Child Purposely Throwing Up or Vomiting – How to Stop This Behavior

sick child

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Children, by nature, are pretty gross. There are so many incidents that we as parents have to deal with from blowup diapers to vomiting. But what do you do when a child is intentionally making themselves vomit?

First, you get to the root of the behavior. Don’t overreact. Then, you slowly can put a stop to it. Remember, it can take time and persistence to make a child stop forcing themselves to throw up, but it’s possible. 

Why Do Children Make Themselves Throw Up?

Children make themselves throw up for a variety of reasons. Kids that don’t want to go to school might be making themselves sick in hopes of getting sent home.

Others may have discovered that this is a great way to get attention.

If a child has to take medicine that they don’t like, they might be making themselves throw up to avoid the effects of the medicine. There are a few ways to determine why a child is making themselves throw up. 

Document When The Behavior Happens

First, you’ll need to get a notebook and pen. Then, every time that your child makes themselves vomit, make a mental note of it. Write it down.

Document what time of the day it was, who else was in the house or wherever the child was, and what else was going on in the environment that might have been relevant.

You’ll also want to write down where this happens at. Some children only make themselves vomit at school, and others only at home. 

Make sure that you don’t write it down in front of the child. You documenting the behavior can cause curious children to do the behavior more because they want to know if you’re going to keep writing it down. 

Look For Behavioral Patterns

Once you’ve documented this for a week or two, you need to go back through your notebook. Look for behavioral patterns.

When a child is doing something intentionally, you’ll often discover that they only do it in front of a certain person, or in a certain environment.

Once you’ve figured out what the behavioral pattern is, you’re well on your way to stopping the behavior. 

Determine What Your Child Is Getting From The Behavior

Children continue to exhibit undesirable behavior because they are accomplishing something with it. For example, consider the child that only makes themselves vomit when their grandparents are at the house.

Every time they vomit, all eyes are on them. Their grandmother holds them and asks if their stomach is okay. This turns into a family conversation all about the child.

Obviously, this behavior works well in making them the center of attention. Other reasons children might have this behavior include: 

  • Wanting to leave a place or go home
  • Wanting to know what a person’s reaction will be
  • Testing people to see how they react

Once you determine what they are getting from the behavior, you need to resolve that particular issue. How you do that depends on what the child is getting. You’ll want to make sure that they stop getting a reward for the behavior. 

Do Consider An Upset Stomach First

The littlest is a bit more energetic than most children. If she ran and jumped too often after eating, she would promptly throw up. My middle child used to throw up every day at daycare.

It turned out it was because of his allergies, and the build-up of mucous was making him throw up. Children might also throw up if something upsets their stomachs or they eat too fast.

These should be ruled out before assuming that it is a behavioral problem. If you’ve already done that, it’s time to look at behavioral reasons that a child might force themselves to vomit. 

How To Stop Controlling Behavior

When children have to do something that they do not want, they instantly seek a way to get what they want. This is controlling behavior, but it’s also perfectly normal.

Children will continue to test boundaries and see if they can find a way to get what they want well into adulthood.

When it involves gross behavior, like a child forcing themselves to vomit, you still want to put a stop to the vomiting. These ideas can help you do just that. 

Give Controlling Children More Choices

It’s common for children to try to control everything after a big change. This happens more often in children with disorders like autism or developmental disabilities.

However, it is common in all children. They cannot control the change, such as having to move, so they try to control other things. 

Giving children more choices throughout their day can help them feel a sense of control. When they have that, they stop using undesirable behaviors to get control of other situations. For example, you can let children choose: 

  • What to eat for breakfast and lunch
  • What they would like for a snack
  • Which clothes they want to wear
  • Their shoes
  • How they want their hair
  • Whether they want to go to the park or a friend’s house
  • What they want to do throughout the day

Giving children more choices can drastically help limit controlling behavior. 

Don’t Let Them Have More Control Than Is Appropriate

As children get older, they should have more control over their life. This is a natural part of growing up. However, when a parent gives more control to a seven-year-old than they should, it can cause controlling behaviors to surface.

Children are hungry for more power in the household. Once you give them some, they will want more, and more. You have to set limits and stick to them. 

Expect Controlling Children To Test Their Limits

Every child will test their boundaries. They want to know what they can get away with. When a child has more controlling behaviors than other children in the same age group, they tend to do this more often than other children.

They might try different tactics, or behave worse in an attempt to get their way. As you continue to have the same neutral attitude, they will slowly learn that it will not work. Mentally prepare yourself for it now.

Speak With Your Pediatrician About The Possibility Of Mental Illness

Children might be exhibiting this behavior to control things, but a key factor also includes why they want to control things. For example, children with Opposition Defiant Disorder are simply defiant.

However, that is not always the case. For example, my littlest has PTSD. She strives to get school to send her home on occasion. It’s not because she’s being defiant.

She’s uncomfortable so she wants her mommy. Anxiety is another common reason for children wanting to leave an environment. Common mental illnesses that can result in this behavior include,  but are not limited to: 

  • PTSD
  • Anxiety
  • Personality Disorders
  • Depression

Your pediatrician can help review your child’s behavior and can determine if they are in need of further psychological evaluation.

If your child is making themselves throw up due to an underlying mental illness, treating the mental illness can help curb the behavior. 

How To Stop Attention Seeking Behavior In Children

When a child finds that they get a lot of attention from a behavior, they continue to do that behavior. Children always have attention needs. In fact, we all do!

We all have a little attention bucket with a tiny hole in the middle. As the bucket empties, it needs to be refilled with more attention. Your child wanting or needing attention is perfectly normal.

Most parents are busy working, and some children only get ten minutes of quality time with their parents a day! However, you still want to stop them from making themselves throw up. 

Note Who They Are Getting Attention From

When children want attention from a specific person, they will only exhibit the particular behavior, which is vomiting in this case, around that person.

If this person is in the family, consider seeing if someone else will get the child cleaned up. The person that the child is seeking attention from should ignore them. 

When the person is not someone that is living in the household, it can be harder to get them on board. If grandma only sees their grandchild once a month, they won’t want to spend that day ignoring their possible upset stomach.

In this case, it’s important to have a conversation with them. Tell them that the child only does this when they are around and that you would like their help in preventing the behavior from getting worse.

After that, explain that you’d like them to ignore that particular behavior, but spend plenty of time with your little one outside of that behavior. 

Ignore The Behavior Or Remain Neutral

When a child finds out that a particular behavior gets them attention, they keep doing it. If you can, ignore the behavior. Older children can clean up the mess themselves. 

When a younger child does this, it’s impossible to completely ignore the vomiting. You simply can’t leave a child to sit in their own vomit. However, you can remain neutral.

Don’t ask them if they are okay. Instead, simply help them get cleaned up while remaining silent. Then, move on as though the incident did not happen. 

Expect It To Get Worse First

Once you stop paying attention to attention-seeking behavior, it almost always gets worse before it gets better. Children will up their behavioral tactics in an effort to get attention.

It worked before, so they think they just have to do it more to get attention. Kids will also do this to test your boundaries at this point. Don’t give in. Remain neutral or keep ignoring the behavior. 

Give Them Plenty Of Positive Attention

This is where most people tend to miss the boat when it comes to attention-seeking behavior. The thing is, children need attention. When they receive attention, it can help them develop or continue to have a secure attachment.

That means that you want to give your child attention. You don’t want them to stop needing attention. Instead, you simply want to stop the particular behavior. 

Because of that, you’ll want to give them plenty of positive attention. Catch your child being good and praise them. Give them random hugs. I understand that we’re all busy.

I’m a single mother with three children and a grandchild. All of my children are under eighteen. However, it only takes a few seconds to yell “Hey! I love you cutie patootie!” down the hallway to make your little one smile.

Those random moments of positive attention go a long way and can help your little one realize that they don’t need to throw up to get your attention. 

Consider Telling Your Child That You Will Not Pay Attention To Them When They Are Throwing Up

My littlest understands what attention-seeking behavior is. I simply tell her that I know she wants attention, and (insert undesirable behavior) is not the way to get it. If she would like the attention she can: 

  • Tell me she wants to spend time with me
  • Talk to me
  • Hug me
  • Help me

Make sure that when your child uses one of the methods stated to get the attention that you pay attention to them. This helps to encourage positive behavior. It’s important to offer both positive and negative reinforcement in children. 

Avoid Strong Reactions To Your Child Making Themselves Throw Up

A child might make themselves vomit as a controlling behavior or a way to get attention, but when someone gives a certain reaction to the behavior, it can encourage it.

Children like to see different reactions from the adults around them. That is why it’s important to remain neutral when your little one does this. You don’t want them to start doing it to get a certain reaction.

If this has worked in the past, it will take some time for your little one to see that it no longer works, but it will happen eventually. 

Don’t Let The Behavior Be An Effective Way To Get What They Want

If your child has previously been sent home from school due to vomiting, and they don’t want to go to school, they will continue to do this. Make sure that your child does not get what they are after with this behavior or it will continue to be a problem. 

Avoid Harsh Or Daily Punishments

I learned quite a bit with my littlest one. One thing I learned was to choose my battles. The thing is, when you have a child that has several behavioral issues, you simply can’t punish them for all of them.

This quickly turns into them being in trouble for most of their life. In addition to that, you’ll find that over time the punishment of choice is no longer effective.

Corporal punishment can also make control issues and behavioral problems worse, so it’s best to avoid those. 

Utilize A Positive Rewards System

Instead, it can be very effective to utilize a positive rewards system. Keep in mind that you’ll want to do this in combination with ignoring the behavior, giving positive attention, and letting your little one have some say so.

Simply using a positive rewards system may work for some children, but it will not be effective long term if the underlying cause of the behavior is not addressed.

When you use a rewards system, it’s important to make things clear to your child, set boundaries, and stick to your word. 

Have Clear Expectations

Telling a child that they will stop throwing up is very vague. It also opens the door for a counterargument of “I stopped for twenty minutes, which still counts.”

We don’t want to encourage that or leave room for that, so it’s best to have clear expectations and explain them to your little one.

For example, telling a child that if they do not throw up from the time they get up until they go to bed is an effective way to say all day. 

Use Age-Appropriate Rewards

Younger children might not understand a complex rewards system such as a sticker chart. It will take time for them to understand that they do not get a prize one day and that it takes so many stickers to get a prize.

This is why a prize box is an excellent way to entice younger children into positive behavior. They can pick a prize after dinner, for example.

(Make sure not to do it right before bedtime. They won’t have time to play with their prize. I learned that the hard way.)

Older children will understand more complex reward systems. In this situation, a sticker chart would be more appropriate. Consider your child’s age and developmental stage when picking a reward system. 

Slowly Work Up To Longer Periods Of Good Behavior

It can be hard for a young child starting out on a new reward system to go an entire week without behavior that they can get used to. This means that they do not get a reward.

It won’t take long before they don’t think they are going to get a prize anyway, and the reward system will no longer be effective. 

That is why it’s important to start small with reward systems for children. For example, tell them that if they do not throw up for half a day, they can have a prize or a piece of candy.

It should be easy for them to get a prize at first. This helps motivate children to want a prize because they have already gotten one. 

Then, you’ll want to keep doing that for a few days or a week. After that, slowly gravitate towards longer periods of time. For example, if you do not make yourself throw up for an entire day.

Then, change it to two days. Continue to do that until the behavior has stopped completely. It does take time and patience but is very effective. 

What To Use As A Reward

What you use as a reward can be determined by what your child loves and wants. If your little one is attempting to get your attention, consider spending special time together or a movie night as a reward.

Children can be given a small candy bar or small toys that you can pick up at the Dollar Tree, too. Remember, the most important thing is to simply stick to whatever you say. 

The link above is something I buy to fill up the prize box at home. We’ve pretty much exhausted the options at the Dollar Tree by now. I’ve also found it’s actually cheaper to buy bulk packs like that from Amazon.

They have some that have only one of each item, others that have Squishies (my daughter loves those), etc. When you compare the overall cost, you’ll find that you don’t even pay a dollar for each item!

In Conclusion

When you have a child that is gagging until they throw up, it’s important to determine why they are doing this. Make sure to rule out an upset stomach first. You don’t want to accidentally punish a child for eating something that makes them sick.

Then, document their behavior and keep an eye out for behavioral patterns. Speak with your pediatrician about possible mental illnesses.

Last, use a reward system and plenty of positive reinforcement to help curb the behavior and keep it gone. 

Medical Disclaimer. All content and media on the MomInformed Website is created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice.

My name is Amber Dixon. I am a mother to three wonderful children, and recently welcomed a beautiful grandson into the world as well as into my home. I've learned a great deal about raising children through my own experiences as a mother, but also from several other places. While working at a daycare full time, I learned about childhood development, teaching children, and more. Through earning degrees in Social Work, I was educated about human development, including a great deal about children and childhood development. My education and experience combined have taught me a lot about children of every stage and age, and I hope that I can help you on your journey to becoming the best parent that you can be!

My name is Amber Dixon. I am a mother to three wonderful children, and recently welcomed a beautiful grandson into the world as well as into my home. I've learned a great deal about raising children through my own experiences as a mother, but also from several other places. While working at a daycare full time, I learned about childhood development, teaching children, and more. Through earning degrees in Social Work, I was educated about human development, including a great deal about children and childhood development. My education and experience combined have taught me a lot about children of every stage and age, and I hope that I can help you on your journey to becoming the best parent that you can be!