By Laura May, Owner of Munchables Sensory Solutions Ltd.
Contributing Author OT Katie Yoon, MS, OTR/L
Do you ever look at your child and wonder why they are chewing on their fingers, clothing or hair? Maybe your child tends to gnaw on their pencils while doing homework? Or perhaps, when your little one comes home from school they have chewed and torn sleeves? You’re not alone if this behavior leaves you feeling confused or frustrated. Before you tell your child to stop chewing, it is important to understand WHY.
Put simply – Chewing reduces stress and anxiety. That’s it. (There may be some other reasons which I’ll outline in future articles, but that is the primary reason.)
You may be thinking, “But my child isn’t stressed out”. However, there may be going on than you realize, especially with the uncertainty provided by Covid-19. Children have very little control over their environments and it is important to understand what is going on in their lives to the best of our abilities as parents.
Let’s examine the concept of chewing due to stress and anxiety first. Do you know any adults who chew their nails when they’re anxious? Or maybe their pens? These are actions that I know that I personally take when I’m feeling overwhelmed. Children are no different from us adults.
Chewing helps children cope and self-regulate
In 2019, The Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists reviewed Munchables and provided this key sentence in their report.
The Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists recommends Munchables sensory chewelry for its ability to “replace inappropriate chewing behavior (i.e. chewing on fingernails, pencils or clothing) and to provide potential regulating effects for the sensory system - reducing fidgeting and promoting attention and focus.”
That last half of the sentence provides the official OT answer you may have been seeking – “Provide potential regulating effects”. We can go back to the scientific literature and find a peer-reviewed study written about thirty years ago by Scheerer that found the following,
“There is a great deal of research that supports clinical observations that having something in one’s mouth to chew or suck on can provide a calming, organizing, and focusing response.” (1992)
But your child doesn’t need that scientific literature. Kids intuitively know that chewing helps to calm and focus them. The takeaway here is to not force your child to stop chewing. They NEED to chew. Your child isn’t chewing on their pencils to drive you crazy. They are chewing because it is helping them to cope. The key is to provide the child with a safer alternative to their clothing, fingernails or whatever is closest at the time.
Chewing behavior may peak during big changes in a child’s life such as starting school, moving or during divorce. It is important to realize that children are coping in the best way that they know how – by chewing - because it works.
The most important thing you can do for your child is to remove any shame and stigma from their behavior. They are helping themselves in the most effective way they know how.
Munchables is owned by a Canadian husband-wife team with two sensory children of their own. We understand how important it is for kids to have stylish, discreet chewies. Please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
Change "Don't Chew That" to "Chew this" with Munchables Chewelry.
Disclaimer: If you are concerned about your child’s chewing behavior, contact your healthcare provider for more information. Some excellent resources on SPD can be found at “Sensory Processing Disorder Parent Support”.