What Causes a Child to Chew on Clothes?

The kid chews on his shoe.
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Most babies during their developmental years of the oral stage seem to put everything in their mouth. This is usually done by infants at the stage of teething or when they are trying to make sense of the world around them. But the problem arises when a preschooler or a child who is at the age of going to school chews on their shirts or other items of clothing.

If your child is well past the stage of oral development but still continues chewing on their shirts, there might be a chance that this ‘chewing on things’ disorder is associated with some problems of developmental delay or mental health conditions.

In this article, we will discuss in detail the reasons why your child chews on clothing items and how you can break this habit of theirs’.

Why do Kids Chew on Clothes or Clothing Items?

As we mentioned earlier, oral sensory seeking could be the reason why infants and babies typically put things in their mouths. This could happen between the period of 18 and 24 months but after that, the habit of a child’s chewing should come to a stop.  If it doesn’t, it could be due to the following reasons:

Developmental Delay

The first and foremost reason why your child has not stopped their chewing behavior after the period of 18-24 months is because they might experience delays in their growth and development.

If your child has not hit the right developmental milestones at the right ages, they could continue with their chewing behavior well after they are past the suggested age limit.

Dental Issues

This could be another reason why your kids chew on clothing items. Many parents have reported this problem in their kids and it has been seen that most children who are older chew on their shirts or clothes when they are faced with dental issues.

This could especially happen when the molars are coming out or if your child has a cavity in their teeth. If your child is a bit shy, reserved, and introverted, then these non-verbal cues are important to notice as this is how they will convey the problem they are having in their mouth.

The Condition could be Related to ‘Pica’

This is a unique condition that could give rise to the behavior of chewing clothing in your child. If your child is diagnosed with this condition, they will have a tendency to eat or chew on things or items that are completely non-edible.

Sensory Overload

This could be another reason why you are faced with the problem of your child chewing on clothes or other non-food items.

Sensory overload is the condition when your child chews on things to calm their central nervous system altogether. Mostly, this condition is highly prevalent in cases of children who have some kind of learning disability, autism, or sensory processing disorder.

This usually occurs when there is too much sensory input coming from the surrounding environment for the child to process. Thus they resort to chewing which gives them the oral sensory seeking of self-regulation.

Stress and Anxiety

Researchers have also found that stress and anxiety disorder could be another leading cause behind the problem of children chewing on their clothes or shirts.

Just like adults, kids face stress but at a completely different level. A broken toy or a disagreement with a friend could definitely give them bouts of anxiety, especially when their mental development of rationale is not that strong. In such cases, they start chewing on shirts or clothes as an outlet for that stress.

Boredom and Coping Mechanism

Since children are not that mature, they respond to boredom in different ways. For example, simply out of boredom, they could start their chewing behavior.

Or it could very well develop into a habit due to your child’s reflex or oral fixation. Sometimes, kids use their chewing habit as a coping mechanism for lack of focus. This is why it has been seen that some children start putting the cuff of their shirt or the neckline of their clothing into their mouth when they require concentrating hard enough on something particular.

How to Prevent the ‘Chewing on Things’ Disorder?

Baby girl chewing toyblocks

If the behavior of your child chewing on shirts and clothing items does not stop at the suggested age limit, then it can negatively impact their lives when they grow up. Here are a few ways by which you can stop this bad habit:

Recognize Triggers and Notice Patterns

If you notice carefully, you might find some triggers or patterns in this habit of your child. For example, when do they chew on their clothes? Do they do it before any snack or when they are hungry? Do they start chewing when they are working attentively on their homework? Or does it happen before a social occasion or on the day of going out?

If you get to know about the triggers that make your child chew, you can easily pacify those situations and help them get rid of this habit. If they start chewing before having food, then you should have some healthy snacks ready for your child. If this happens during puzzle-solving or before social interaction, you can address both the concentration and nervous triggers by using other stress management techniques.

Suggest Them Some Alternatives

If your child is chewing on things or clothing items to get an oral stimulation, then you need to provide them with products or items that are made specifically for these kinds of situations.  

You can take the help of sensory chew toys including some items that look like beads or teeth. Also, you can give them some paintbrushes or fidgety toys that will keep their hands occupied. It has been found that when a child’s hands are busy and occupied, they often tend to forget to put things in their mouth.

Therefore, a fidgety toy could definitely distract them from their reflexes and you can see your child getting busy with the toy rather than fidgeting to put something in their mouth.

Work on Your Child’s Sensory Input Problem

You can keep your child occupied with some form of heavy work or day-to-day chores that require movement and physical activities. This way you can reduce the sensory load of your children and help them self-regulate to control their fixations and reflexes.

Giving Them Chewy Foods

Smiling father with kids preparing healthy food and spending time together

Be it dry fruits, chewing gums, or chewy flapjacks – you could suggest to your child these alternatives to calm their nerves down when they are feeling the urge to put something in their mouth.

However, you need to be cautious in this case and keep in mind the dietary requirements of your child. If your child is allergic to something, take that into consideration and do not give them that specific food item.

Consult an Occupational Therapist

Chewing as a process is a big source of proprioceptive feedback for our brain. When we chew something, the jaw muscles send huge proprioceptive feedback to our brains and in research, it has been found that this feedback calms our nerves and helps our thoughts to stay organized.

So, if your child continues with their chewing behaviors well past the age limit, you can consult some occupational therapists who will address this issue of feedback in your child’s brain. The therapy will help your child in stimulating their mouth and jaw muscles without the need of putting some clothing items in them.

Conclusion

Chewing on clothing and other items is a common problem among toddlers and children. However, if you do not address it in time, it could have some serious implications for their lives when they grow up.

Keep all the above tips in mind to prevent the ‘chewing on things’ disorder from affecting your child’s life.

References

Mtetwa, D., & Diane Mtetwa (449 Articles Published) . (2019, October 27). Why do kids chew on their shirts & should I be worried? Moms. Retrieved May 3, 2022, from https://www.moms.com/why-do-kids-chew-on-their-shirts-anxiety-stress/ 

Senso Minds. (2020, June 17). How to get your child to stop chewing on clothing. Senso Minds. Retrieved May 3, 2022, from https://sensominds.com/blogs/news/how-to-get-your-child-to-stop-chewing-on-clothing 

Siroto, J. (2022, February 18). Why is my child chewing on their shirt? Verywell Family. Retrieved May 3, 2022, from https://www.verywellfamily.com/why-is-my-child-chewing-on-their-shirt-5217492 

Why is my child still chewing on clothing and many other things? Griffinot. GriffinOT. (2021, November 11). Retrieved May 3, 2022, from https://www.griffinot.com/child-chewing-clothing/#:~:text=Often%20when%20there%20is%20a,themselves%20self%20soothe%20and%20regulate. 

Why do some kids chew on their clothes, hair or pencils? National Autism Resources. (2016, October 25). Retrieved May 3, 2022, from https://nationalautismresources.com/blog/why-do-some-kids-chew-on-their-clothes-hair-or-pencils/ 

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