Everything goes in the mouth!
When a baby mouths something, our responses range from:
- a common expression of disgust (“chhi!”)
- a slightly angry insistence on not doing it
- saying things like “why are you doing that?”, “no no!”, “stop that”
- physically pulling the thing out of their mouths
- physically restraining them
- In some cases a punishment model is followed such as hitting the hand.
Let’s understand the effects of this.
Babies’ natural modality of learning about things around is primarily through mouthing things. They learn about the sensory qualities of objects like shape, texture, smell through mouthing things. While they thoroughly enjoy this exploration and can keep at it relentlessly, we can only think about the dust and the germs that make their way into their mouths. As instinctual and natural their mouthing behaviour is, our fears are equally practical.
- Having said that, our negative reactions may
- ask the child to suppress its excitement and instinctual behaviour
- associate the child’s natural behaviour to our disapproval or anger
- make the child mouth things in our absence
- ask the child to disconnect from their bodies’ guidance
This can be harmful in the long run.
Can there be a way which doesn’t induce frustration in us and which doesn’t inhibit a natural drive and the joy associated with it in our child?
Here are a few steps which help manage our anxieties about it and which give space for our
children to joyfully follow their instincts.
- Expect and accept that the child is going to mouth things.
- Wash toys frequently. (having less toys helps here, more about that in upcoming
- Wash the child’s hands frequently.
- While allowing the child to mouth many things, point out the dirty spots to your child
which the child needs to not lick. (eg balcony railings, window grills etc.)
- Give the child access to mouth things with different textures, temperatures (frozen
teethers etc), shapes.
- When other people take the liberty to tell your child not to mouth something, politely
let the adult know that the child enjoys it or that the child is teething and massaging
its gums. In other words, support and stand up for your child.
- Make sure you hold your child, connect with it and make it feel safe everyday (more
about this in upcoming posts)