Why Your Child Chews And How You Can Help

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Does your sensory child chew all the time? Do you ever wonder why and what you can do to help?

There are many reasons why sensory children seem to constantly chew. It has to do with how their brain is processing incoming information from the world around them.

There are ways you can learn to meet their chewing needs, while also teaching them self-regulation skills and ways they can help themselves.

Why Do Sensory Children Chew?

Have you ever taken a test, maybe when you were in college or high school? Did you find yourself fidgeting with your hair, tapping your pencil, or maybe even chewing on the tip of your pencil? We all have our own little habits to help us focus and concentrate.

For children with sensory processing problems such as Autism spectrum or  SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder), their brain becomes overloaded with incoming information. They have a hard time focusing on what they need to because all the other information from their eyes, ears, nose, etc. is not being filtered properly.

This causes their system and brain to be stressed and their responses are typically something that will be comforting or calming for them. These responses tend to be repetitive movements or actions.

This behavior is also referred to as “stimming”.  Not only does this activity usually help them to focus, but it also helps them to relax or cope with new situations and environments. 

We all have our own “stimming” reactions, however, in children with a sensory processing disorder, the reactions are so controlling that they need to do them in order to function.

Many times a child will chew on their shirt or article of clothing until there are holes or the clothing is constantly wet. Other times they will chew on objects such as pencils, paper, or really anything. In extreme cases, children will even bite themselves, leaving bruised and red bite marks on their skin.

What can you do to help your child who chews?

Many times a sensory diet that is set up by an Occupational Therapist can be very helpful for children who chew. Also giving lots of proprioception sensory breaks where they are able to chew gum, suck on straws for a drink or smoothie, blow bubbles and other activities like that can be helpful.

Replacing the discouraged items your child chews on with acceptable items is one option that is helpful for many parents and teachers.

When I was working in the school system we would often provide pencil top chewies, chewerly, or other sensory chew items that were appropriate for children to chew on during class times. This gave the child a chance to chew, which helped their focus and attention to task, but was also less disruptive and more appropriate for the classroom.

Ark Therapeutics offers some great options when it comes to sensory chews and chewerly.

For more resources like this, visit the links below:

Is my child's chewing a sensory oral fixation or a bad habit?

Heather Greutman, COTA

Heather Greutman is a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant with experience in school-based OT services for preschool through high school. She uses her background to share child development tips, tools, and strategies for parents, educators, and therapists. She is the author of many ebooks including The Basics of Fine Motor Skills, and Basics of Pre-Writing Skills, and co-author of Sensory Processing Explained: A Handbook for Parents and Educators.

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23 Comments

  1. These look great! My son is a chewer – he often chews holes in his shirts, even when he’s not stressed out! I would much prefer he chew on something like this. Thanks!

  2. Definitely going to go check this product out! My daughter was always a chewer… And recently my son chewed up his stress ball — guess he’s not into squeezing stuff as much now and rather chew!

  3. This explains so much that I didn’t know years ago. My two boys, now aged 17 & 27, chewed on their shirts. I knew they had difficulties with loud noises when they were younger but never thought that their chewing on their shirts was anything more than just an annoying habit they developed. Thanks for sharing this information! I wish I knew about it when my boys were youngsters.

  4. Thanks for sharing this! I just ordered a set of dog tags and the shoelaces they offer. Our son always has a wet shirt from chewing on it and untied shoes. 🙂

  5. Thank you so much for sharing. This is the first chewy item my girl has liked the look of and I just bought her one using your code. Thank you!

  6. I have a 12 year old who is constantly nose picking and chewing on his nails, and he doesn’t even know he’s doing it. Could these possibly be sensory issues? I know he has some behaviour issues, but nothing we have sought treatment for yet. I wonder if these chewigems would help.

  7. The only real way to know if it is truly a sensory issue is to talk to your pediatrician and possibly get an OT eval. I use to bite my nails constantly as a child too, and I also bite my lips a lot now as an adult. We all have our own little sensory things. However, if you feel that it could be sensory issues, given his behavior issues as well, I would first start talking to your pediatrician! And, personally, I think the Chewigems would work great for any child who likes to chew, regardless of if they have an actual sensory problems or diagnosis!

  8. Any ideas for industrial-strength chewers? She’s 11. She gnaws the whole aluminum part off the top of the pencil and chews on that for a while. When I make her spit that out, then she chews on the wood. For the sake of her teeth, I no longer allow her to have a pencil with an eraser top–she has a separate eraser now. She rips up paper, plastic, etc. to chew on it too. I got the chewy tube pencil toppers–she A) figured out how to make royally obnoxious smacking sounds with it, and B) bit through it.

  9. I have a 5th grader that still chews objects at home and school ( pencils, holes in clothing, water bottles , objects/toys) . Since 3 rd grade, he no longer wants to use the chew substitutes (chew pry, pencil toppers, etc) that makes him different from his peers but I’m concerned about the choking risk. Any ideas?

  10. That is interesting as I’ve always been a chewer, and so have some of my kids! I don’t have a known sensory disorder, but was placed in a gifted spectrum class as a child. Many people in that class had ‘odd’ habits that helped them deal with the way they processed the world around them. Never heard of this gum product before, but definitely something to check out.

  11. I would follow the tips I gave up above for providing things for her to chew on that are appropriate, like gum, crunchy foods etc. Also definitely check out the Chewigem products! The one I was sent is 1/2 inches thick and is super durable!!

  12. I would follow the tips I gave up in the post for chewing gum, eating crunchy foods etc. Also definitely check out the Chewigem chews! They are super fashionable, you could even have him pick out his own! They have a couple of new designs that will available next week!

  13. You should check out my friend Colleen’s website http://raisinglifelonglearners.com/ She writes about teaching gifted kids and has some excellent information on her site! There are gifted kids who also have sensory issues as well, she has a lot of great information on that!

  14. I remember chewing pencils, paper, or anything in my hand when doing classwork, watching tv, reading, riding in the car… There were no gifted classes when I went to school. I remember in fourth grade being embarrassed when I noticed my pencils were nasty looking and all the other kids pencils were nice and clean looking. I made myself stop chewing because I didn’t want to be the girl with the gross pencils. I guess if I would have been diagnosed and on meds for all my school years if it was seen as a symptom instead of the nasty habit it was.

  15. My son is a chewer because of anxiety and ADD. He also has braces and his chewing has resulted in many broken brackets and bent wires. I hope these products will help him!!

  16. So glad you found this post! I hope Chewigems will be great for your son!

  17. Pamela ikefa says:

    Please, you make shiping to Japan?
    Thanks

  18. Hi Pamela, I’m not sure if Chewigem ships to Japan or not, you would need to check their website.

  19. Tonya Jones says:

    Love this article. Super informative. Thank you for sharing.

  20. my son has SIDs and has chewed everything from his crayons to his buttons and so much more. Would have been good to have these chewygems when he was younger. I used to give him straws and plastic(fish tank) pipes to chew on.

  21. My son has issues with his chewing breaking his braces as well. Can you confirm that these are braces friendly?

  22. Catherine A Sauter says:

    Great ideas, but please consider changing to person first language: Please don’t say “Your Sensory Child” but instead say “your child with extra sensory needs” or something like that. Keep up the great work! Thank you.

  23. my 4 year old grand daughter loves to chew her nails . Her mom did that when she was young as well .We bought something bitter and painted her nails with them, while she was asleep. The bitter taste helped her overcome it.

    Will defiinetly read up more on this sensory issue and find creative ways to discourage the annoying habit.
    especially with danger of covid 19 in our midst.

    thank you Heather for all your interesting posts and freebies
    May Almighty bless you …amen

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