Children chew on things for a variety of reasons. When a child is younger, it’s normal for them to chew on things when they’re teething.
Older children might chew on things because of an anxiety disorder, feelings of anxiety, or because of a chewing disorder.
It’s important to consider ages and stages when determining whether you need to contact your pediatrician and to make sure that your little one is okay.
In this article
- Chewing On Clothes Symptoms
- Chewing On Other Objects Symptoms
- It’s Soothing
- Developmental Delays
- Sensory Processing Disorder
- Sensory Overload
- How Can I Help My Child That Is Biting Things
- Give Them Something Designated For Chewing
Chewing On Clothes Symptoms
It can be easy to spot your little one chewing on things when they’re sitting right next to you, such as a teething baby. When they get older and go to school though, it can be hard to spot.
Children won’t always tell their parents that they’re chewing on things. In fact, most children will attempt to hide this behavior because they feel embarrassed.
Because of this, it’s important to look for symptoms that they have been chewing on clothes. Watch out for:
- Frayed collars
- Wets spots on clothing
- Chew holes in clothing
- Kids that previously chewed on other things suddenly stopping (this is because you have a child chewing on clothes instead.)
If you notice any of these symptoms, have a heart to heart with your little one to determine if they are chewing on clothing.
It’s important to emphasize that they aren’t in trouble. Children are more likely to lie or hide things if they’re scared of being in trouble.
Chewing On Other Objects Symptoms
If you don’t flat out notice your child chewing on things, you might want to keep an eye out for other things.
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You may notice teeth marks on things that they usually have right by them or in their hand or see them chewing on something out of the corner of your eye. Common things that children may chew on other than clothes include:
- bookbag straps
- hair ties
My six-year-old is dying of boredom during online school hours. Personally, she has begun to chew on things. So far, she has teeth marks on the ends of her glasses. She also chews on her hair, and she chews on pencils if she has them in her hand.
Teething is a common reason that children chew on things. During your little one’s first year of life, they learn to grab things.
Then, as their teeth poke through their gums, they learn that the pressure on their gums from chewing on things helps relieve some of the discomforts from teething.
Most babies that do this to soothe their own gums are in at least a slight amount of discomfort. Soothing teething gels work to numb the gums so that babies aren’t in pain.
Baby Orajel is a common remedy for this, but off-brand teething gels are also effective.
Babies explore the world with all of their senses, including taste. As soon as your little one learns that they can taste things, they’ll be eager to put everything in their mouth.
This is just one of the ways that they explore the world around them and learn things.
Gentle Discouragement And Cleaning
If you’re not a fan of your little one putting things in their mouth, you can try to gently curb this behavior. To do this, simply pull the toy out of your little one’s mouth when they start to chew on it. You can also distract them by showing them something else.
If your baby puts things in their mouth, don’t forget to disinfect them so that your little one is not exposed to germs or bacteria, which can make them sick.
Pick up some disinfecting wipes for plastic toys and throw plushies in the washer periodically to keep things sanitary.
Sucking on things is soothing to children, especially babies. This is why most babies suck their thumbs. They may also suck on a favorite stuffed animal or blanket.
If you notice your little one sucking on things when they’re tired or upset, it’s how they are soothing themselves. It’s common for children to begin self-soothing behavior when they are as young as four months old.
Kids usually outgrow this behavior as they get older.
Children that are delayed developmentally might take longer to outgrow these behaviors. It’s extremely common to see a six or seven-year-old that still sucks their thumb, or chews on things when they are upset.
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This is because they’re simply not developmentally ready to outgrow it yet. Common disorders, such as ADHD, can cause developmental delays in children.
Children that are traumatized, such as those that are victims of abuse or neglect, are often developmentally delayed as well.
Sensory Processing Disorder
Sensory processing disorder is when a person’s brain doesn’t interpret things in the environment as other people do.
In some children, this is seen when they don’t respond to their name or realize what is going on around them. Others might have a slower reaction to things happening around them.
Often, children that have a sensory processing disorder are also developmentally delayed.
Most children that have a sensory processing disorder or developmental delay also experience sensory overload. This is due to them being overwhelmed by one or more things.
A common example would be that a child might experience sensory overload in the cafeteria. This single place in the school building has a lot going on, it’s packed with people, and there can be a lot of noise.
There are so many things happening at once that it can be difficult to process it, let alone be in the room without experiencing anxiety, etc. Children that are thrown into the lunchroom might wind up biting their shirt, or themselves.
Stress is a common reason that children chew on things. Children that have a sensory processing order are more likely to chew on things, but any child might start chewing on things if they are stressed.
Your child might be stressed because of a heavy homework load, due to an argument with a sibling or a sudden change in life.
Kids get stressed much more easily than adults do, so it’s important to find the reason behind them chewing on things so that you can address the underlying issue.
ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is a disorder that can make a child get bored easily. Other symptoms of ADHD include:
- Trouble multitasking
- Loses track of time easily
- Easily frustrated
- Restlessness or consistently fidgeting
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When children feel restless and fidget, they might wind up fidgeting with anything. This can include them biting on something as a way of fidgeting because they are bored or feeling restless.
How Can I Help My Child That Is Biting Things
If your child is almost chewing their pencils in half before the end of the day or coming home with bite marks on their arms, they need a solution fast.
As a parent, you probably want to find one to help your little one that is chewing on anything within reach. These solutions are going to make sure that you get on the right track, and you have him or her chewing on things a little bit more under control.
Identify The Reason
First, you need to identify the reason behind them chewing on things. If they have an underlying disorder, such as ADHD or Autism, that is more than likely part of it.
However, it’s important to know that it’s only a portion of the problem. For example, children don’t chew on things solely because they have ADHD.
Instead, it’s more than likely because they have a low tolerance for frustration or get bored easily due to them having ADHD.
In this situation, the reason would be that they’re frustrated and using it as a way to soothe themselves, or because they’re bored and need something to fidget with. Once you identify the underlying cause, you can determine an appropriate solution.
If you’re not sure what the underlying cause is, these things can help you find it:
- Take possible or already diagnosed medical conditions under consideration
- The location they are chewing on things
- Any events that happen
- Ask them how they are feeling (nervous, anxious, uncomfortable, stressed, etc.)
- Patterns in behavior (for example, child chewing on clothes when around a lot of noise)
Every situation will call for a different solution. This is why it’s important to determine the underlying issue first. Once you’ve, you can begin to help prevent biting or chewing on things.
These are common solutions that other parents, including myself, have found helpful.
Play-doh is a wonderful toy to use. It’s can be helpful in reducing anxiety in children that feel anxious. It can also help give bored children something to do with their hands to prevent chewing on clothes.
Children that are stressed can find it soothing. However, those that are over-stimulated might find it as one more thing in their comfort zone and get frustrated.
Noise-canceling headphones can work wonders for children that are overstimulated by noise. These cancel out all of the noise around them, making them feel less anxious.
In over-stimulated children, it can often be helpful to avoid or cancel out the things that are overstimulating, and that is just what noise-canceling headphones do.
Noise-canceling headphones provide a quiet, seemingly calm environment for children, but this isn’t always ideal for children that are bored or have ADHD.
Instead, these children occasionally need music. Instead of noise-canceling headphones, pick up a set of earbuds so that they can listen to music.
This gives them something to listen to while simultaneously giving them the option to block out things around them.
Give Them Something Designated For Chewing
If your child is developmentally delayed, teething, or seems to be consistently seeking oral gratification, it can be helpful to give them something to chew on.
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This will eliminate them from biting themselves, and chewing on clothing. However, it usually takes patience and consistent reminders to chew on something they are supposed to. Examples of things to chew on include:
- Sugar-free gum (make sure it’s sugar-free to prevent cavities)
- Teething rings (older children can also use these at home)
- Mints to suck on
- A washcloth
- A specific hoodie string (this can be less embarrassing for children at school than a teething ring, and they won’t get in trouble as they will with gum)
- Special jewelry (these necklaces are designed to be chewed on, eliminating chewing on clothes while still giving you or your kid something to chew on when they are stressed)
When a child is stressed at home, it can show up at school and vice versa. While you might not be able to eliminate all the stress at school, it can be helpful to give kids that are stressed a lighter load at home.
For example, fewer chores and more “me” time. Make sure that they have time for activities that they enjoy, such as painting, drawing, or playing Minecraft.
Teach Coping Skills
Coping skills to deal with anxiety will stay with your child for a lifetime. Teaching deep breaths to calm anxiety can really help children calm down.
With my six-year-old, we taught her to smell the imaginary cupcake (breath in) and then blow out the candle (breath out through the mouth.)
If you’re not familiar with coping skills for children, cognitive behavioral therapy can help. In the meantime, check out resources available to help you learn how to help your little one.
When you first see your child chewing on clothing, it’s an instant reaction to tell them to stop it. However, it’s important to address the underlying issue that has caused the chewing.
When you do this, you not only prevent them from chewing on clothing, you give them better coping mechanisms that they can use as they grow older.