By the age of 3, children have typically completed the teething stage. This is when they chew on objects or fingers to mitigate the pain they’re feeling as teeth break the surface of their gums. Damp sleeves, wet collars on shirts, or constantly chewing on objects that are not typically supposed to be in the mouth can be everyday occurrences for some older children who have difficulties processing sensory information. Many parents wonder “Why do they do it?” and “How can I help?”
While no two children who have challenges processing sensory information are alike, oftentimes, kids who chew on their clothing or other extraneous objects enjoy the input they receive through their jaw bones and oral musculature with the pressure of each “chomp.” As a result, you may notice the frequency of “chewing” to increase during exciting situations or during situations that your child perceives to be new, challenging, or stressful. By chewing on their clothing, kids may be attempting to provide their oral musculature and joints with proprioceptive input in order to self-regulate. The concept is very similar to the way adults may squeeze a stress-ball during times of high frustration or angst.
It isn’t uncommon for parents to feel effects of a social stigma when other adults or kids notice their child chewing on objects beyond the typical teething age range. They hope to find other ways for their child to self-regulate in a way that is considered more socially acceptable. Various online shops including www.funandfunction.com sell products that children can more discreetly chew on at home and at school. Products include everyday items such as pencil toppers and jewelry. Other options for kids who chew as a means to improved regulation, include participating in games or activities that provide input to their oral musculature. Examples include drinking through straws, chewing gum, eating crunchy foods, blowing up a balloon, and blowing bubbles.
If you find that these socially appropriate avenues are not meeting your child’s oral needs then contact a speech and language pathologist, occupational therapist or your primary care physician to determine the best possible course of treatment and to eliminate or to eliminate other medical concerns.