Teach Toddler to Chew Quietly
July 30, 2018 7:43 PM   Subscribe

My kiddo started eating really loud recently. He's been good at eating with his mouth closed until a month back when he stopped and is still incredibly loud when he does close his mouth to chew. I need to find ways to explain proper chewing or I'll lose my mind (please no "kids eat loudly" advice).

I'm not sure what changed my son's eating loudness but he went from a generally not noisy eater to being horrifically loud during meals. He eats with his mouth open more than he was and even when he closes his mouth it's so freaking loud. He's opening his jaw to the widest it'll go without opening his mouth and chewing faster than he was. There's both lip smacking and a smacking from further back in his mouth. My husband isn't bothered at all by loud eating but understands how much it impacts me.

This makes me irritable and I don't want to snap at my son over this when I can be instructive and praise him for quiet eating. We praised him for chewing with his mouth closed when he learned to do that but now he's more defiant. For context he's 2.75 years old.
posted by toomanycurls to Human Relations (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Is it better if he puts less food in his mouth each time before chewing?
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 7:58 PM on July 30, 2018

Is he possibly getting some molars?

If not, how about pretending to eat like a mouse? Pretending to be a fancy prince with tea and a cookie?

It could be a related to a growth spurt. He may be trying to get more food in there than his tiny teeth can chew. My son is a good eater and I often see him rearranging the food in his mouth (using only his mouth) because the food in there is too big/crunchy/hard to handle.
posted by defreckled at 8:07 PM on July 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

I also hate loud chewing. If he’s too loud for your taste when his mouth is closed, I’d advise listening to music while you eat, eating something crunchy yourself, or exploring other ways to solve the problem on your end.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:14 PM on July 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

My kids both went through this stage and honestly, I decided meals were Reading Time for awhile. We'd chat during food prep, I'd hand the toddler some board books, and then left them alone to their madness - I'd eat in the living room with headphones
on and an eye out for needs/emergencies. This is maybe not the best possible parenting advice but I too couldn't stand the sounds and figured animal slop book time was better than me snapping from stress.

(They grew out of it. Except for popsicles. Popsicles. The enemy.)
posted by hapaxes.legomenon at 8:20 PM on July 30, 2018 [13 favorites]

Does he have hayfever, or could there be something else that's making it difficult to breathe through his nose? I (an adult) will sort of chew the way your son does when I'm super stopped up. It cracks my husband up! Usually coincides with some snoring as well.
posted by stillmoving at 8:29 PM on July 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

In retrospect, I would have trained my sister, who's hardened into an habitual open-mouth eater, by offering her dollar bills. If she could hold one with her lips while chewing and swallowing a special bite, she'd get to keep it. Note this conditioning would probably have to occur away from parental supervision -- Mom wouldn't fancy Sis putting even the edges of paper money into her mouth, even in such a limited way.
posted by Rash at 8:35 PM on July 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Are there any particular foods he’s more likely to eat quietly? Or any other way to catch him eating quietly? I’d make a huge fuss over how grownup and polite he was in the moments when he’s eating the way you like, and try to ignore it when he isn’t. That sort of positive reinforcement worked pretty well on my kids.
posted by LizardBreath at 3:05 AM on July 31, 2018

Response by poster: A few clarifications -

He has all molars for his age.

Doesn't have a stuffy nose. My husband has allergies and has a loud(er than I'd like) chew due to issues with breathing and eating at the same time. I'd recognize that in our son and not make an issue out of it.

The real change is in the mechanics of his eating (smacking his lips, opening his jaw as wide as it'll go without parting his lips, reverting to open mouth chewing). I'm just not sure how to explain lip smacking to a little kid. "Please don't smack your lips" seems too abstract because he doesn't know what lip smacking means.

He is taking too large bites sometimes. This is also new. We've let him self regulate bite size for most foods since his dexterity and good chewing have made him less likely to choke or need help breaking foods into bites (but managing his bites isn't new). I'm not sure he'll take to us finely cutting his food and tends to grab small food by the fistful anyway.

He might be in a growth spurt. I've encouraged little bites and chewing slowly but he's being defiant (his new favorite thing is to do what we've asked him not to do and stare at us while he does it). I wasn't overly correcting his chewing prior to this change in eating so I don't think it started as an act of rebellion but he refuses to correct the behavior because of his recent limit pushing.

We listen to music during meals already. The current chewing habits are not drown out sufficiently by the music played from a speaker on the table. Turning up the volume further might be uncomfortable/irksome for my husband.

I'm not harping on about him eating crunchy food or things that are loud by nature. Last night it was a quesadilla and a few days before that French toast and sausage.

We're pretty limited on family time in the evening so I don't want to banish myself from the table.

I've never talked to a doctor about misophonia but friends who I've vented to about loud eating have suggested I have it (as a way to validate my reaction to loud eating). I really do make concerted efforts to parse out unavoidable eating noise versus poor chewing.
posted by toomanycurls at 7:17 AM on July 31, 2018

When my kids do something like this, I demonstrate the behavior back to them. "This is how to chew nicely." (demonstrate chewing quietly and politely. exaggerate prim and properness.) "You are chewing like an ENORMOUS SMELLY MONSTER would chew." (demonstrate, but go WAY over the top hamming it up here. make your kid collapse with laughter.) Then ask him to demonstrate chewing nicely and chewing like an enormous smelly monster. Let him see and feel the difference. At least now you'll have language that allows him to differentiate A vs B. My kids seem to get a lot of mileage out of laughing at my ridiculous awful demonstrations of whatever behavior it is and it legitimately seems to help them understand why I want them to stop doing it.

In terms of bite size, we describe bites in terms of animals. Tiny nibbles might be mouse bites, normal sized bites might be cat/dog bites, a good big bite might be a tiger bite, and maybe a dragon bite is a bite that's so big only a dragon can handle it gracefully (i.e. mouth stuffing). So if we're at, "eat three more bites of your sandwich", and the kid rolls eyes and attempts to eat one crumb, I'd respond "nope, no mouse bites. I need to see tiger bites." or "Ok, that's a kitten bite; you can take four kitten bites instead."

The rebellion is a separate issue, and you can address it however you address other forms of rebellion.
posted by telepanda at 7:38 AM on July 31, 2018 [5 favorites]

Best answer: My first pass method of addressing the rebellion, btw, would go something like this:
Kid: (chews noisily)
Me: (in mock horror) OH NO, THERE IS AN ENORMOUS SMELLY MONSTER AT THE TABLE. $Spouse, have you seen $kid?? I don't know where he went, and there is an ENORMOUS SMELLY MONSTER at his place at the table!!!!
Kid: "I'm right heeere!"
Me: (suspiciously) Are you sure? Can you show me how to chew like a kid and not an ENORMOUS SMELLY MONSTER?

I mean, sure, if you do this they may do it on purpose sometimes just to get you to play the game, but even that helps reinforce the difference between chewing politely and chewing like an enormous smelly monster. And YMMV but I have approximately 1000% better success rate of getting my kids to cooperate via humor than via scolding. It's better to be on the same team, playing the same game than to be pitted sourly against one another.
posted by telepanda at 7:46 AM on July 31, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I haven't had a toddler for over a decade now, but I think the fact that this seems potentially bound up in a rebellious streak would have me doing my best to be direct, directive, and working with clear rewards/consequences.

Toddler [chewing loudly]. You: "Toddler, I need you to chew with your mouth closed and quietly, like this [demonstrate behavior you want]. Show me, can you do that? [presumably, toddler can do this...]"

Toddler [chewing loudly in rebellion or again later at the table]. You: "Toddler, I need you to chew more quietly. If you can chew more quietly, we'll have dessert.* But if you keep chewing loudly or with your mouth open, we won't have dessert tonight."

Toddler [chewing loudly]. You: "I'm sorry we won't be having dessert tonight. We will try again tomorrow. I know you can do it."

Toddler [chewing quietly and with mouth closed]. You: "You're doing great! Keep it up because I'm looking forward to having dessert with you!"

For now, I would focus on having this system in place for dinner and letting the noisy behavior at other meals slide, but it's possible to remind toddler at other meal times about dessert after dinner.

Toddler [chewing loudly at breakfast]: "Toddler, remember how we chew quietly and with our mouths closed at dinner? Let's try to do that now - it'll be good practice for dinnertime and...dessert! Remember?"

Toddler [chewing quietly at breakfast]: "Toddler, you're doing such a good job chewing quietly and with your mouth closed! I'm looking forward to dinnertime! [big wink]"

*this can be reasonable! Like fruit with a dab of yogurt, etc.
posted by pinkacademic at 8:04 AM on July 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

My friend and I loved to play "Who can eat the neatest?" at "snack time" at her house. It was a game where we'd sit across from one another, usually under the diningroom table with the cloth on, so obscured from adult view, and we would perform for each other all the disgusting manners breaches we'd been hectored out of by our parents, plus new ones we came up with on the fly. Food would flop out of our mouths, we'd deliberately smear it on ourselves--it got increasingly baroque. I'm surprised neither of us aspirated something and died, we laughed so uproariously. We were six, not three, and all our games were us against the parents.

I think he's figured out that he can obey the letter of the law and chew with his mouth closed but still make it extradisgusting and drive you insane. He's playing Who can eat the neatest in full view of the enemy. My girlhood self would revere him for his brazen courage.

If this is what's up, you have to deny him an audience. If you're not willing to leave him to eat alone, you'll have to figure out how not to show annoyance. It will be so, so hard. I can't even think back upon "Who can eat the neatest" without a full-body shudder, and that was ME doing it back when I found disgusting eating a hilarious thrill. If I had to hang out with my kid during a performance...? God. Can't you just take a break from family dinner for a month or two til he gets out of this phase? Make dinner take about ten minutes so that you can flee and then have family time in less-fraught circumstances?
posted by Don Pepino at 9:49 AM on July 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you read something really interesting to him in a hushed voice while he’s eating, he may quiet down his eating so he can hear it.
posted by lakeroon at 10:27 AM on July 31, 2018

I have a friend who eats exactly as you describe. He used to eat with his mouth open, but now knows to close it. He thinks because he's keeping his mouth closed it's solved the issue but the wide fast clomping down of the jaw and the lip smacking is still so loud. I call it aggressive eating and I try to not focus on it when we eat together, but I'm responding to let you know that apparently annoyance with loud eaters is a genetic thing.
According to 23andme, my DNA indicates that I would have a larger likelihood than most to be overly annoyed by loud eaters. This is spot on for me, and possibly for you too.
posted by newpotato at 3:34 PM on July 31, 2018

No real solution but I have an autistic 12yo daughter with hyperacusis and misophonia (for which she receives very useful treatment, dm me if you want details - she can hear sounds well into the negative decibel range so lip smacking, sniffing etc are physically painful for her).

If her sister eats as you describe, before I can get a word out, she executes a move we call "the hairdryer" at her sister, which involves a blast of broad spectrum expletives at shouting-in-a-noisy-nightspot volume. I don't recommend it as an actual parenting strategy, but it is effective. Want to borrow her?
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 11:32 AM on August 4, 2018

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