Why Does My Child Chew on Things?

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 Kid chewing on a cupfrequency 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.

4 replies
  1. vicky
    vicky says:

    My son is nearly 4 and chews on crayons and sponges sometimes its got that bad his nursery teacher asked me to take him to a doctor for an opinion as they are worried he might end up havin an accident what do I do

    • Lindsey Moyer
      Lindsey Moyer says:

      Hi Vicky. It sounds like your kiddo may be looking for input through his oral sensory tract. It’s important to help your kiddo differentiate between what is appropriate to put in his mouth (food items, straws, etc.) and what isn’t (especially items he could choke on!). Another idea is “chewelry.” These are items that your child can chew on but are disguised as jewelry. A lot of my clients have purchased these tools at http://www.funandfunction.com. Encouraging your child to chew on this non-food item would be a good way for him to get the input he’s craving. If his tendency to chew non-food items persists, a more comprehensive evaluation with an occupational therapist would be warranted to gather more information about your kiddos sensory processing.

  2. Jo
    Jo says:

    I am a teacher, and I have a child in my class who is 7 years old, and chews constantly. He chews clothes, erasers, beads, and other items. He has bitten off parts of a pencil on more than one occasion. He is a refugee from a country that has been in war. He also has some learning issues and English as a second language. What can I do to help him?


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