Stop The Sucking: Some Unexpected Back-To-School Problem Solving

As I’ve blogged about before, I moved from being a nail biter to being a sucker. My poor lanyard, and sometimes a necklace that I wear, can be permanently implanted in my mouth during stressful times. Recently, as we continue to learn more about the back-to-school routine, and the unexpected but understandable changes that go with it, I noticed that I’ve been sucking on things a lot more frequently. It hit me yesterday, while I was replying to a few emails, that the collar of my shirt was in my mouth.

I do this so often without even realizing it.

This was not the first time that this has happened, especially in the past couple of months. And while I can understand why I might be feeling stressed and why this might help sooth me, I also realize that in the time of COVID, putting items in your mouth is an especially bad idea. Then I began to think about when we go back to school. Now, every day in class, I’ll be wearing a mask and a shield. Sucking on anything will no longer be an option. The same will be true for kids. I know so many of our students that calm themselves by putting their thumb in their mouth. Or biting on their sleeves. I’m not saying that this is the right thing to do, but as a fellow “sucker,” I can empathize with these choices.

As we prepare kids for going back to school — just as we prepare ourselves — do we need to help these “suckers” find something else that calms them. Maybe it’s …

  1. fidgeting with an item on their wrist (e.g., a scrunchie),
  2. doodling in a notebook or on some paper,
  3. or engaging in some independent sensory play (e.g., creating with their own container of playdough).

Maybe it’s something else altogether. For me, I wonder if I need to invest in a few mints to suck on periodically throughout the day. (Choking is the only reason that I wouldn’t suggest this option for kids.)

No matter what the solution might be, I implore all educators, administrators, and parents to see beyond the negative connotations sometimes associated with this type of behaviour, and notice the stress. This sucking could very well be Self-Reg in action. At a time with increased stress, losing the ability to engage in this calming behaviour could be a stressor in itself. Working through solutions together though could make a world of difference for these kids and adults that look to this sensory option as a calming one for them. How might you support the “suckers” in your life? They really need you right now. I get it. I understand. I can relate. This little habit of mine has led to some more problem solving for me to do before we head back to school.


2 thoughts on “Stop The Sucking: Some Unexpected Back-To-School Problem Solving

  1. My son recently started this habit. I’m blaming it more on the ADD than stress, but I suppose ADD is it’s own stress. He only does it when he is trying to focus on something. It helps if I have him chew gum instead, and since he’ll be in my class this year I know this will be okay in school. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I always chewed on my pens and pencils. Now it’s gum or mints. I worry about giving him a chewy for school because I fear that by grade 3 students are seeing them as a baby toy. I don’t want anyone to say anything to him about it! I’m still working through how to support him in this. He doesn’t want to talk about it. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Thanks for sharing, Lisa! I donโ€™t have a problem with gum chewing, but I also know that in kindergarten, many kids can choke on it. I would rather try to explore a different sensory option. I will probably stick to some mints for me. You do make me think about different reasons kids chew/suck, and how we can reduce the stigma associated with both. I keep thinking about all of our students that have sucked their thumbs over the years. I know the possible teeth/speech issues with this. I also noticed that in time, and with us not drawing attention to it, many kids stopped. But with COVID and an understandable fixation on germs and items going into your mouth, I wonder what others might say if they do notice this habit. I want to keep kids safe, but also not increase their stress by fixating on the problem. Itโ€™s a hard one.


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