Why does my kid chew on his shirt…his pencil…his finger…or everything else for that matter?
Kids use chewing as a way to cope in times of stress, to activate the filtering mechanism in their brain to prevent feeling overwhelmed.
It calms them and helps them focus.
Chewing creates deep pressure on the jaw muscles delivering proprioceptive feedback(feedback from the muscles, and joints) to the brain. This type of intense sensory stimulation and feedback is incredibly satisfying to the brain. Chewing organizes and calms the brain.
The intensity of chewing is dependent on each child’s sensory need, therefore the solution will need to vary according to each child.
If a child only seems to chew on days of a test or exciting events, then sending them to school with gum, an apple, or a silicone bracelet/necklace to chew on will be all they need.
If a child demonstrates excessive chewing, chewing constantly, chewing through their clothing or chewing their fingertips raw, they will need greater proprioceptive stimulation to satisfy their sensory system needs. As well, these children usually have other sensory issues that contribute to the excessiveness of the chewing like fight-or-flight issues that should be investigated.
So how do we fix it?
Proprioceptive sensory input is achieved through heavy work that engages the muscles and tendons through resistance. This type of physical work or activity should be part of the child’s daily routine. Rough housing and heavy yard work like digging holes or pushing a wheelbarrow, can provide the deep pressure and workload the muscles need.
As a parent we often see chewing as a bad habit and try to stop it…don’t.
The child is using the most appropriate means available in the circumstance to get the proprioceptive feedback he needs to organize his mind. By feeding the need of your child’s proprioceptive sensory system until it is saturated you help them move past the need for chewing naturally.
The more they work their muscles the less they will need to chew.
References used for this article include:
-Davies, Douglas, Child Development: A Practitioner's Guide, Third Edition
-Melillo, Robert, Disconnected Kids
-www.childsmind.org, "Proprioceptive Feedback"