You certainly remember the oral stage of your infant, when they appeared to put everything they could get their hands on into their mouths. This stage is known as the “oral stage.” This is something infants do when they are teething or when they are trying to learn about the world around them. But what exactly is happening when a youngster of preschool or school age sucking or chewing on their shirt or other articles of clothing?
It’s not uncommon for kids who are a little bit older to pick up the bad habit of placing the collar, cuffs, or hem of their shirt into their mouth. They could gnaw or suckle on the material to the point that it gets holes or wears away until it is almost unrecognizable. It’s possible that you’re concerned that others, including classmates and instructors, will find fault with this behavior, or that it’s linked to specific mental health or developmental issues.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at the reasons for your child’s behavior of chewing on their clothing, as well as the ways in which you can assist them in breaking the practice.
Why Do Kids Chew on Their Shirts?
The development of your child’s oral motor skills can be greatly aided by oral stimulation. According to Monal Patel, MS, OTR/L, an occupational therapist at Blue Bird Day Program in Chicago, Illinois, “oral motor seeking is founded in our most basic strategies of self-regulation or relaxing.” “From the time of birth until the toddler years, a kid relies on a rooting reflex to satisfy the fundamental requirements of hunger and thirst. Later on, kids might employ that sucking and rooting habit to relax themselves, most commonly by sucking on pacifiers or sucking on their thumbs.”
After the toddler years, it’s possible that some children will still want to keep their mouths and jaws active. In the field of occupational therapy, this type of stimulation is referred to as proprioceptive input. “Children who are looking for strategies to relax themselves that are self-directed and predictable can find solace in the deep pressure that is applied, according to Patel.
A child who calms themselves in this manner can find it convenient to chew on their shirt because it is close at hand.
When to Worry About Shirt Chewing
Even if this is a natural and firmly ingrained tendency, that does not mean that you should ignore it as your child grows older. According to Laura Grashow, PsyD, a licensed pediatric clinical psychologist at the Child & Family Institute in Scarsdale, New York, who works at the Child & Family Institute, “By the age of three, children typically stop putting items in their mouths and exploring things in this manner.” “However, I have witnessed students in the fourth and fifth grades grabbing the collars of their shirts and placing them in their mouths.”
According to Dr. Grashow, your youngster may simply be seeking sensory input or calming and focusing themselves by chewing on their shirt as a harmless way to do so. (Just think about how many adults you know who tend to chew gum or bite their nails when they’re anxious or trying to focus.)
However, there are circumstances in which a child’s habit of chewing on their shirt can have an adverse effect. According to Patel, “the most significant distinction is to evaluate if sucking or chewing is impeding your child’s ability to participate in their daily activities or is posing a safety concern,” and this may be done by determining if there is a connection between the two behaviors. You will want to step in and help your child if, for example, their habit of chewing causes damage to their school or sports outfit or creates a choking hazard for themselves.
Talking to Your Child About Shirt Chewing
If you are concerned about your child’s tendency of sucking or chewing on their clothing, Dr. Grashow suggests having a conversation with your child about it. It is essential that you approach this situation with an attitude that is free of judgment.
Your primary objective should be to determine whether or not your youngster is conscious of it and whether or not there are any patterns to the chewing behavior.
You don’t want to put your child in a position where they are embarrassed by their actions or ashamed of the clothes they have ruined, do you? “That can easily be internalized by a child, leading them to believe that they are a nasty person as well as a slob who makes a mess of things.” According to Dr. Grashow, “you do not want them to assimilate that into their own sense of self-image.”
Try going about things in a calm and curious manner instead. “You could remark something like, “I’ve noticed that you chew on your shirt sometimes.” Why do you believe you engage in such behavior? What exactly does it do to assist you? “says the good doctor, Grashow. It’s possible that children are not aware of the routine, but that they will grow more alert to it once it is brought to their notice.
If your child is aware that they are chewing on their shirt, you should question them if they feel comfortable doing so in front of their classmates if they are aware that they are doing so. You might also ask your child’s teacher or the others who care for your child if they have noticed any patterns or if they have witnessed any instances of bullying or taunting. You will gain a better understanding of whether or not the behavior is having an effect on the social lives of your child as a result of doing this.
How to Stop Your Child From Chewing on Their Shirt
It’s possible that you will conclude that the behavior your child has of sucking or biting on their shirt is just a phase that they are going through and that it’s not a big concern. There are, however, things that may be done to assist them in breaking the habit if it is causing them discomfort or if it is having a detrimental effect on their day-to-day lives.
There could be patterns to the way in which your toddler chews. Do they frequently engage in this behavior just before snack time, when they might be feeling hungry? Is it when they’re trying to solve a puzzle or when they’re concentrating on their schoolwork? Is it right before a social situation when they might feel anxious, such as a play date or a break from school?
It is possible for you to put an end to your child’s habit of chewing if you are able to identify the factors that set off the behavior in the first place. For instance, if they have the habit of chewing when they are hungry, you can prevent this behavior by providing them with easy access to nutritious foods. If they experience it when they are anxious, you may be able to assist them in developing alternative methods of stress management, such as belly breathing.
Give Them Alternatives
Children who chew on their clothing are looking for anything to stimulate their mouths; therefore, you should offer them goods that are designed specifically for this purpose. A toddler can munch on necklaces that are soft and safe to chew, including some that are shaped like shark’s teeth or beads. These necklaces are available.
According to Dr. Grashow, one of the most effective ways to prevent a child from chewing on their shirt is to keep the youngster’s hands busy. You could find it helpful to give your child a small paintbrush or a fidget toy to keep them occupied and prevent them from unconsciously putting their shirt in their mouth out of habit.
Consult With a Professional
If you are concerned about your child chewing on their shirt, Dr. Grashow recommends that you first discuss your concerns with an experienced developmental pediatrician. According to her, “They are extremely tuned into kid development and will cover all the bases.” “They will look for difficulties with focusing or paying attention, how well your child relates to others, a history of developmental or language impairments, as well as anxiety levels.”
According to Patel, if your child is chewing on non-edible objects and swallowing them while indulging in their chewing behavior, the pediatrician may also want to perform a nutritional test to ensure that there has been no negative influence on their overall health.
Your pediatrician may suggest that you see a specialist for further evaluation. If anxiety seems to be at the root of the problem, seeing a psychologist may be helpful. The demands of your child in terms of proprioception can be addressed with the assistance of an occupational therapist (OT) through the use of instruments such as chewable jewelry or oral motor exercises.
Finally, a dentist or orthodontist may conduct an examination to determine whether or not the behavior has a physiological basis, such as an ailment in the mouth that is alleviated by the act of sucking or chewing, for example.