Advice for My 4 Year Old Putting Fingers in Mouth Constantly

Updated on June 14, 2008
A.S. asks from Huntington, WV
14 answers

Hello, I have a problem with my son constantly wanting to put his fingers in his mouth. I know this might not seem like a big deal to some people, but for me, I can't stand it. I try to tell him how germs will get in his mouth and make him sick. But, he reply's with "I can't help it" and you know how boys are, they like to get into everything, so his hands don't stay clean. I'm constantly saying "Aiden get your fingers out of your mouth." I don't know what to do anymore, any advise would be great!

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answers from Wilmington on

My daughters have the same issue. Give him something to crunch on. Be it crackers, popcorn, carrot sticks- something. That really seems to help. As my oldest gets older I find that helps her concentrate actually. She eats popcorn or chips while doing homework all the time and it really helps her focus.

Good luck.

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answers from Charlotte on

I have two children under 4 and they also love to have items in their mouths. Sounds like he gets lots of gratification from tactile input in his mouth. It helps him to feel secure and gives him comfort. Like a mom mentioned below - try pretzels, popcorn, hard candy, gummies, and check out the website: Beyond Play - he may like the Jigglers. My children have grown alot in the last 6 months. We learned in December 2008 about Sensory Integration Disorder - which most children have a form of. As a result we have grown in understanding both children - their needs - and what they want to communicate - but don't know how to. There are still those days when I want to scream and get frustrated. Overall we have grown to have more respect and understanding with each other. I can better read my children and meet their needs.
Good luck!



answers from Fayetteville on

I agree completely with you that it's a health issue. My son used to put everything in his mouth when he was small. You have to be extra cautious to frequently wash his hands to get him into the habit. Also, keep wipes available when you're on the go. You may want to try swiping his finger tips across a fresh cut onion half to deter him from putting his hands in his mouth. The smell alone should wean him quickly. Just watch out that he doesn't rub his eyes! Otherwise, you can try giving him a toy or something that makes use of the dexterity in his fingers. Try putting a puzzle together with him or get a play piano. Good luck to you!



answers from Wheeling on

A 4 year old is old enough to decide whether he WANTS to stop, so discuss that with him ("do you like putting your hands in your mouth, or would you like to stop doing it?") His answer may be quite revealing. If he wants to stop, you can 'help' him (but not by nagging, demanding, etc). Our youngest child (who'll be 20 in 9 days) stopped HERSELF from sucking her thumb when she started pre-school at barely age 4, and she'd been doing it REGULARLY from the age of 3-1/2 MONTHS!

Whether he wants to stop or not, try getting him involved with more 'hands-on' activities that are clean but that occupy his attention (drawing, cutting paper w/scissors, coloring, writing w/chalk or wipe-off markers on a board, building w/legos, etc) and bragging on him when he goes a while WITHOUT doing the 'no-no' -- even a short amount of time. Positive reinforcement works wonders -- even a treat or reward for 'trying' would be in order if he really does try.

Watching TV isn't very stimulating nor fulfilling for children (I think it encourages them to be physically and/or mentally lazy -- but that's just my opinion after living with a husband for 32 years who was allowed to watch TV all he wanted to. My family didn't even get a TV until I was 10 yrs old). Outdoor activities are quite absorbing, too.

Like someone said, though, the more of a 'deal' you make of it, the more desperate it may make him. He will 'break' himself of the habit when he's ready, and you may just have to live with it for a while.

He could also be cutting his 6 year molars which would make him want pressure applied to the back of his gums, so check that out.



answers from Knoxville on

I don't have any advice because my child is 4 and keeps doing this too. I got really sick of it and put Texas Pete on her thumb. Turns out my daughter really likes spicy food and now asks for hot sauce on everything. I guess she showed me!!!!



answers from Louisville on

Hi A., here's a few ideas, but honestly, our son is 10 and we still have the problem occasionally! You are right to address it early because the longer they do it the more "natural" it seems and it's harder for them to quit.

One thing we tried was giving him a dollar worth of dimes in his pocket in the morning (we got idea from a Berenstain Bear book)....every time his hands were in his mouth, we took a dime away. Which meant every day he kept them OUT all day he got a dollar...but if they were IN he only got the dimes that were left (many times zero in the beginning). It really bums them out when they see those dimes keep disappearing back to Mommy when they are thinking of what they could buy. When he saves up enough you could let him pick out a small toy or if hes not getting many, maybe something small like a McDonalds cone?

I did buy and use "THUM"'s intended for nail biting but works because fingers taste bad. It does work! You might have to ask the pharmacist for it if they keep behind the counter or have him help you find it. It is a very tiny bottle so it's hard to find on your own.

Another thing that sounds kind of gross....we told him (for instance) that if he put his hand on a doorknob he was touching everyone who had touched that doorknob....all the little boys who used the bathroom and didn't wash their hands...he was touching their pee (or worse!) and then putting their pee in his mouth...we were very specific and mentioned all the things, like if they had sneezed into their hand and touched the knob, he was putting their snot in his gross is that? That worked for a while.

We also talked about the germs and how when he gets sick he misses fun things he wants to do. And this was kind of mean, but when he would have them in mouth and I'd be nagging "get your hands out of your mouth" for days on end, and then he'd end up sick....then I would say, "Oh, you're sick, that's a bummer because we were going to (fill in the blank w/ something he wanted...go skating, mini golf, bowling, a movie, etc.) and now we can't go because you're sick." I know it sounds cruel but desperate times, desperate measures!

We've also done loss of privledges...for instance, he loves to play PS2 so now if hands are in the mouth, no PS2 for a day....if he's already played his hour that day it means he can't play the next day. Lots of times this works (but not always!) For you maybe it could be no Batman show (or Spiderman, or whoever he's into) because thats a big kids show and big kids don't put hands in their mouth...we used that line when he was about 6.

As you can see, we have tried many different things over the might take a few approaches to see what will work for your son. We tried to be consistent but what would happen is that something would work and it would seem like we were over it...then he would get stressed or upset and we'd notice one day he has them in, and before we know it we're back to trying to figure out which method to use again! I think some kids are more "oral" than others (ours is one of them!) and just want something in their mouth. I hope one of these ideas helps you! Good luck!!! J.



answers from Greenville on

Oh my goodness, I still have this problem with my 11 year old. He says the same thing " I cant help it" or he doesnt even realize he is doing it. I told him about the whole germ thing also but it still hasnt gotten thru to him. If u get any good advice on how to stop it please let me know.




answers from Nashville on

Hi A..
I wouldn't worry too much about the germs going in his mouth. I don't think he'll get sick from it, if anything it will make his immune system stronger :) he he (although, I wash my kids' hands if I think they touched something that will hurt them if it gets in their body. There's a middle road).
Anyway, I noticed you have a younger baby. My son (2) has started doing the same thing, copying his younger brother (9 mo) that likes to put everything in his mouth (including those tasty fingers!) I'm hoping it's a phase and I'm not making a big deal out of it.
Best of luck!



answers from Nashville on

It looks like you have several options here. Either keep telling him to stop over and over and over and one of these days he will grow out of it OR you can try NOT saying anything else and maybe he will forget about it and not do it. Sometimes if you keep telling them to stop it reminds them to keep doing it. OR you could try putting something on his fingers that tastes bad. They make that 'stop bite' for nails that isn't harmful if they put their hands in their mouth. OR you can also tell him that by putting his fingers in his mouth when they are dirty, could give him worms. (of course that one may cause you more problems. He may start having night mares of worms getting him... but who knows, it may just work.)
Good luck.



answers from Charlotte on

Hi A.,
They make a product called Thums that is not harmful but is very bitter. It is used to help children stop sucking their thumbs I believe. Paint some of this on his fingers and that will definitely be a reminder to him every time he sticks his fingers in his mouth not to. I'm certain he will lose that habit quickly. I had found this in the Pharmacy at Target so you should be able to get it from about any pharmacy. If not, ask the Pharmacist to order some for you. Hope this helps!



answers from Nashville on

It would drive me nuts too. I would continue saying it over and over again. When he does it, don't just say to get his hands out of his mouth, stop what you are doing, get on his level, and say, "take them out of your mouth or you can go to time out until you stop" and make sure he hears you. You can also put something yucky tasting on his fingers the next time he does it. There is that nasty tasting clear nail stuff so ppl don't bite their nails. You can even goolge online the bugs that are under your nails. Maybe you could find some pics or a video. I had a friend when I was younger that saw a video and immediately stopped biting her nails for good! Or, if you would rather, reward him for every hour he goes w/ out putting his hands in his mouth. During that hour, keep saying, "you are doing great, just 10 more mins" Eventually he will be rid of the habit and you can move on to something else in need of that reward! Can he chew gum? Give him sugar free gum to chew so he doesn't want his hands.

Good luck,
W. M



answers from Raleigh on

I have recently had the same problem with my 4 1/2 yr. old son. Our's began when he started going to a new babysitter some of the other children there do it. It drives me crazy!! I have been on him constantly everytime I see him put his fingers in his mouth and have even popped his hand a few times,and we have also used time out. I also asked the babysitter to stay on him to. It has been better for about a week now, I think all of us my husband, the babysitter and myself being on the same page and being cosistent is what is working. Hope this helps.



answers from Charlotte on

My son does this too -- he has an oral fixation. He is getting Private OT for fine motor skill issues but it did not decrease it really. There are oral stimulators or brushes you can buy- we haven't gone that route yet. My son does it for stimulation-- mostly when he watches TV or rides in the car.




answers from Nashville on

yeah, gross, my daughter kept biting her nails. I kept telling her it was gross, but not till I started telling her she could get worms from putting her fingers in her mouth did it get her attention. You could also tell him, oh let me go get the camera so I can show "someone he looks up to" that you have your fingers in your mouth again like a baby! Good Luck!!

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