Why do kids chew?

For babies, chewing is a typical sign they’re teething and young children (until around age 2) use their mouths to explore the world. But even some older kids develop a habit of chewing. This isn’t chewing a favorite food or little snack, but rather inedible objects (clothing, pens, toys) that comfort them. When a child is chewing it can be for a number of different reasons. Each child is unique and has their own reason for chewing.

Reasons for chewing can include:

  • Stress/Anxiety – If you are concerned your child may be experiencing anxiety, talk to your healthcare provider.
  • Sensory Stimulation – For children with sensory processing difficulties, stimming (a repetitive movement that stimulates a sense regularly) can help them manage sensory information. Chewing is one form of stimming some children use. Learn more about sensory development.
  • Kids chew on things after they start to teethBody Awareness – Does your child not realize when they have food on their lips? Or do they sometimes put too much food in their mouth? This can be because they are having difficulty sensing these things and what is appropriate. Learn more about proprioception, the body awareness sense. 
  • Concentration – Have you ever seen someone so focused on what they’re doing, they don’t even realize they’re chewing on the end on their pen? This happens to kids too! It’s common for chewing to help focus because it’s a repetitive motion and can block out other distractions.
  • Boredom/Habit – Some kids will chew on the sleeve or collar of their shirt and not even realize they are doing it. For other kids, chewing can be a way to cope. If you suspect boredom is the cause for your child’s chewing, try some of these activities to keep them busy!

These are not the only reasons a child may be chewing.  If you feel your child is chewing excessively, talk with your health care provider.

How can I determine why my child is chewing?

Figuring out the reason your child is chewing really is the first step. Talking to your healthcare provider or even working with an occupational therapist or speech language pathologist can help. Before your visit, take note of trends or patterns you notice about your child’s chewing. Look at your child’s behavior to see:

  • If chewing happens at a certain time of day
  • If your child only chews at a certain place, e.g. only during school, not at home
  • If your child chews on specific types of objects, e.g. soft or hard

How can I help my child? Are there ways to decrease chewing?

Knowing the cause is key to helping your child stop or reduce their chewing. Some activities can help your kiddo receive oral sensory input in different ways include:

  • Drinking with a straw, including thick liquids, e.g. pudding or applesauce
  • Blowing bubbles
  • Blowing up balloons
  • Chewing gum
  • Brushing teeth with an electric toothbrush
  • Eating crunchy snacks
  • Humming or using your mouth to buzz like a bee
  • Blowing whistles or wind instruments
  • Chewable jewelry

Getting input in these ways can help your little one because they won’t be relying only on chewing.

If you are concerned about your child’s behavior, contact your healthcare provider. A pediatric occupational therapist or speech language pathologist may be able to help your child.