Q&A: Why is my child a compulsive chewer?
My six-year-old chews on everything! She chews on her clothes, hair, toys, even trash, such as small pieces of plastic, styrofoam, and paper. I’m not just worried about her, I'm also concerned about her two-year-old sister who sees her doing this and imitates her.
I've tried everything I can to stop this behavior, but she says she can't help herself. What's going on and what can we do about it?
I don’t have the luxury of knowing your child’s temperament or other habits, so I must ask you first to consider whether this behavior may be a sign of stress, or whether there are other compulsive habits as well. Has your child experienced any recent changes in her life that she may be having trouble coping with? Has this been going on a while? If you have doubts, then bring her into your pediatrician’s office to address the larger picture.
If your daughter is otherwise healthy and thriving, and this is an isolated habit–like thumb-sucking or chewing on the ends of pencils–then here are a few suggestions.
First, try to figure out if there is a pattern to why and when she is chewing. Is it when she is bored? Tired? Anxious? To get attention? If there are definite triggers, address them directly.
Second, although forbidding the behavior doesn’t work (and often creates more anxiety), containing it is a fair step. Explain to her that it is unsightly, that it encourages your younger daughter to chew and brings a lot of germs into her body. If she still needs to chew, she must do so away from company, alone, in a quiet place in the house with no TV or computer. She then still stays in control of the decision, but has to decide whether it is worth it.
Last, offer her a substitute for the chewing behavior. Small dolls or objects she can rustle in her pocket, a safe chain or bracelet she can twist. See if she can transfer her needs to a more acceptable habit.