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My Toddler Won't Swallow His Food

ElJeffeElJeffe Super Moderator, Moderator, ClubPA mod
edited February 2010 in Help / Advice Forum
Okay, so I have a two year old son who will refuse to eat his dinner. But he will still chew it. And then just stash food in his cheeks.

I'm less concerned about the not-eating part. He eats his lunch and breakfast fairly well, his weight is good, his growth is good, and he seems to be completely healthy. At his two year old well-child appointment, the doc said he looked great, and the not-eating-dinner thing has been going on for months. For whatever reason, he's just not hungry. Whatever.

The problem is that whether he's hungry or not, he chews food and then stores it like a goddamn chipmunk. Like, huge wads of food of various types. He'll cram some chicken and some broccoli and some potato in there and just walk around the rest of the evening looking like someone shoved a sock in his head. And he does this every night. We can't just not feed him, because sometimes he's actually hungry and eats his dinner. It has little to do with whether or not he likes the food, as best we can tell. If we give him a drink or something else to eat that we know he'll swallow (like candy), he just swallows around it. He won't spit it out on his own, either, so we have to force his mouth open and dig it out of his cheeks with our fingers. (And sometimes we fail to get all of it, and then the following morning he'll get out of bed, come give you a good-morning kiss, and leave a chunk of pork chop on your cheek.)

So, any ideas? Because this is thoroughly revolting, and probably not great for his teeth.

ElJeffe on
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Posts

  • ceresceres Just your problem OoSuper Moderator, Moderator mod
    edited February 2010
    How long has this been going on? If a few days, it is quite possibly a phase. You're right that it's bad for his teeth, but in the 'only a few days' case he will quite possibly tire of it eventually on his own, or forget about it altogether.

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  • ElJeffeElJeffe Super Moderator, Moderator, ClubPA mod
    edited February 2010
    Probably a couple months, but in the past couple weeks it's gone from "frustrating, if infrequent" to "literally every day."

    Maddie: "I named my feet. The left one is flip and the right one is flop. Oh, and also I named my flip-flops."

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  • EtchEtch Registered User regular
    edited February 2010
    Honestly, this sounds hilarious. But, it is an important issue, so I would say call up his doctor and see what he has to say about it.

    Kids do weird shit all the time. I work in a day care, so these kids are constantly coming up with new ways to mess with me. For a while they would get water from the fountain and walk around with their cheeks all puffed out.

    If my daughter does something like this when she gets older, I'll probably just take the food away whenever she does it until she stops. My parents never let me play with my food, but I am no pro, so just call the doc and see what he says. The important thing though is he does eat when he's hungry, so don't wrack your brain over it.

  • EncEnc FloridaRegistered User regular
    edited February 2010
    Etch wrote: »
    Honestly, this sounds hilarious. But, it is an important issue, so I would say call up his doctor and see what he has to say about it.

    Kids do weird shit all the time. I work in a day care, so these kids are constantly coming up with new ways to mess with me. For a while they would get water from the fountain and walk around with their cheeks all puffed out.

    If my daughter does something like this when she gets older, I'll probably just take the food away whenever she does it until she stops. My parents never let me play with my food, but I am no pro, so just call the doc and see what he says. The important thing though is he does eat when he's hungry, so don't wrack your brain over it.

    These were my thoughts, in the order I thought them. If the child gets hungry, they will eat. Most likely the child likes the attention he is getting from not swallowing and is doing it to continue the attention, especially as you say he's only doing it at dinner. Cut the food if he starts hoarding and wait until he swallows it. If he's hungry, he will. Eventually it will stop.

    Of course, check with the doctor first. It might be a sign of something else but I doubt it.

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  • Peter PrinciplePeter Principle Registered User
    edited February 2010
    You could always make him show you an empty mouth before you give him another bite at dinner.

    "A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people's business." - Eric Hoffer, _The True Believer_
  • bowenbowen Registered User regular
    edited February 2010
    I'm assuming your son can talk; ask him why?

  • MogsMogs Registered User regular
    edited February 2010
    So my nephew, who turned 3 this past fall, does the exact same thing. He will chew on bits of dinner for hours after he leaves the table.

    The solution: Don't let him leave the table until he has swallowed his last bite.

    I second the enforcing swallowing each individual bite; more than one bite's worth in his mouth could quite easily turn into a choking hazard.

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  • LewieP's MummyLewieP's Mummy Registered User regular
    edited February 2010
    How much attention are you giving him for not swallowing? are you making a big deal of it, or are you ignoring it?

    Is he snacking at all between lunch and dinner?
    How much sweets/candy does he eat, cos he might not be hungry for proper food if he's had sweet stuff.
    How physically active is he?
    Do you take food away as soon as you see him pouching it? Without making a fuss/giving him attention for it, just removing his plate quietly?
    Do you praise him lots for eating?

    if he's meeting his growth/weight stuff, don't worry about it, he'll probably stop at some point.

    Do you clean his teeth before bed time? if so, how do you do it?

    Sorry, lots of questions, but I need more info!

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  • Aoi TsukiAoi Tsuki Registered User regular
    edited February 2010
    *finishes laughing*

    Ditto on not giving him more than a bite at a time and not letting him leave the table with food in his mouth. He's enjoying the power of No and playing with his food in all sorts of disgusting ways--please tell me there are not actual chunks in his mouth as he sleeps, either. That sounds like a huge choking hazard. D:

    Keep at it. I got away with not eating veggies as a kid by outwaiting my parents (my ass would still be sitting at the table an hour past bedtime), which was not a good lesson.

    If he's not hungry at dinner, maybe try reducing his lunch portions or afternoon snacks a bit?

    Some people already have said stupid things, but I'm ignoring them because I just found a potato in my fridge that looks like it's smiling.
  • ElJeffeElJeffe Super Moderator, Moderator, ClubPA mod
    edited February 2010
    How much attention are you giving him for not swallowing? are you making a big deal of it, or are you ignoring it?

    Both, at times. At first we weren't giving him any, because we didn't realize it. Lately we've been insisting that he swallow or at least spit the stuff out, but he simply won't. It doesn't seem to be an attention thing, because if we let him he'll just wander off and go play.
    Is he snacking at all between lunch and dinner?

    Sometimes, but not always. We try to enforce standard eating times so he doesn't just graze all day, but both our kids usually get a small snack in the early afternoon.
    How much sweets/candy does he eat, cos he might not be hungry for proper food if he's had sweet stuff.

    Not much at all. He gets fruit in his lunch, and we generally give him a treat after dinner if he's been good throughout the day. (We try to avoid giving treats to our kids as a reward for eating a lot of dinner, because we don't want to train them to eat past the point that they're full.)
    How physically active is he?

    He's like a crazed Roomba.
    Do you take food away as soon as you see him pouching it? Without making a fuss/giving him attention for it, just removing his plate quietly?

    If we do, he doesn't seem to care. He doesn't like having to stop playing long enough to eat.
    Do you praise him lots for eating?

    We didn't use to, but lately we have, assuming the food actually makes it into his stomach. We've been trying to enforce the idea that actually chewing food and swallowing it is a good thing.
    if he's meeting his growth/weight stuff, don't worry about it, he'll probably stop at some point.

    Yeah, we're not freaking out about it, it's just really annoying and really gross.
    Do you clean his teeth before bed time? if so, how do you do it?

    We generally brush his teeth in the morning and during his bath in the evenings. Usually he'll brush his teeth himself, and then we brush them for him after because he doesn't know how to do it effectively yet.

    Maddie: "I named my feet. The left one is flip and the right one is flop. Oh, and also I named my flip-flops."

    I make tweet.
  • ElJeffeElJeffe Super Moderator, Moderator, ClubPA mod
    edited February 2010
    bowen wrote: »
    I'm assuming your son can talk; ask him why?

    He can talk, but he generally chooses not to for some reason. It's sort of frustrating, because he understands speech really well, he just doesn't say much. So we can ask him all about what he's doing, and he'll comprehend the questions, and then he'll just giggle at us.

    (I think he's largely just playing us. You can ask him to point out colors, for example. Where's the red car? Where's the blue car? Where's the green car? And he'll nail them all. And then you ask him "what color is this car?" And he'll invariably respond with "blue". Unless the car is actually blue, in which case he'll probably tell you "red".)

    Maddie: "I named my feet. The left one is flip and the right one is flop. Oh, and also I named my flip-flops."

    I make tweet.
  • SiskaSiska Shorty Registered User regular
    edited February 2010
    Lol, there was a time when I did this. But only with meat. I was a lot younger though, <1 year old. In my case it was probably due to being new to the chewing buisness and I didn't like the resistance in meat.

    I think you should have him checked out by a dentist. Make sure his teeth are growing straight or that there is no gum issue that might make him reluctant to chew, just to make sure.Also try and figure out if there is a pattern to what he will and will not swallow, like temperature, seasoning or even color. You mentioned dinner, perhaps it's an issue with it being warm or salty?

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  • SzechuanosaurusSzechuanosaurus Registered User, ClubPA regular
    edited February 2010
    Is his bath before or after dinner? In any case, brush his teeth after dinner. It's healthier anyway and will surely mitigate the issue of food being secreted in his mouth overnight.

    The only other thing is to simply not make any sort of deal about it at all. Only allow him to take one small piece of food at a time and if he starts chimpmunking, stop dinner immediately without any fuss - just tidy up and send him on his way. Don't get angry, just end dinner .

    Enforcing any actions in anyway is actually a really bad idea. All it does is says 'Hey kid, do this thing and you will get so much attention, woo!'

    It can, however, help to make tea-time engaging and fun. Our daughter often eats better if we are eating with her. At the very least, paying her attention and engaging with her while she eats makes a huge difference. Clearly define this moment as dinner time, don't do other stuff while she's eating etc. so that she stays focused.

  • LewieP's MummyLewieP's Mummy Registered User regular
    edited February 2010
    Seconded Szech', use lots and lots of praise for chewing and swallowing, eat with him so its a family time if you don't already, ignore completely the pouching behaviour - even turing away (but still being able to see him if he does swallow, cos instant praise works best, and you know you're praising the behaviour you want to see more of.

    Another thing I thought of is how old is your other child? can you use him/her as an opportunity for proximal praise - the old " Oh, look at LewieP, see how well he's eating his vegetables, LewieP's Daddy!" in front of LewieP's sister. Or is s/he younger?

    A good book to have a look at is The Incredible Years by Carolyn Webster-Stratton, she writes lots of common sense, but is very behaviourally based, some people aren't comfortable with that approach.

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  • tuxkamentuxkamen Registered User regular
    edited February 2010
    Our older son did the same thing for a while; it is gross and kind of scary when you catch them with a bolus two hours after their meal, but it doesn't actually harm anything as long as you make sure that their mouth is clear before they go to bed.

    Some things we used to do were to give him foods he enjoyed more (taste-wise, as he tended to pouch more 'grown-up' foods) or give softer alternatives. I freely admit that I didn't take the 'ignore' approach (because he would start coughing), but he did phase out of it after a while with no harm done. About the only thing you can do is make the food tasty enough for him to want to swallow it (without making it unhealthy).


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  • cferreira172cferreira172 Registered User
    ElJeff, I was wondering if you can let me know what ended up happening with your son. My son is doing the same thing and its really frustrating me. He also won't communicate like his twin brother does. I think he is smarter than his bro, but for some reason has no urge to communicate anything with us. As far as the food thing, he'll keep it in his mouth and go along playing until he can no longer hold in his spit and spit it out all over himself. (Unlike your son, he does not keep it in his cheeks, he keeps his mouth closed and wont eat or drink anything while holding the food in his mouth. he wont even swallow his spit.) And, yes, I have tried everything from not letting him go play to taking the food away to trying to get him to eat something else he loves. I'm at my wits end with him.
    With the food and communication issue, I'm starting to think maybe this is more than just him being stubborn, even though the dr doesn't seem to think so. How is your son now? Was it a medical issue, or just a stubborn child? Any help you can lend would be greatly appreciated!!

  • DjeetDjeet Registered User regular
    He won't starve. He will eat when he needs to. It's a game now, and the only way to ungame it is not to play. Don't make a deal of it. Also, don't necropost.

  • MentalExerciseMentalExercise Indefenestrable Registered User regular
    ElJeff, I was wondering if you can let me know what ended up happening with your son. My son is doing the same thing and its really frustrating me. He also won't communicate like his twin brother does. I think he is smarter than his bro, but for some reason has no urge to communicate anything with us. As far as the food thing, he'll keep it in his mouth and go along playing until he can no longer hold in his spit and spit it out all over himself. (Unlike your son, he does not keep it in his cheeks, he keeps his mouth closed and wont eat or drink anything while holding the food in his mouth. he wont even swallow his spit.) And, yes, I have tried everything from not letting him go play to taking the food away to trying to get him to eat something else he loves. I'm at my wits end with him.
    With the food and communication issue, I'm starting to think maybe this is more than just him being stubborn, even though the dr doesn't seem to think so. How is your son now? Was it a medical issue, or just a stubborn child? Any help you can lend would be greatly appreciated!!

    I suspect in the end you just have to wait it out, although I'd try praise for swallowing the food (or even spitting it into a napkin you're holding).

    As far as communication goes, not anything? Like his brother talks some but he doesn't at all? One of my twins certainly says more than his brother which is really common, but if one talks and the other doesn't at all that's something your doctor should be aware of. Especially if they're of an age where they're chewing solids (18-36 months I assume?). Not talking isn't a big deal. Can't talk might be a bit of a deal. Can't talk and doesn't interact with you or sibling is probably a deal of some sort.

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  • curly haired boycurly haired boy Your Friendly Neighborhood Torgue Dealer Registered User regular
    i don't mean to necropost; that said, i remember having this problem myself as a kid, particularly with celery.

    what solved the issue is smaller bites. the eating process wasn't fully connected in my mind with the swallowing process. eating and chewing was fine and dandy, but when it came down to dealing with the wad at the end, no way that was fitting down my throat. in the end, my parents had to supervise each bite until i finally came to terms that eating, chewing, and swallowing were all part of the same chain. have to complete that chain before you start over with more food.

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  • ceresceres Just your problem OoSuper Moderator, Moderator mod
    ElJeff, I was wondering if you can let me know what ended up happening with your son. My son is doing the same thing and its really frustrating me. He also won't communicate like his twin brother does. I think he is smarter than his bro, but for some reason has no urge to communicate anything with us. As far as the food thing, he'll keep it in his mouth and go along playing until he can no longer hold in his spit and spit it out all over himself. (Unlike your son, he does not keep it in his cheeks, he keeps his mouth closed and wont eat or drink anything while holding the food in his mouth. he wont even swallow his spit.) And, yes, I have tried everything from not letting him go play to taking the food away to trying to get him to eat something else he loves. I'm at my wits end with him.
    With the food and communication issue, I'm starting to think maybe this is more than just him being stubborn, even though the dr doesn't seem to think so. How is your son now? Was it a medical issue, or just a stubborn child? Any help you can lend would be greatly appreciated!!

    Don't necropost. If you have a question, make your own thread.

    I've got my own life and I've got my own plans
    I hope you understand, and like the way that I am
This discussion has been closed.