Is your child a compulsive chewer? 

Is your child a compulsive chewer? 

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. My adopted child was a compulsive chewer, and I really struggled to understand his need to chew.

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 forever?

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 to look for answers for my child’s need to chew. And this article by Carina Taylor, occupational therapist helped me understand my child’s compulsive chewing habit.

Chewing is a sensory response

Chewing provides a sense of comfort

The chewing movement is calming and can help a child feel more alert, concentrate better and adapt to a changing environment

Sensory seeking kids love a bit of rough play and crave physical exercise. Chewing may help alleviate the stress of having to sit still in a class room and be good

Sensory sensitive kids are the more anxious ones. They show signs of stress in the classroom, playground and in unfamiliar or new situations. This causes them to dysregulate and go into the fight, flight or freeze state. Chewing may just be their coping mechanism

Why does my child have the need to chew?

The mouth muscles and jaw joints work against resistance during the sucking or chewing movement.

The resistance movement and resulting feeling is called proprioceptive feedback which can activate or calm the central nervous system.

And children chew their clothes because it’s easy.

My child is a compulsive chewer. What can I do about it?

There are many products around that can act as a chewing diversion:

Our chewing habit lasted on and off for a number of years. And at times of stress or change, the need to chew increases.

But 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.

However, we may always be a nail biter.

First published 11/2/16, picture credit, Andy Wright, Flickr

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