Why Children STUFF Food in the mouth and how to prevent it

Feeding Therapy
Why Children STUFF Food in the mouth and how to prevent it

Not socially acceptable, risk for aspirations, and life threatening are a few reasons why parents are concerned when their children stuff food in their mouth.

But did you know, kids don’t it on purpose! It could be a result of many factors such as:

  1. Lack of sensory awareness: Oral hyposensitivity is the most common reason why a child would want to stuff in the mouth - it helps them to perceive their mouth better and offers sensory feedback, which many of our children lack, and may not perceive the food adequately in the oral cavity.
  2. Limited range of tongue movement: Low strength or tone of the tongue, can limit the range of its movement within the mouth. When a child is unable to move the tongue comfortably to masticate or chew, it can result in the inability to swallow food rhythmically. Continuing to intake more food without swallowing the previous morsel can lead to food stuffing.
  3. High arched palate: Children with low muscle tone, cerebral palsy, or who suck their thumbs have high arched palates. The palate plays a significant role in the process of swallowing - from an anatomical and sensory standpoint. When children are unable to receive adequate feedback on the palate due to anatomical or sensory differences, they tend to stuff food in the mouth.
  4. Lack of controlled jaw movement: Children with hypertonicity or hypotonicity may experience difficulties in controlled movement of their jaw. Often, they may continue intake of food without swallowing the previous morsel, (similar to limited range of tongue movement), which can also lead to stuffing of food in the mouth.
  5. Dysphagia: Difficulty swallowing food. This condition is present in children whose motor development and sensory processing are impaired due to underlying neurological conditions or other developmental delays.
  6. Asserting autonomy:Sometimes children like to test boundaries and may stuff food in their mouth to simply explore their limits. 

Understanding why children stuff food in the mouth can help parents interpret when to seek professional help; and help professionals identify what kind of recommendations to provide for families.

Below are my recommendations to prevent children from stuffing food in their mouths.

  1. Teach the right bite size by demonstrating.
  2. Offer the right bite size by breaking finger foods into smaller pieces that are comfortable enough for child to hold it in the mouth.
  3. Offer the next bite or morsel when the child has no residues of the previous morsel of food left in the mouth.
  4. Do not hurry or rush a child to complete meals. Eating one bite at a time can prevent food stuffing.
  5. When eating with a spoon offer the right spoon size to prevent excess food drawn into the spoon bowl (follow our previous blogs for the right spoon size).
  6. Teach the child to spit out if he has stuffed too much food. Yes! You read it right… it’s okay to spit food when it’s difficult to manage it within the oral cavity.
  7. Provide oral sensory motor intervention to improve strength and sensory processing(this tip is for professionals ONLY).

I hope the information shared here will help you understand why children stuff food in their mouths and how to prevent it for safe and pleasurable mealtimes.

At Dimensions, we offer a six-hour certificate program for professionals – ‘Oral Sensory Motor Intervention for Pediatric Feeding Difficulties’ and mini feeding courses for parents. Do write to us to learn more.

If you do not find significant progress in your child's eating habits even after trying these strategies, contact us for professional help.

 

By, Chitra Thadathil (Speech Language Pathologist)

 

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