2.5 Year Old Not Swallowing Food

Updated on May 27, 2010
J.R. asks from Riverdale, NJ
9 answers

I'm sure this has been asked before and I'm aware that some kids just do this, but my soon to be step-son has been, for at least 9 or 10 months, choosing randomly to not swallow his food. He will chew and chew and chew and not swallow. It can be anywhere from 2 minutes to 20 minutes. This doesn't happen every time he eats, it isn't because he doesn't like the food because sometimes its with his favorite meals. He has never been one to drink with food still in his mouth. Sometimes we will tell him he can't have apple juice until he swallows and it will work. It also works on occasion by saying he can get ice cream if he eats all his food. I would say maybe he is not hungry but he wants other food (junk and other inappropriate food that we don't even have in the house). He's not really a very picky eater. We know for the most part what he doesn't like and avoid it. Also, he will say "yucky" if he doesnt like it and "tastes good" when he does. He will still do the food holding after saying "tastes good". Sometimes he will do it on a middle of the meal bite,not the last bite, and then eat the rest of his food normally. This mostly happens around dinner time and it used to be once a month. This week it has been every single night. He is told he has to swallow the food before he can get up from the table and he will sit there and just chew. Tonight went long enough we actually had to let him spit it out. He did this for an hour and a half! We don't like to make him spit it out though because we don't want him to get used to thinking he can just spit food out when he doesn't want it. He has always been good about just eating what is served because he knows that's what dinner is. And like I said he usually does swallow after a while when he does this. (And proudly too! Big wide open smiling mouth! saying "All done!") This week was just the most I've ever seen him do it, and the longest. If anyone has gone through this, what was the reason your kids were doing it and how did you fix it? Do we just need to wait it out and he'll stop on his own or is there something else we can try?
**It's not that he is unable to swallow. He is perfectly capable. It's definately more of a refusal. He is such a well behaved child and this is basically the only thing he is disobedient, if you can even call it that, about. We are all very lucky that this seems to be the worst of his terrible 2s. Still, wondering what we could do to encourage him NOT to do this anymore. Not getting to eat anything else after dinner, bribing with juice or ice cream to finish and sitting at the table until he swallows only seems to work some of the time, but not most. We also don't have junk food in the house nor do we want it. Ice cream is a treat that we have tried to use for encouragement.

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So What Happened?

TEETHING! Oh my goodness I can't believe I didn't think of that! Yes, we checked and he is definately getting his molars in! He's drooling too! I KNEW there was something different from his normal just chewing! Thank you all so much. As soon as i read "teething" i realized that it was only one the right side he was doing this. That plus being abnormally cranky all week clicked it together. Checked him today and he's definately teething. Dad and I hung out with Mom today and we all scoped it out together. He did his chewing thing as he's been doing, and then we offered that if he finished he could have some ice to chew on (he likes that). So he swallowed, we crushed some up and he was all better! Thanks again

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answers from New York on

My 2 year old does the same thing.

I've chalked it up to "just another one of those crazy 2 year old things." There are a lot of them.

I haven't made a battle out of it though if he does spit out more than 2 bites, without actually swallowing in between, I take his plate away.

And like you, he mostly does it at dinner. He's a great breakfast and lunch eater but with dinner he's always been so-so. I've wondered if it's because he thinks he should eat, but he's really not hungry. Or he wants the taste, but doesn't want to be too full. Kids are better at paying attention to their bodies hunger cues than we are!

Good luck!

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answers from New York on

Hi JR,

It sounds to me like he is teething. Once a baby starts teething as early as 3 months old, they could be literally teething until they are three.

My daughter would do that with food that had a chewier texture like chicken, or meat. She would chew on the food for a while (5-10 minutes) and then spit it out. It was food she liked, but wasn't hungry - she was relieving the pressure on her gums from the teething.

Good luck, and I wouldn't worry. Just keep an eye on it after teething years if it continues.


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answers from Portland on

I suggest that this is one of those things that you just cannot control and that if you stop paying attention to it he'll eventually stop doing it. At 2.5 he's learning about his world and will try out many different things. He most likely started out chewing his food for longer lengths of time because he liked the way it felt or tasted or something else that interested him. Now, his chewing has become a source of attention from you. Now he's trying to figure something else out. He may be wondering, on an unconscious level, why you're so interested and focused on his chewing. He is hard wired to question and explore. Let him do it.

It's fair to say no desert until you've finished dinner, as long as you've given him a reasonable amount to eat. My daughter handles the not finishing dinner part by saying, you can have some ice cream after you've had 3 more bites. This gives the child some control. Then pay no more attention to him and his chewing. When he asks for the ice cream, say, oh,oh, you haven't finished dinner or perhaps, you can have it after you eat 3 more bites but do not mention that he has food in his mouth.

If ice cream is not on the menu don't use it as a bribe. Bribes are another way of being in control. You want to share control when it's appropriate with your child.

You do not want to get into power struggles over food. Doing so has the potential of creating long term negative issues around food. Ignore the chewing. It really is no big deal.

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answers from Syracuse on

Have you had his tonsils/throat checked? Maybe it hurts sometimes to swallow, yes you said he does swallow most of the time but children will sometimes do things they don't want to because of the reward, so he may be focused on the reward and what a big deal it is when he swallows. If it is not a health issue then it sounds like a control issue, I have a 7 and 4 year old and both were (who am I kidding..still are) very independent and wanted control over their bodies...getting dressed, brushing teeth, putting shoes on, feeding themselves. So maybe this is just something he realizes he has complete control over, and it makes it more satisfying to know how much of a reaction he gets from his mommy and daddy. I would say if there is absolutely not a health issue....ignore him. He WILL eat if when he gets hungry. Good Luck!

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answers from New York on

Don't be scared it is normal my now twelve year old and my now three year old did it and I have other relatives who's children have done it. I have one little cousin who we would have to check his mouth because he would just store food in it like a chimpmunk. he will grow out of it

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answers from Boise on

innability to swallow food can be caused by a deficiency in magnesium or iron. I would NOT supplement iron without getting a positive anemia test first- Iron can be toxic to children because it doesn't leave the tissue easily and can quickly build up to toxic levels.

Magnesium is easily supplemented and extra is eliminated. Magnesium malate is a good choice, but magnesium is a natural laxitive, so it could cause loose stool. Another form is magnesium oil which is rubbed on the skin and absorbed by the cells transdermally.

Difficulty swallowing can also be caused by an excessively dry mouth- low saliva. (xerostomia) Side effects of many drugs cause zerostomia so if he is on any medication that could be a cause. Or a disorder of the salivary glands.

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answers from New York on

I would give him a few minutes to swallow. If he does not, meal time is
over. End of discussion. It seems like it is a control issue. If he goes
to bed without dinner, so be it. He will not starve.



answers from Savannah on

Hum....sounds like a control/power struggle/push your buttons type behavior. He knows it bothers you so he keeps doing it, longer and longer till you crack! lol Tell him once to swallow his food and then ignore him after that. No bribes of juice or ice cream either. Just plain and simple, swallow and move on, don't swallow and go hungry. If after 15 mins of not swallowing, make him spit out the food and his meal is finished till next meal time. No snacks in between, no giving him his plate back, etc. This may sound cruel but know that no child will let themselves starve either.

You and his dad need to establish the rules at the table when the meal starts to. Explain to him that if he doesn't swallow his food, he will be made to spit it out and he won't be able to finish eating his dinner. If he doesn't get to finish his dinner, he won't get any dessert/snack either. Don't expect him to follow this rule the first, second or even third time!! He will push the limit to see if you guys mean business. Once he sees that you are serious about this, he should come around and go back to eating and swallowing like he should. You as parents need to stand firm and don't give in to the whining or crying either!!

Good luck



answers from New York on

Food is very important to parents, but not children UNTIL it becomes an issue and THEN they realize the power they have over Mom & Dad. What fun that is!!! Try to ignore him and stop having dessert. I dont know why we are all in the habit of having a sweet after a meal, but I stopped doing it years ago. My mother always used dessert as a bribe and when I had children I realized this is where I got my bad eating habits from and stopped having dessert. We had fruit or a sweet a couple of hours after dinner as a snack before bed or whatever. If you stop the dessert you well no longer have to bribe him and when you and hubby are done eating so is he. Let him spit out his cud and take the rest of the food away. No comment, begging or scolding. It just is what it is. Oh DH you are hungry? Oh well. and let it go. He will soon learn and he will NOT starve in the meantime.

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