seconds and then he forgets and does it. We got some spray on deodorant and sprayed it on his hands so he would taste it and remember so he would be more conscious of the problem and that helped a bit but it has not solved the problem. I am worried that people will make fun of him for sucking on his fingers in class. What can we try?
Dr. Lani Chin Says ...
Thanks for your post. I'll do my best to try to answer your question.
It sounds like your son may be trying to express himself through his chewing and sucking. Have there been any changes recently in your family? Your son may be trying to find a way to soothe himself or discharge some anxiety he is feeling. I would recommend you schedule an appointment with his general practitioner to see if there is anything physical going on that may result in this behavior. You can also ask his general practitioner for a referral to a Child Psychologist who might be able to help your son explore new ways to express himself.
For an immediate difference, try to give less attention to the behavior your don't want him to do. Sometimes attention can be a form of reinforcement whether it be positive or negative. Try to ignore the behavior as best you can unless he is harming himself and give more praise or attention to other behaviors. For example, if he expresses how he is feeling when he wants to chew or suck on something, reward him in some way. This way he will learn that if does something other than the behavior you want to decrease, he will have more positive interactions with you. Additionally, you can try to teach him when he is nervous or anxious to take a walk or do something else with his hands like play the piano or fold a paper airplane. Sometimes children have an excess of energy that they may not know what to do with.
Good luck to you and your son.