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My 23 Month Old Toddler Has Starting Licking Things!

My 23 month old toddler has starting licking all sorts of things from sand to toys, to anything he can get ahold of. I usually tell him no and try to redirect or distract him, but I am wondering why he does this? Do all toddlers do this? I have several theories for the cause: boredom, hunger, thirst, oral fixation/teething, attention. Has anyone heard of any information out there that really explains what is going on? Thanks.

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So What Happened?™

Thanks all for your responses -- I had to laugh especially at the dead bug mom and the "toddler diet"! I never actually punish my son for licking -- if anything, I am too relaxed and "laissez-faire" about these things. And I did figure out pretty quickly that no reaction is the best reaction. I guess I missed the boat though on the whole CURIOSITY thing! Of course! I think it is mostly curiosity and maybe occasionally hunger or thirst, and I never thought about the dog, but yes, he DOES imitate our dog and always has!

Since reading your responses I have really started to enjoy watching him lick the different colors of a board book to see if they taste different, etc. I will redirect when it gets unsanitary of course. Thanks all -- you have been a wonderful help on this issue!

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Toys with small parts are "not intended for children under 3" for a reason :) They still put things in their mouths, and like to try out all their senses on everything around them. I will often make a face like "ewwww" when my two year old does something like that, and say "yuck". It helps a little, but they are going to do what they are going to do. Or I might say "do you think a cat peed in that sand" to get him thinking about it... They say it builds immunity, but it's pretty nasty. Sorry I don't have any better suggestions.

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It's totally normal for toddlers to do that. He's just learning about his environment and the behavior will stop once he's finished with this learning stage. By telling him "no" and giving him a reaction, you could very well be prolonging this stage so I recommend just ignoring it.

A great example I have is of the wood chips in playgrounds. I see parents constantly telling their children to stop putting them in their mouths from a very young age all the way through to 3-4 years old. I, however, let both my girls put wood chips in their mouths (with no big reaction from me - even though it kinda freaks me out that they've probably been treated with goodness knows what...) from the beginning. They did it a little during the first 3-4 times we went to the park and then stopped. They satisfied their curiosity about what wood chips taste/feel like in their mouths and didn't want to do it anymore.

I personally draw the line at garbage (cigarette butts, food waste, packaging that isn't ours and the like) and excrement and things like bird feathers and of course, poisonous plants. Pretty much everything else, I have let my children explore with all their senses and the "tasting" stage passed very quickly for my girls, right around 1 year of age, though mine both started walking at 9 months so they were early toddlers :)

This will pass - best wishes to you!

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Eegads. I HATED this stage, but I think you missed the main theory: Curiosity. Toddlers are insatiably curious and taste is most definitely one of the senses.

Plus, I think you're probably encouraging him by giving him such a fun and exciting reaction each time he does it. (In the world of an essentially powerless, but still very power hungry two year old, there is almost NOTHING cooler than provoking Mama into exclaiming NO or otherwise focusing 100% of her attention on you to try to get you distracted!)

When my oldest did this, my pediatrician encouraged me to ignore the behavior unless he was going to lick something dangerous - disgusting and dirty was not what he considered "dangerous." The nasty taste of dirt, sand, dead bugs (and oh yes, it WAS incredibly hard to ignore him licking a dead bug. EEEEWWWWW!) is a much better deterent than anything else I was going to try. And it actually did work pretty quickly. Once he stopped provoking such an exciting reaction from me, my son focused more on the taste and decided things like strawberries and oranges tasted MUCH better than dirt and windows, etc.!

2 moms found this helpful

Toys with small parts are "not intended for children under 3" for a reason :) They still put things in their mouths, and like to try out all their senses on everything around them. I will often make a face like "ewwww" when my two year old does something like that, and say "yuck". It helps a little, but they are going to do what they are going to do. Or I might say "do you think a cat peed in that sand" to get him thinking about it... They say it builds immunity, but it's pretty nasty. Sorry I don't have any better suggestions.

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This is normal for that age. My son who is 4 1/2 still puts things in his mouth that he shouldn't. With him it's usually toys, but he did the everything with the tongue thing too. We had to wait until he grew out of it. Thankfully it was a short phase.

For my son it's about copying Daddy and Daddy almost always has **something** in his mouth.

Hope this helps,

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My twins (boys) started licking things around that age...they are not much older now, but are not doing it much any more. licking was a way to explore their surroundings. I would ask if it was YUMMY or YUCKY...they got bored with me asking.



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My son started licking things and putting random items in his mouth around the same age. Now, he gets timeouts for things in the mouth, licking/spitting on the windows/glass, and playing with his spit. Though we have managed to curb his spit habits, it has taken a lot of time and consistency.

What we do is explain that these "things" don't belong in your mouth, spit doesn't belong on the windows, etc. We give him one to two chances a day. After we have to repeat ourselves we start with time outs.

Another really good method we use is the gummi chart. We have three small teddy bear magnets. Everyday he starts with three gummis that he will get at the end of the day for good behavior. (You could gear it directly towards not putting things in your mouth) Every "big" time out or incident, we take him to the fridge and make him remove a gummi magnet. And of course explain again why this is happening. Soon enough he will get the idea that not doing a certain action warrants a full treat. It has worked really well for us and using positive reinforcement vs time outs all day long with no real benefit.


My daughter (21 months) likes to put things in her mouth and pretend she's a kitty. I think it's a cross between pretend-play and a desire to experience things. Our mouth is one of the most sensitive areas we have. It's just a phase, nothing to worry over.

-B. M.-

My kids used to like to act like dogs going around panting, on all 4s licking things including my feet. It was actually really funny. They would hide under the table. He probably got this idea from a dog.

I had a licker too. It only last about a week, maybe 2. Obviously, I hope, we didn't let him lick stuff that was potentially dangerous. But, I think that he was just experimenting. He was about 20 to 21 months when he went through it. Now at 22 months, he has moved on to much more interesting things like pointing out that everyone has a pee-pee. Can't wait for that phase to pass!

I just read the other responses and honestly, I wouldn't punish my son for his curious tendencies. And I agree with another person that this phase will be shorter if it doesn't provoke such an interesting response from you. If he licks windows and mirrors- any glass cleaner will work to clean it up. Although- I wouldn't clean it in his presence right after he licks it... he'll want his tongue to get in the game of wiping the mirror/window. Patience is a virtue... esp for the mom of a toddler. But they are SO much fun. Wouldn't change a thing. Let him explore!

my daughter did this too. I have 4 children and she is the only one to do this. we would tell her that only food goes in her mouth. it worked after a while but she still needs reminding at times

This is norma....not very hygenic, but normal. My daughter did the same thing and like you I was really concerned. The doctor explained to me that it is their way in figuring what things are; its our job to tell them "stop"

My son is 16 months and just started licking everything too, I think it is just their way of exploring. I do tell him no no though because it is not a habit I want him to carry outside our home. Just so you know you are not alone.


My daughter does the exact same thing. She likes to lick us though also which is kinda gross. When she licks us I say does mommy taste good. She usually says no and walks away. We have never punished her for this behavior and never will I think it is just a stage that they go through. I notice sometimes my 4 year old putting stuff in her mouth. I wouldn't worry about it unless it is something dangerous. Have fun with it that is what we do. We just make jokes about it and she laughs and then stops. She licks the railing on the stairs so I say her name and then say was there something dirty on those stairs. She usually laughs and goes on. They will outgrow it eventually and then move on to stages like my 4 yr old where they say anything and everything that comes to their mind whereever whenever. Sometimes that makes me prefer the licking.

Hope this helps and good luck.

I've heard from a friend that her son did this and her doctor told her it was a vitamin deficiency (nothing critical so don't worry!). So, some simple multi-vitamins might be the answer...also, have you thought to call the 24 Hour Nurse for advice or look it up on the internet? It may just be one simple vitamin he needs boosted and all may be A-ok! I'll be praying for you! M.

I haven't discovered a way to stop it, but I thought it might be a little encouraging to know that your son is not the only one. My son will be 3 next week and has the same issue. But not only does he lick things, he likes to like me. If I am sitting next to him he will lick my arm or my hand, and sometimes if I ask him for a kiss he licks my cheek instead. YUCK!!! It grosses me out. I hope you get some good responses and I will keep a look out for "What happened" Good Luck.

My three year old twins do this too. Most of the time they are pretending that they are a cat or dog. but it also can be a new sensory feeling.

Just a thought - Children learn from their enviroment.... Do you have any pets??? Dogs or cats??? That like to lick?

My son has mimiced my dogs from time to time his is 31 months old now and from time to time drops down on fours and plays fetch (we had to move the dog water bowl cuz I refuse to let him share with the dogs but we did give him his own for the short time he wanted one)

We have a 160lb Rott that my son imitates and we think the Rott tries to imitate my son. I had to buy and old carseat at a garage sell so that when both go with me than can have their own car seats (no I would never put my son in a used car seat and the dog is only sitting on the seat not in as he could never fit in).

Enjoy it and take lots of pics

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