Oral Motor Activities and Engagement to Reduce Licking

  • Situation

    I am working with a child who has just started licking things: people, walls, toys, etc. Redirection makes him frustrated.   How can I help him reduce this behavior?

  • Summary

    Here are a few oral motor activities and strategies to increase engagement with your student to reduce licking. The first step would be to assess the possible function of the licking  behavior. Knowing the function will help determine your intervention.

    • Start by checking your student for any dental issues. If you rule out any potential dental issues that may cause the licking, proceed with the following steps to reduce this behavior.
    • Determine the possible function and reasoning behind the licking by using an ABC chart. Identifying the function will help determine the appropriate strategy to employ. It may be a sensory-seeking activity or a product of too much unstructured time.
    • Consult with an Occupational Therapist (OT) to identify activities that provide similar sensory input such as blowing bubbles, brushing teeth with a toothbrush, blowing into a harmonica, or using a “chewy” necklace.
    • Using your ABC chart, identify when the student is most likely to engage in licking and schedule sensory activities prior to that.
    • Be prepared to redirect your student with more appropriate behaviors if they appear ready to engage in licking and ensure you have a planned activity for the student if they finish their work ahead of his/her classmates so they are actively engaged.
    • Positively reinforce your student when he/she refrains from licking and uses one of the appropriate replacement behaviors.
  • Definition

    Use of replacement tools/activities for oral motor sensory seeking behavior and a well scheduled day that provides continual engagement  serve as interventions to decrease licking behaviors.

  • Quick Facts

    • Child's Age: 3-5, 6-10, 11-13, 14-17, 18+
    • Planning Effort: Moderate
    • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Pre-requisites

    Check for dental issues.


    Consult with Occupational Therapist regarding sensory issues.

  • Process

    1. Determine the possible function of licking by conducting observations.  (for example, does he most often do it during one on one teacher time or during more unstructured times of the day?)

    2. If the function appears to be related to sensory issues or excess down-time, consider the following steps.

    3. Consult with the Occupational Therapist to inquire about activities that may give similar input in a more appropriate way. Possible activities/exercises may include: blowing bubbles, harmonica or a kazoo, brushing teeth/mouth with a tooth brush, licking a popsicle or lollipop or providing a “chewy” necklace.  (consider age of child)

    4. Determine when the student is most likely to engage in licking behaviors. Per Occupational Therapist recommendations schedule sensory input activities prior to those identified times

    5. Throughout the day, and if the child appears ready to engage in licking behavior,  be prepared to cue the student to a more appropriate activity such as using a “chewy tube” or “necklace” or a few minutes with a lollipop.  (limit the sweets!)

    6. Positively reinforce the child when he refrains from licking or uses one of his replacement behaviors.

    7.  If the student completes his work, be sure to have a planned activity for him.  These may include computer/iPad time, preferred/leisure activities or books on tape.

    8. In addition, teach the student that licking people and items is not appropriate and can spread germs.

  • Documents and Related Resources

    ABC data sheet (PDF)


    ABC data sheet (Word document)


    Schoolhealth.com (website with sample oral motor products)


    Purposeful Spitting (related answer on this site)


    What goes in your Mouth (Behavior Story – Word document)


    What I Can and Cannot Do with My Tongue (Behavior Story)


    Tongues Behavior Story (Word document)


    If you have questions or concerns about the Watson Institute’s use of this information, please contact us.