Q&A: 4-year-old holding food in mouth

Ali writes:

"Our 4 year old DD has thrown a new and less than delightful issue our way – she’s started holding her food in her cheeks. It’s not an issue of liking the food – she does it with everything, including her favorites. She’ll chew it up, and then forgo that final swallowing step. Eventually we end up telling her she has to swallow or spit; mealtimes have become really unpleasant, and I’m starting to dread giving her any food at all. I tried ignoring it, and she kept some masticated waffle in their for over thirty minutes before nearly choking when she coughed with a mouthful.

Most of the stuff I’ve come across on the web seems to be either an issue of the child not liking their food, or a muscular issue. That isn’t the case here. DD is a very independent minded child, and loves nothing more than a power struggle, so I’m leaning towards a control thing – but in the meantime, what on earth do we do?!?"


My almost-2-year-old does this (and it drives me nuts), but I haven't heard of a 4-year-old doing it before. I think you've hit it directly on the head when you say it's a control issue.

It seems like you have a few choices:

1. Ignore it some more. See what happens if you just steadfastly ignore it for 3 days in a row. It's going to kill you, but she'll figure out how not to choke, and she may well completely lose interest in this idiotic food-storing scheme.

2. Find some pictures on the internet of what will happen to her teeth if she continues to hold food in her cheeks. Don't click here if you're squeamish. Show her this pictures, and tell her it's her choice, but holding food in her mouth could result in teeth like that. If you're lucky, it'll scare her straight.

3. Ask her to help you come up with a way to get her to stop holding the food in her mouth. Kids that age can be surprisingly rational about this stuff, and she just tell you exactly why she's doing it, and how to get her to stop. Either that or she'll be so surprised that you asked her to help you come up with a plan that she'll just swallow without realizing she's started swallowing again.

Those are the three things I've come up with that aren't going to to get you into a fruitless power struggle. Does anyone else have any ideas to stop the hoarding that don't involve any showdowns?