Why Your Child Can’t Stop Gnawing On Things And What You Can Do About It

Photo by Sven Brandsma on Unsplash


Sitting down on the couch after a long day’s work you reach over to find the remote only to stick your hand in a slobbery toy.

Wiping your hand clean on your jeans you finally find the remote only to see gnaw marks placed like some decorative border.

This may not seem puzzling for a dog-owner but you don’t have a dog, just a child who can’t seem to get through the day without putting everything in his mouth at least once!

Babies are notorious for needing something to chew on as they are teething- and you just pray they found some relief BEFORE nursing.

But as strange as it may seem, it is not uncommon to have a child who never stops finding things to fulfill that urge to chew.

Every sense in the body- sight, sound, hearing, touch, and taste- transmit input from the environment to the brain for processing.

The mouth alone has three main sensory receptors: temperature, texture, and taste.

So, when you spit your hot coffee out because you didn’t think you would survive the next ten minutes of a temper tantrum about not being able to find the right “sparkly” shirt with a jolt of caffeine, you can thank your sensory receptors in your mouth.

Or, when you crave a salty potato chip with a ridge, you can also thank (or curse) your sensory receptors.

However, the mouth is also processing proprioceptive information from “the joint of the jaw as we bite and chew different foods that provide different types of resistance (e.g. a crunchy carrot, a chewy piece of candy),” according to Claire Heffron, a pediatric occupational therapist writing for The Inspired Treehouse.

There are so many benefits to having all this information collected from our mouths and sent to our brain, such as reacting to a delicious meal made by grandma while simultaneously engaging in a conversation.

For a child, a healthy oral sensory system translates to those culinary adventure seeking types.

You know, the kids who will eat everything on their plate, and will experiment with different textures, colors, and tastes of food.

However, children that struggle with oral sensory processing may not be able to handle oral sensory information with ease and grace.

You may have noticed that you can’t mix milk with cereal or pasta and sauce, which is called hypersensitivity to oral sensory input.

Or more noticeably you may find that the child can never get enough oral sensory input, and they constantly are seeking to appease the proprioceptive receptors in order to feel they can carry on with “normal” behavior and pay attention to other stimuli.

This behavior reflects having a hyposensitivity to oral processing.

So how do we help our children pay attention when we are talking or focus on a task long enough to complete it when all they want to do is find something to chew on?

There are several methods to appease this sensory need in a healthy way that doesn’t require giving up on all activities and tossing your toddler a bone.

Heffron suggests introducing more crunchy foods, playing with mouth noises such as buzzing like a bee, or using an electric toothbrush.

Buzzing like a bee while trying to learn the ABC’s is not a great option so if you need an option in an educational environment you can have them drink water through a straw, chew gum, or purchase some chewing silicone straws that are specifically made to appease the urge to chew.

Most children grow out of it but supporting their sensory needs will make for a more quality childhood for both you and your little one.

It is much better to have your child chew on a straw than to be destructive, which is nothing when you consider how much happier your child is when their brain can process all the fun you have with them.

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