Having two children at ages 4 and 6, we believed we were in the clear for worrying about choking from putting non-edible things in mouths. Of course, things are never that easy and our 4 year old has recently decided to put whatever he can find in his mouth. After a recent scare where he swallowed a marble we have attempted just about everything to keep this from happening.

We first tried to simply do timeout, take away his favorite toy for a week, etc... While this had a positive short term effect, he was back to it the next day. We also believed that perhaps he was doing it to get attention, positive or negative, so we also tried to simply get the item of concern away from him and resume what we were doing without giving the slightest bit of attention. That didn't work at all. Finally we have resorted to essentially clearing the house of anything and everything that might be a concern and prevent him from playing with toys that contain small parts, just as we might a baby. The harder part is that there is no trend. Sometimes it seems like he is doing intentionally and other times it seems almost like habit.

This problem was significantly easier with babies because we could simply take the approach of deal with for now and they will soon grow out of it, but with a 4-year old, we are not quite sure WHEN he will grow out of it. With school coming up soon, we are terrified to send him to a place where he can do as he pleases when someone may not be paying attention.

Does anyone have any strategies for preventing older children from putting things in mouths?

Edit: I thought I would give an update for anyone going through something similar. It turns out the best solution for us was to designate a toy that was considered OK to put in the mouth. He would do just that for much of the day, but after some time, it almost seemed like he just got kind of bored of it and we haven't seen him do it again for several days. Strange..

  • is it possible that your child is late teething or has a dental issue?
    – WRX
    Mar 1, 2017 at 18:17
  • He had a dental appointment yesterday with no visible issues. Maybe it's a bad assumption but I had always assumed he would simply say if something was bothering him.
    – T James
    Mar 1, 2017 at 18:27
  • I think at 4 it is perfectly reasonable, but it is good to know for certain. Are you looking for a behaviour program?
    – WRX
    Mar 1, 2017 at 18:33
  • This kind of behavior can be quite typical in young kids, of course, but I do also want to mention that it can be indicative of a psychological disorder, pica, which may require a different approach than other kinds of behavioral issues. It may be a good idea to schedule a chat with your pediatrician to talk about your particular case. Mar 1, 2017 at 20:18
  • This is all extremely useful information. Thank you
    – T James
    Mar 1, 2017 at 20:24

1 Answer 1


At four, not only is a child capable of saying they have a toothache, but they are also able to understand your concerns. I could provide some behaviour techniques, if that is what you want, but first try sitting him down and asking him:

  • Does he understand why is could be dangerous?
  • Can he explain why he is doing it?
  • Can he stop doing it before you 'help' him stop?

Have your conversation without distractions like TV, music or his sibling in the room. Explain or tell him that you are not angry, but that you are concerned. Ask him if there is something you can do to help him break this habit.

LINK article from Parenting on helping children to break habits...

  • 1
    Thank you for the link, there was very useful information in it. One thing that the article reminded me of was process of rewarding good behavior with stickers. That technique worked wonders when teaching both of our kids to sleep in their own beds throughout the night. I would guess that there should be a way to similarly reward him by not putting things in the mouth for a specified amount of time. Of course, this would only work if he is indeed doing it to get attention.
    – T James
    Mar 1, 2017 at 20:29
  • There is a ton of info on breaking habits out there, this was only one. Just pick what makes you most comfortable and makes sense to you.
    – WRX
    Mar 1, 2017 at 20:32

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