Robert Seith | CWK Network
"I would take it away, and … I would tell him the rock belongs on the ground. We don't put it in our mouth, and if you're hungry let's go inside and have a snack … we eat food."
- Kathi Freet, mother -
Four-year-old Luke Freet has a taste, literally, for sand, leaves, toys and "rocks. He liked to put rocks in his mouth," says his mother, Kathi.
Convincing him not chew inedible objects has been a challenge. "Sometimes I would give him a washcloth to put in his mouth, and if he wanted to chew on something I'd rather it be a clean washcloth than a rock, or dirt," says Freet.
Experts say it's normal for babies and children under age 2 to put ordinary objects in their mouth, including coins, paper clips, paper and plastic caps. "They want to taste, they want to experience and learn about the world through putting things in their mouth and mouthing them," says Dr. Laura Mee, pediatric psychologist.
But, she says after the age of 2, the habit should quickly fade. "Any child who is eating things that are not food items at the age of 3 probably should be something you discuss with a pediatrician," says Dr. Mee.
It may be a sign of a condition with a Latin name, pica. "It typically is a disorder of children who not only just put things in their mouth, but then ingest and swallow them," says Dr. Mee. Experts aren't exactly sure what causes pica, but some theorize it may be the result of not enough trace elements, like iron or zinc.
Luke doesn't have pica, he doesn't actually swallow objects, but still, there's a risk. "You run the risk, of course, of choking or having something lodged in your airway when you're putting things in your mouth that are not food items," says Dr. Mee.
Luke's mom has dealt with it exactly the way doctors recommend. With gentle reminders and edible alternatives. "Unless it's toxic, don't freak out," says Freet. "Just see if you explain to them that it's not appropriate.That we don't eat sand, sand is to be played with not put in our mouth. And take them indoors, clean them up, and give them a snack maybe."