Feeling frustrated by your child's habit of chewing their nails? Hair? Cuffs? This behaviour is surprisingly common! (Full disclosure: When feeling overwhelmed, I chew and so do my two kids! I used to chew my hair as a child to the point of destruction. It drove my mom crazy! Her help came in the form of saying "STOP CHEWING, LAURA! So helpful, right?) This article is intended to provide you with tips to reduce chewing and to help you change saying "Don't Chew that" to "Chew This".
Pre-Covid I displayed my chewelry designs at a few conferences a year in the USA, which gave me an opportunity to talk face-to-face with many parents and therapists. I can't tell you how many adults visited my booth and made comments such as "I wish we had that when we were young!" I've had lots of those same adults proceed to tell me that they still chew their pens and want to buy my clear chewy tubes for themselves! These are great chew toys for adults or kids.
Chewing or sucking is one of the first soothing behaviours humans display. I remember being so excited when my babies first "found" their thumbs. The ability to self-regulate our emotions by sucking or biting on a thumb is one of the first milestones we humans reach.
1. Talk - Don't underestimate the power of a simple conversation about your child's chewing and fidgeting behaviour. You may learn that your child's behaviour is manifesting because they are experiencing bullying at school, understanding a difficult math concept or having trouble with friends. Chewing behaviour usually comes in waves cresting during times of heightened anxiety. (Chewing behaviour is also experienced by children with autism and sensory processing disorder.)
Let your child know that you understand that they are chewing to regulate their sensory system. If applicable, tell them how you chewed as a child when you were anxious. Simply accepting their behaviour may go a long way to stopping it.
2. Chewelry - Offer your child an alternative to their fingers and hair. Most children don't want to have ragged nails or a chewed shirt. Sit down with them and show them some chewelry options. Likely, they will get on board and WANT to divert their destructive chewing. (If you have a reluctant child, create excitement by buying a sensory chew for your child and one for their best friend!) Munchables strives to have a style for any style and age. (Chewing behaviour can reappear during our elder years in people with dementia.)
(An aside: The Munchables Origin Story) Chewelry is still a new niche product that many are unaware of. Ten years ago, I started what has become the world's largest silicone chewelry company. At first, I didn't sell chews for older kids, but chewies for teething babies! I had many, many moms ask me to shorten the beaded necklaces that were used for babies, and I realized that there was an unmet need in the marketplace. I decided to design a couple of pendants for kids - not babies. My first custom designs were the Owl Chew Necklace, which doubled as a handheld chew for babies, and the Dog Tags. Since then, I haven't looked back! I adore making stylish designs for older kids who chew. This year, I removed the last of the baby teething necklace from my website. I'm soooo passionate about helping create positive change in the lives of children. Your feedback motivates and inspires me.
3. Crunchy/Chewy Foods - Sneakily add crunchy or chewy foods to your sensory child's diet. Snacks like pretzels, baby carrots, dried fruit and gum take longer to eat and can provide a regulating moment throughout your child's day. The simple act of including extra things to chew on throughout the day can "provide a calming, organizing, and focusing response." (Scheerer, 1992)
4. Mindfulness - This option is a little more complicated for busy parents to do on a regular basis. However, there are huge benefits to incorporating regular yoga or mindfulness activities in your child's life. My family struggles to make this a daily or even weekly activity, but when we have time, we love to do Cosmic Kids Yoga, which is free on YouTube. This playful yoga workout engages children with stories and faster poses than standard videos.
5. Oral Motor Activities - Set aside some time to purposefully work on oral stimulation for your child's health. Activities like blowing bubbles and gum massage can be a fantastic addition to your child's sensory diet. Checkout ideas at 25 Oral Motor Activities for Your Child or 40 Sensory Calming Activities.