Is your adopted child a compulsive chewer? Are t-shirts and pyjama tops full of holes? Are the collars on coats and shirts frayed? Compulsive chewing is not unusual for adopted kids.
Our chewing problem started just before our first Christmas after the kids had arrived. The pre-Christmas tension was at fever pitch. Does Santa know where we live? Will he bring the right presents? Will this really be my forever home?
I started to notice that t-shirts and pyjama tops were sopping wet around the neckline. After each wash, the holes from the nibbling began to increase. Collars on coats were frayed and cushion covers were slowly nibbled to shreds. We even had the cuffs of school sweatshirts completely chewed away. When I spotted nibble marks on the kids’ wall lamp lead I realized the problem had to stop. Chewing was dangerous!
Anxiety related chewing
I started look for information this chewing habit. It’s complicated but Occupational Therapy has provided some answers that ring true for me.
I’ve summarised an article by Carina Taylor, Occupational Therapy Consultant.
Chewing is a sensory response
- The urge to chew is provides a sense of comfort and kids may be drawn to chewing on clothes, pencils, cardboard etc.
- The chewing movement helps children to feel calm, alert, able to concentrate and adapt to a changing environment.
- Sensory seeking kids love to a bit of rough play and crave physical exercise. Sitting, having to ‘be good’ adds stress and the chewing can act as a release mechanism.
- Sensory sensitive kids are easily over-stimulated by their sensory environment. They tend to be more anxious children showing signs of stress in places such as: classrooms, the playground, unfamiliar situations.This causes the sensory system to dysregulate their little bodies go into fight, flight or freeze – mode.Teachers take note. It’s not always just ‘bad behaviour’; our kids are just trying to cope.
Why chew? Here’s the science bit
The mouth muscles and jaw joints work against resistance during sucking or chewing. The resistance movement and subsequent feeling is called proprioceptive feedback can activate or calm the central nervous system. Because clothes, pencils and toys are close to hand, these get chewed.
So can you do about it?
There are many products around that can act as a chewing diversion:
- Wearable chewable jewellery such as necklaces and bracelets. We tried a chewable bracelet that could be worn discretely under a school sweatshirt but it got lost.
- Chewigem provides wearable chewable jewellery and the skull pendant has a definite school cool factor.
- Chewable pencil toppers are an easy and cheap chewing diversion.
Our chewing habit lasted on and off for a number of years. I was prepared to live with the frayed cuffs and all.
We are no longer compulsive chewers; this was one of the lasting impacts of theraplay, which addressed other issues but has helped to alleviate the need to chew.
But we may always be a nail biter.
First published 11/2/16, picture credit, Andy Wright, Flickr