What a fantastic question! It allows us to explore several interesting topics, so a super Sassy thank you!
First, why do babies, toddler and kiddos put objects in the mouth?
Well, little babies, usually before 6 months, don't have the skills to use their hands and fingers to finely explore objects beyond a grip or general stroke. Momma’s (or dadda’s) nature did give those little ones the ability to finely use the lips and tongue - more precisely than any other body part! So, what happens? You got it! Those pookies start exploring with hand- mouth activity—and what fits inside the pook's mouth? Little, unsafe objects. Babies will increase this activity during teething. Babies learn to feel texture, shape, and temperature this way—which is why we at Sassy Baby vary these senses in teethers and other small baby products. Safe mouth exploration is a good thing for little ones. This behavior is learned and continues—by a year babies move on to develop finer motor skills yet continue this hand-mouth behavior. For some, it's habitual. For others it's comforting. For parents, it's stressful because of the dangers. Each kiddo is different and for some, the habit continues through early school age. Even parents of grade school kids worry about this and ask for advice just like you did. You’ve expressed a great challenge in parenting a toddler—they’re all over the place and it’s exhausting and hard to keep up. Here are some tips from One Sassy Doctor (who’s been through four toddlers already and gets it!).
- Create a safe space—either a gated room or a room with a door so that you can feel confident you’re in a choke free zone. Although at your daughter’s age, she needs close supervision, but at least you can kick back and have a cup of coffee (mom’s best friend, right?) or read our blog (J) while she’s playing safely.
- When it comes to tantrums and minor hitting, “no” is okay because we’re not talking about safety. When it comes to safety, “no” is just one part of the situation—she needs to 100% get unsafe objects and foods out of her mouth.
- Think about safe spaces in other places too—grandma’s house or even a quick trip to the local shop. A quick pick up of a small candy at the drug store can present a hazard too. This is not intended to create more stress for you (after all, we are a playful kind of crowd here at Sassy!) but stress the importance of a vigilant approach to safety.
- Use only safety-approved toys developed with her age in mind. Sassy Baby Toys considers this carefully, we’re conscious not only about developmentally appropriate products, but about any particular element of safety. In fact, my role at Sassy, as a child safety pediatric specialist, is to consult on safety issues for toys to assure they’re okay for whatever age we recommend.
- Watch out for safe foods, too. We’ve written about this before and cannot stress the importance enough.
- When will it end? Sorry to break the news—children may engage in hand-mouth behavior through the school years. Although it may dissipate by preschool age, know thy child, and create a safe environment with supervision that works for her.
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