Mama OT Product Review
5 Tips to Help Kids Who Chew on Everything.
Have you ever been around kids who seem to chew on everything?
Some kids chew on their shirt collar, their hair, their fingers and toes, the end of their sleeve, or the string on their sweatshirt. Other kids are drawn to items that are more firm and provide more resistance, such as pencils, the soles of shoes, the back of the couch, drywall, or concrete.
Chewing on non-food items isn’t “bad” in and of itself.
Mouthing and chewing items is often part of the natural developmental sequence when children are beginning to explore and learn about the physical properties of their world in the first 1-2 years of life.
Chewing can be beneficial for older kids as well. The “heavy” sensory input provided to the mouth and jaw when chewing (known as proprioception) can help calm the nervous system when overstimulated, nervous, or overwhelmed (like how people bite their nails when they’re nervous, right?). It can help “rev up” the nervous system when bored or in need of additional sensory input, especially if the child is a sensory seeker or has been sitting or inactive for a while. Chewing can also help kids focus when they need to concentrate or block out distractions or stressors in their environment.
Although it can be good in some instances, chewing can become an issue when it becomes such a focus that it prevents a child from being able to participate in functional, daily activities (such as playing, using their hands, or participating in self-care tasks like brushing teeth).
Chewing can also become an issue of concern if it begins to cause self-injury (chewing on nails or skin to the point of bleeding), destroys items (such as pencils, clothing, or furniture), or exposes kids to potential choking or chemical hazards (as with pieces of pencil, eraser, drywall, or concrete).
So what can you do to help the kid who needs to chew?
Here are five tips to help kids who seem to chew on everything:
(This post contains affiliate links for your convenience, see full disclosure here)
1. Try to figure out why they are chewing.
What’s the root cause? That can sometimes be the million dollar question. Does the child’s chewing seem to emerge more when he or she is anxious, overstimulated, or bored? Is he or she currently taking medication(s) that seems to be causing an increase in chewing? Is he or she deficient in any nutrients (check with the child’s primary care physician) or demonstrating pica behavior (craving non-food items)? Does he or she seem to be generally seeking out heavy sensory input (proprioceptive input) orally, either because he or she craves it, or is kind of unaware of what is going on in the mouth? Chewing (and other types of mouthing, such as sucking) is one strategy the body can use to calm and organize itself, so it can be helpful to look for patterns or potential causes of chewing behavior. If your child is working with an occupational therapy professional, he or she should hopefully be able to point you in the right direction as to why your child is chewing.
2. Provide increased opportunities for “heavy work” input to the whole body each day.
When kids climb, crash, play tug-o-war, jump on a trampoline, bounce on a hippity hop ball, climb a rock wall, pull a wagon, or carry a full laundry basket or trash bag across the house, their body is provided with heavy input to the joints and muscles, which is called “proprioceptive input.” These types of activities are also referred to as “heavy work” because they activate the muscles and joints through active, heavy…uh…work (logical, right?). Occupational therapists love heavy work activities because they provide organizing and calming sensory input to the brain, particularly for kids who struggle with accurately processing sensory information.
If your child is chewing because he or she is seeking proprioceptive input orally, there’s a good chance the mouth isn’t the only part of the body that wants that heavy input. If your child receives OT services, then collaborate with the occupational therapy professional to create a daily schedule of special sensory and play activities (often referred to as a “sensory diet“) to support your child’s need to chew. You can also find LOTS of examples of heavy work activities in my post of 40 heavy work activities for kids, print out a free list of heavy work chores and activities from Project Sensory, or download an inexpensive sensory diet activities reference sheet from Your Kids OT right here. Oh yeah, and you can learn ALL about “sensory” and “Sensory Processing Disorder” on this page on my blog. There are lots of great resources out there to help you if you need them!
3. Provide opportunities for increase proprioceptive input to the mouth by eating crunchy and chewy foods and drinking through straws.
Foods that are crunchy or chewy can help provide that heavy input to the jaw and mouth the child is looking for when chewing on non-food items. So it can be helpful to incorporate foods that are crunchy and/or chewy into their snacks and meals in order to give the nervous system what it is looking for — oral proprioceptive input. Examples of crunchy foods may include granola, croutons, pita chips, crunchy granola bars, carrots, celery, apples, pretzel rods, corn nuts, ice, or even dry pasta noodles (just make sure they don’t poke the inside of the mouth). Examples of chewy foods that make the jaw, mouth, and tongue really work hard may include jerky, a thick peanut butter (or other nut butter) sandwich, some types of packaged bars (e.g., Clif bars), licorice, or fruit leather. And gum is obviously chewy and can be used to provide increased proprioceptive input, as well as help with focusing, Not only can crunchy and chewy foods provide increased proprioceptive input orally for those who seek out that type of sensory input, but they can also helps kids focus a little better as well, much like chewing gum can do. Learn more about foods to help kids focus.
Food and drinks that require sucking can provide a lot of heavy work input orally and can also help kids get focused and increase their attention. This is a trick pediatric occupational therapists keep in their back pocket that not too many people know about. So think about items such as a kids’ Camelbak water bottle or pop top bottle, suckable fruit pouches, regular or thin straws (for thin liquids such as water, juice, or milk), and thick straws (for thicker items such as milkshakes, smoothies, yogurt, or even applesauce).
4. Provide opportunities for increased proprioceptive input to the mouth through handheld, non-food items.
Since we don’t want our kids to just be eating all day (though some of them probably wouldn’t mind!), it’s important to think of non-food ways to provide increased heavy input to the mouth for the child who chews. There are tons of handheld toys and therapy tools out there that can provide this type of oral input. Toys and activities that provide some nice proprioceptive input and oral heavy work include blowing up balloons, playing with bubble blowers, kazoos, harmonicas, whistles, and pinwheels. Straw blowing games are fun too, like this sticky note pom pom maze game. Chewable therapy items can be a good option for kids who might have difficulty participating in oral play (cannot coordinate oral movements or don’t understand what to do) or who need more intense heavy oral input. I have written extensively on this topic before so if you would like to learn more about chewable items, you can read through this post that walks you through all sorts of therapeutic chewing and feeding tools or this post filled with chewable ideas for kids who put things in their mouth and chew. And, lastly, a vibrating toothbrush can be an AMAZING tool for kids who constantly chew. It provides more intense sensory input than simply brushing with a regular toothbrush, essentially giving the gums a nice massage.
5. Provide opportunities for increased proprioceptive input to the mouth through wearable, chewable items.
Did you know there are companies out there that create chewable items that can be worn as jewelry? I’m not just talking about the rubbery mommy jewelry made for teething babies of chic moms. I’m talking about kid-friendly necklaces and bracelets made specifically for older kids to chew.
Chewigem Raiindrop pendant, chewable necklace.
As a pediatric occupational therapist, I often find myself browsing websites of companies that offer chewable jewelry, in order to support the families or students I am working with. From what I can tell, Chewigem USA appears to have the largest selection of cute, appealing chewable jewelry for girls and boys that I would actually considering buying for my own kids. And, no, I’m not just saying that because they are sponsoring this post.
Chewable jewelry can be especially helpful for kids preschool-aged and up who like to chew while playing or learning, and need an alternative to chewing on their fingers, chewing holes through their clothing, or chewing apart pencils. I find that this type of product is best for children who do not struggle with managing their saliva. Since chewing stimulates the production of saliva, a child who already struggles with this will only drool that much more when using chewable jewelry, which isn’t always the best fit for, say, the school environment.
Chewable jewelry is typically most appropriate for children who are mild to moderate chewers and can be satisfied with chewing on flexible chewelry items. It is not generally appropriate for those who seek out really intense oral proprioceptive input (such as kids who might chew on extremely resistive items such as baseboards or asphalt).
That being said, Chewigem USA shared with me that they have developed more robust chewable necklace pendants, such as these disc pendants, that are 2-inch-wide x 1/2-inch-thick smooth chunks of rigid silicone. They designed the disc pendants specifically for children who seek intense oral proprioceptive input. However, it should be noted that there will occasionally be the child whose chewing is too aggressive for even the most resistive chewable necklace.
I really appreciate the fact that Chewigem USA was born out of a mom’s quest to help her child. The founder shared with me that she has a teenage son with Asperger’s (as well as twin 9-year-old boys) and that, when her oldest son transitioned to middle school several years ago, she saw his anxiety and chewing increase as the summer days ticked closer to school days. She found Chewigem in the UK, and they were just getting started as a “discreet” chewable solution for kids with sensory needs. They had already established themselves as their countriy’s top go-to for mommy/baby teething jewelry and were just branching into the Chewigem line when she decided to partner with them. Chewigem is now a global company with affiliates in the UK, Denmark, and Australia/New Zealand. She shared with me that there is one other mom of a child with autism, plus a psychologist and an early childhood educator among their group. They use their own perspectives when collaborating on new designs and ideas.
Chewigem’s philosophy and mission is to become the discreet, FUNctional chew of choice for those who have a need to chew and fidget. I have been told that, since bringing the product to the states a year and a half ago, Chewigem has found great success with parents, clinicians, and educators, and they are hoping to expand their scope this year to include the adult chewer as well.
All of Chewigem’s products are safety-tested and made from FDA-approved food safe, medical grade silicone. They have recently added designs that have sensory nubs on them, as well as others that are made to feel velvety soft, both of which offer tactile stimulation in additional to the oral stimulation of chewing.