There’s nothing more gross in my mind than sitting and eating with an adult who eats with their mouth open. I had a colleague at work years ago who did it so often it was talked about behind his back and some people avoided having lunch with him. Yikes! He was in his late twenties! I think we all fear that our kids will grow into such food spewing adults who are avoided like the plague but, what do we do? Some of you have kids who are already tweens or teens which makes the challenge harder but, in this blog post, we’ll go over some ideas on how you can do a course correction no matter what the age.
I do have to start out saying that, like just about every parenting issue, the earlier you start the easier things will be in the long run. Preschool is a great time to start manners training but don’t be discouraged if you have older kids.
1 – Talk about it.
Communicating with your family expectations about any activity you do is really key so put chewing food into that same category. It’s a Life Skill you need to teach. You need to explain the both why they need to chew with mouths closed and what that looks like so that everyone is on the same page.
You can have small discussions with just one child during a meal or, if you feel you haven’t been clear with your entire family, then have a Family Meeting and talk about chewing manners. Here are some ideas in how to approach chewing food.
- Start with BASIC SKILLS: Some kids shove too much food in their mouths so practice taking small bites. Go over what sized pieces are expected for different types of foods. Include examples of foods you grab with your hands like pizza and apples vs. a bowl of cereal or pasta. You could give everyone a knife and have them cut whatever it is into bite-sized pieces to make sure the learning is going well.
- Next, include some FUN AND GAMES: You can play games where kids earn points, be creative and a little crazy. When you have fun, learning can really settle in without being a burden.
- Make a game out of cutting up food into the right bite-sized pieces, use a ruler or other marking system on plates to figure it out
- How about chewing so many times before swallowing – 5 chews, 10 chews, set different numbers and get feedback to find the ideal number as a family
- Or, use a timer for keeping track of chewing with the mouth closed for a certain amount of time. Little kids love setting timers so let them set away for each other! Keep score.
- You could be brave and have kids purposely try to talk with food in their mouths while they try to hide the food from being seen by others. See how much food that is, keep track of the sizes that each kid can successfully hide and talk or say some silly nursery rhyme.
- You could also do the opposite of trying to hide the food by having everyone stuff a bit too much food in their mouths and try to talk, maybe you’d want to do this at a picnic table in your backyard since it might get messy. You also want to make sure no one chokes on it by overdoing it so please be careful if you decide to go this route.
- I think you get the idea of chewing games so let’s move on.
- You can use USE BOOKS: There are actually books to read for younger kids that can help! Two favorites for toddlers and preschoolers seem to be “How Dinosaurs Eat Their Food” and “Dinner with Olivia”.
- Now, my favorite, SET UP SIGNALS: Those of you who follow my podcasts have heard of other examples of setting up signals in your home for things like anger issues. I love them! In this case, once you have the basics down decide with your family what signal you all could use when someone is chewing with their mouth open. It’s wearing on us all to keep saying things verbally like: “Ann, please chew with your mouth closed.” We start out patient and loving but sometimes it pushes us over the edge and we get triggered and wind up with something like: “If you don’t stop chewing with your mouth open, you’re going to your room!”. So, what signal could you use? Here are some ideas but keep in mind that choosing as a family is going to be most effective so use these just as idea starters.
- You could tap your fork on your plate gently once for child #1, twice for child #2, etc.
- Or maybe you tap your hand on the top of your head or tap your nose.
- You could also just do something simple like putting your hand over your mouth.
- Have a small stuffed animal sitting at the table that gets passed to the person needing reminding.
- Whatever you do, CONSISTENCY is super key: Once you’ve communicated and agreed as a family what eating habits are acceptable it’s really important that you follow through. This will take time and it will be repetitive but you need to keep it loving and kind in addition to being consistent. Do not give up!
- Now, for the harder part, having CONSEQUENCES: What do you do if things just aren’t working out for one of your kids? Maybe you have an older child and they’re just being defiant or spiteful. Whether your child is young or old you need to agree that there will be consequences for poor eating behaviors. Possible options include removing the child from the dinner table, making them eat alone or taking away a fun toy or activity. Listen to my podcast #10 if you need help setting up effective and loving consequences. You might also listen to my last podcast #51 about dealing with kids who drain your energy if the issue persists.
- Lastly, there could be MEDICAL ISSUES involved: I don’t want to leave this topic without covering one more thing about chewing and open mouths. Some kids have real breathing issues that make it difficult to chew. They could have overgrown adenoids or tonsils, inflammation of the epiglottis or a throat infection that interfere with chewing. Toddlers and preschoolers probably fall into this more than older kids but have your pediatrician take a look.