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Linda D.
Linda D., Psychotherapist, LMSW, CASAC
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 432
Experience:  LMSW, CASAC
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My 6 year old keeps spitting on the neck of s shirt and rubs

Customer Question

My 6 year old keeps spitting on the neck of his shirt and rubs his mouth. It appears to be a nervous habit because he has been doing it for a couple months. We have given him vaseline and neosporin but he keeps rubbing it off. His mouth is completely red and don't know what we can do to get him to stop. My wife and I have been separated and he seems to be taking it pretty bad lately.
Submitted: 7 months ago.
Category: Mental Health
Expert:  Linda D. replied 7 months ago.

Hi there, my name is ***** ***** i am a licensed psychotherapist in private practice in NYS. I have done a lot of work with families and children over the years and really love the age your son is at. I am so sorry to hear that you and your wife have had a separation. This must be a very difficult time for all of you. It sounds to me like your son may have chosen this behavior as a soothing behavior for himself to help him when he is sad, scared, upset, etc. especially because it involves his mouth which is often a source of immediate gratification, nurturance and pleasure. He may have started this behavior unconsciously and now it is a habit that he is used to doing. And it may even be getting him some attention that he is enjoying or wanting. Fortunately it is relatively easy to change behaviors in young children as the behaviors are not as ingrained as they can be when we are older. Even though he is six it is important to encourage him to express what he is feeling about what is happening to him and his family. Does he feel scared? Is he worried about where he is going to live? Does he feel he did something bad to cause this to happen, etc? (Children his age are very ego-centric and truly believe the world evolves around them). I can't tell you how many adults I have treated who believed that something they did as children caused something bad to happen that was totally out of their control. Even though he is young he is till experiencing what is happening to his family but with a lot less control over the outcomes or ways to cope with the feelings. It is okay to explain to him that what he is doing with his shirt may be a habit that helps him to have something to do when he is having hard feelings. Once he knows you understand he is going through a hard time to and he can talk to you about whatever he feels, you will want to replace this "comforting ' behavior with something that he chooses with you. You can both go shopping together and pick out something he can wear on his wrist or keep in his pocket. an item that will comfort him, maybe a small stuffed animal. After you both do this start a token system whereby every day he does not wet his shirt and rub it on his mouth he earns a reward. You can have a treasure basket filled with inexpensive toys, books, crayons, etc. that he can pick out at the end of the day for his reward. He will need lots of praise for NOT using his shirt. I would also try as much as possible to totally ignore it when he does use his shirt. You don't want there to be any reward whatsoever for this behavior including time or attention for it. I hope these suggestions make sense to you. Please let me know if you have any more questions for me. Sincerely, Linda

Expert:  Linda D. replied 7 months ago.

Hi there, just thinking about you and your son and wanted to check in to see if you have tried any of my suggestions? I hope you found the information helpful. My best to you, Linda

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