Why does my child chew? Stimming and Proprioception Explored

By Laura May, Owner of Munchables Sensory Solutions Ltd.

Contributing Author OT Katie Yoon, MS, OTR/L

We’ve discussed chewing due to stress and sensory processing disorders in earlier articles. Further along the spectrum, we find children that exhibit repetitive behaviors such as full body rocking, unusual hand mannerisms (like finger-flicking and hand-flapping) and chewing. These behaviours are all examples of self-stimulatory behavior (or stimming). Stimming can help children manage the sensory information surrounding them.

Stimming can be a way of self-regulating behavior – to “keep it together” so to speak.

This stimming may look unusual to the casual observer, but it helps children manage their emotions and cope with overwhelming situations. It allows them to either increase or decrease the sensory overload as needed. Let your child be a sensory seeker. They are doing what they know is best for them. If you try to eradicate their sensory seeking behaviour, your child may withdraw more and more until the point where you may lose your chance to build a conversation.

What the child replaces their stim with may be less preferable than the current one.

Another reason your child may be chewing is proprioception dysfunction. 

Why does my child chew? Stimming and Proprioception Explored

Proprioception is a big word that just means the body’s ability to sense itself. If a child can’t correctly interpret their body’s signals properly, the world can be a scary place. These children typically report feeling scattered or disjointed and may appear clumsy or have poor motor control. They may also have trouble staying still. One of the ways children can self-regulate is by stimming – as described in the previous paragraph. Children with proprioception dysfunction chew because it helps to center themselves in the world.

Other reasons that your child may be chewing might include simply being bored. Children AND adults engage in chewing to help maintain a regulated state. For example, those who chew their pens or gum during a class or a meeting are using that activity to remain attentive because they are bored and need an external stimuli to keep them going. Also, a lot of people mindlessly seek out food or snacks when they’re bored . Chewing (or oral stimulation) is very much a normal daily occurrence that everyone engages in to some degree.

Other reasons that your child may be chewing are teething for younger children and pica (the eating of non-food items). If you suspect pica, please consult your doctor immediately.

Next time, we’ll explore ways to provide oral sensory input in a variety of ways.

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.

Change "Don't Chew That" to "Chew this" with Munchables Chewelry.

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 sales@munchables.ca if you have any questions.

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”.