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

    The first step would  be to assess the possible function of the licking  behavior.  Knowing the function will help determine your intervention. In this case, we will assume the function is “sensory seeking”  and possibly the child not knowing what to do with “down-time.” A combination of replacement activities and increasing engagement will be discussed.

  • 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)


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