Suggested activities to help stop a child chewing on their clothes or other items
For some children, whole body movement can help with regulation and decrease the need to chew. Soft play is a great option. Crawling can be helpful, especially if you can set up an obstacle course with tunnels go through and cushions to crawl over. Finally, linear swinging can be a great way to provide movement. Linear means going backwards and forwards instead of round and round. So, standard playground and garden swings are great. Straight slides can also provide this input as well. Movement can be especially helpful for children who are quite sedentary. It is not always helpful for children who are very sensitive as it can increase their arousal.
Please note many of these activities include food. It is expected that the adult using the suggestions considers any allergies or dietary requirements the child may have.
You could include chewy items into your child’s lunch box or for them to use at times when they are needing to calm down. Foods could include:
I know that this is a love or hate suggestion, however, chewing gum can be a great option for children, especially older children who frequently chew. You may need to establish rules around using the gum. For example, ‘It must go into a tissue then into the bin,’ ‘You must keep it inside your mouth,’ and ‘No bubble blowing’. Many children can manage this, especially if they find it is helping their concentration. In addition, make sure you choose a sugar-free gum. Using two pieces of gum can also help, as it gives even more resistance during chewing.
Breathing exercises are being increasingly shown to help to calm and organise our nervous system and brains. The paid version of the Headspace app has some excellent guided breathing meditations for children. The Smiling Minds app is free and also has good content for children. The charity scope has also published a product called Mindful Monsters, which includes breathing and relaxation activities designed for children. There’s also some breathing animations in our calm list on YouTube.
Blowing bubbles is also an easy way to help younger children take deeper breaths. BLO-pens are also lots of fun and a simple way to encourage children to take deep breaths. There are some cheaper versions available but we recommend the original brand as the quality is better.
It has been suggested that the sensory input from heavy work activities is calming and organising. I discuss heavy work further in this article. Including some of these activities into your child’s or your own day may help them to remain calmer throughout the day and hopefully reduce the need to self soothe by using their mouths.
Children who chew would also likely benefit from whole body proprioceptive input, such as jumping on a large trampoline or swimming, especially diving under the water.
Sensory chew toys
If your child is really sucking or chewing everyday items all of the time, they may find a sensory chew toy helpful. There are many different chew toys available. Some look like everyday items, such as a necklace or a bracelet. Others are more obvious. When choosing a sensory chew toy it is helpful to consider firstly how hard your child chews and also where in their mouth they like to chew. We explore this further in our post Tips for Choosing Sensory Chew Toys.
Where to next?
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To learn more about sensory regulation we recommend this article Sensory regulation strategies – what are they and how can they help your child?
To learn more about sensory processing we recommend this article What is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)?
If you are UK based and with children aged between 5-12, and want to understand if the behaviours you are are seeing are because of an underlying sensory need. Kim is now offering an online sensory screening assessment. The assessment will be completed using an online form and provides a summary report and suggestions on how to help and support your child. Click here to learn more.