Mouthing, chewing, and sucking on non-edible objects can become a concerning behavior. Understanding the underlying needs of children who mouth can be the very first step to addressing this with our kiddos.
There are many reasons why children engage in mouthing behaviors. Here are some of the most common reasons:
- Sensory Needs/Self-stimulation
- Chewing can help children manage all of the extra sensory information (bright lights, louder sounds, light/sudden touch) affecting their hypersensitive sensory system.
- Proprioception/ Body Awareness
- Proprioception is our ability to know where our body is in space. It is how we process input from our joints and muscles in order to move and position the body.
- When children have difficulties interpreting this information properly, you may see them crashing into objects/walls, have poor motor control, have the “wiggles” and not be able to sit still or focus, and if they’re not getting the right amount of proprioceptive throughout the day, they may try to self-regulate on their own through chewing/mouthing because it’s something that they know, have access to, and can control, and it provides proprioceptive input to the jaw as this is one of the most powerful muscles in the human body.
- Oral Awareness
- Some children may have a reduced oral awareness (sensation in their mouth) and consequently may seek out activities that provide increased oral feedback, such as eating crunchy foods, stuffing their mouths with food, grinding their teeth, and/or chewing on non-food items
- Pica is characterized by the need to eat non-food items (paper, clay, sand, dirt). If you suspect this is why your child is chewing, please seek medical help
- Some children chew for relief when their 6 year molars start to erupt. If this is the cause, it will likely pass when the teeth are done moving into place.
- Chewing is repetitive and calming in nature
- Chewing can be a very effective way to increase focus and block out other distractions since it’s a repetitive movement. Chewing also activates muscles in the jaw down into the neck, which provides added stability that is grounding
There are many strategies and tools we can employ to help our child have their needs met in a safe way. Take a look at some simple and effective ways to manage mouthing.
For the full PDF Handout: Managing Mouthing