Children, like adults, develop habits and quirks that are unique to them. These habits are often most recognized when the person or child feels stress or anxiety. While there are many ways to help relieve and reduce the stress a child feels, it is not really possible to eliminate it all together. Not all of these habits are harmful, but some of them can cause problems as your child grows. While chewing on things can be harmless in some instances, it can also cause many problems. When children chew on hair, clothes or objects, it can spread germs, ruin clothes and make other people uncomfortable. Here are a few things you can do to help find healthy outlets for your child when he chews.
Recognize and educate those around your child that the chewing is simply his way of trying to relax in a situation where he is uncomfortable. Some children choose to become shy and others act out when they are uncomfortable. Your child may choose to chew to relive the tension he feels. There is nothing wrong with this method of release. Often, children who discover how to control their stress early in life tend to grow into well-adjusted older children and adults. There are many unhealthy control behaviors that adults choose to use that can be very harmful when done frequently, from drinking to over-eating. In comparison, chewing seems pretty benign.
Avoid making the child feel bad about his habit. This can be difficult, especially if chewing his clothes tends to put holes in them, but it is important to let him know that you understand this habit is simply a release of emotion for him.
Help him by finding an object that he can chew on that will not hurt his teeth or ruin clothes. You want the object to be something that he can wear or keep close to him so that it will be accessible when he needs it. There are a number of products that you can purchase made for this very reason. Anything from a necklace or bracelet to a pencil topper may work. These items are made from BPA free material and will not harm the teeth. They come in all colors, textures and shapes and are fun for children to carry or wear.
Be sure to make time daily with your child where he is free to share some of the emotions he is feeling. Your child may need just a little time alone with a loved one before the stories of stressful situations come pouring out of his tiny mouth. However, your child might need more than the average amount of time you can give him daily to share with you. If possible, when you notice the chewing to be getting more frequent, try spending a little extra one-on-one time with him. This could be in the form of a special date with mom, dad or a loved nanny. Asking open-ended questions is the best way to get a child to share details. “Is anything bothering you about school?” “Do you have any stories about the other kids at school you want to share with me?” “What is your least favorite thing about your class this year?” At times, children don’t really know how to express their fears and worries. Pretend play can be a great way for your child to share the details that are making him uneasy. The stories he is unable to share directly with you will likely come out through his imagination.
Habits like chewing often begin when a child is under stress, but they can also resurface when the child is working hard to learn something new. It often becomes something a child subconsciously does when he’s thinking. While giving him something healthy to chew as an alternative to clothing and helping your child release his emotions will help, it is likely that this custom will resurface anytime his brain is working hard to learn something new. It is important for those who love and care for him to not only tolerate it, but also embrace it. When you do, it is likely that the chewing will eventually decrease and he will outgrow it.