He refuses to swallow or spit out his food. We are at a loss on how to combat this issue as he won't just hold it in his mouth for half n hour. We are talking 3 HOURS + HERE! The only reason he spat it out after 3 hours is because we ended up telling him to swallow it sternly and he got upset and spat it out involuntarily because he started crying. And it isn't towards the end of the meal either. It's become the first bite he will do it. Our rule is that when he starts pocketing food, we don't make him eat anymore. We take the food away but he is not allowed to leave the table until he swallows what is in his mouth. He also refuses to spit it out or even open his mouth. I have had to try and scoop it out of his mouth before because he can't go to bed with food in his mouth as it's a choking hazard and he will just bite down on my finger. And it is also all sorts of food. Not just food he doesn't like. We can tell it is for attention and stubborness but has anyone had their child do this for 3 hrs at a time?? We are starting to wonder if there could be possible psychological issues going on as we know he can chew and swallow fine.

  • Have you tried giving him a drink? (What I mean is) Helping him take a drink from a sippy cup. Or you could try a bottle or whatever he responds too.
    – user7678
    Commented Jan 23, 2016 at 15:17
  • Related Questions: parenting.stackexchange.com/questions/11869/… and parenting.stackexchange.com/questions/23699/…
    – user7678
    Commented Jan 23, 2016 at 15:20
  • What does the pediatrician say? There are medical conditions, such as reflux, that might make eating uncomfortable. Is he losing weight yet? I have a friend whose 3-yr-old lived on a liquid diet + Cheese-It's & peanut butter for a year, but she was coming off of NG feedings
    – Stu W
    Commented Jan 24, 2016 at 13:29
  • @StuW, NG feedings?
    – hkBst
    Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 13:36
  • Sorry! Nasogastric. A small flexible tube that is inserted through the nostril into the stomach. It was a serious physical problem as opposed to a psychological or behavioral one.
    – Stu W
    Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 20:38

1 Answer 1


I understand why you're anxious about this. It can be really alarming to think of something "stuck" in your three-year-old child's mouth with nothing you can do to get it out.

He has realized this too! The problem wasn't really a problem until you accidentally made it into one.

Our rule is that when he starts pocketing food, we don't make him eat anymore.

You can't make a child eat anything. What he swallows (or not) is the one single thing in his life he can control. He's almost three, and he's worked that out! And look at the effect it's having on you - you're very upset and he's getting a lot of high quality attention. It's negative attention, but it's still amazingly good attention - from his point of view at least!

he is not allowed to leave the table until he swallows what is in his mouth.

You need to pay less attention to his personal eating habits. This very attention is the cause of him repeating his new trick.

From your short description of the problem, it's clear you have a number of rules. That's obviously good, but only to a point! It can also turn bad if you end up spending too much time enforcing rules. In other words, you need to replace negative attention with positive attention. I can't recommend Webster-Stratton's The Incredible Years enough for more information, if this is part of the problem.

Have a look at my answer to What to do about a 4 year old that's unbelievably picky about food and for a few days, why don't you try all having soup for your evening meals while you try to ignore his new trick?

Good luck!

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