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I wrote this post last year, but I recently received an e-mail about the very same topic & decided that it was worth sharing again, in hopes that it might help another parent with their child.
Yes, my child chews his clothes. It drives me crazy. He chews his shirts, right at the collar, right where it is so obvious that he has been chewing it because it gets tiny holes in it. I know the reason, so I don’t get upset with him. I just remind him to stop and have found alternative ideas for him.
Our second son (we have four) was born with hypertonia, high muscle tone. Without going into my whole pregnancy story & birth story, I have a bicornuate uterus and it made my pregnancy extremely difficult. I had low-amniotic fluid, a single-umbilical artery and he had Intrauterine Growth Restriction (he was born at 37 weeks weighing 4 pounds). So… while he is amazingly wonderful today, we had a rough start.
Around a month or two of age, we realized something wasn’t quite right and that is when we learned of his hypertonia. Soon after, he started vomiting and threw up every meal for over a year. He had FPIES (allergic to all foods. yep.) He also started to display sensory issues.
By three years of age, the FPIES had gone away (it usually goes away between ages 2 & 3) and he was showing signs that his physical and occupational therapy were working, as his muscle tone was becoming more normal. The sensory issue remained.
SENSORY ISSUES WITH CLOTHES:
Today he is almost 8 years old and practically lives in dry-fit clothes, because they are soft (thank goodness they are also in style!) If I try to get him to wear jeans or a collared shirt for picture day or church, it would be like trying to put you in a pair of sandpaper pants. He can’t stand it.
One time, in 2014, I asked him to lie down on a grassy field to get this picture (he is the one on the left)… We were at Mickey’s grandma’s farm and we wanted to get a picture with the barn behind them. It was where Mickey spent so much time as a child, so what a perfect place to capture a picture of our kids.
While we were able to capture a smile because he was thankfully distracted by my husband jumping up and down like a crazy man, laughing and making silly faces, it wasn’t easy. You would have thought that the grass was made of little nails… as soon as he got down, he jumped up and refused to lie down again until Mickey started making a fool of himself (Parents are good for that, aren’t they? Willing to embarrass themselves for the good of the kids). We grabbed our few quick shots & that was that.
Next time that we took pictures outside, we learned our lesson when we asked the boys to get together for a quick picture (note the blanket):
So, what can you do when your kids hate jeans, hate anything itchy, hates any clothes with tags and chews all of their clothes like they haven’t eaten in weeks? When it looks like a wild dog has gotten a hold of their collars and sleeves?
Finally, tired of not truly understanding it all, I went back to get my certification in therapy. I had my degree in elementary education (& writing) but I wanted to be able to help him more. I have now been a therapist since 2009 and it has been so helpful to study the reasons for why he does things… and now have the answers to help him.
“The biting, sucking and tongue movements all add extra feedback to the sensory system for them to access the “just right” level of activity. This is the level where they are calm and alert, able to concentrate, learn and adapt to changes easily and without any effort. These children often have a high tolerance for sensory input. Sensory seekers who crave movement might also like rough and tumble, enjoy physically intense activities e.g. high slides, riding into walls with their bikes, swinging higher or faster. Sitting quietly in a car or in the classroom make their little body engines run low and chewing on their clothes or toys can be an effective strategy to provide their sensory systems with more feedback in order to stay alert.”~ Carina Taylor
Carina goes on to explain “Secondly, there are sensory sensitive children who are easily over-stimulated by their sensory environment. They tend to be your more anxious children who shows signs of stress in high sensory input environments e.g. classrooms, playground, shopping centres, unfamiliar situations etc. These children often have difficulty regulating their sensory systems; therefore their bodies can easily go into a stress – fight, flight or freeze – mode. Therefore sensory seekers use chewing on their clothes to activate their systems and sensory sensitive children chew in order to calm their sensory systems.”
Both of these situations describe our son. When he is scared, he freezes, like a statue. When he is sitting, he is chewing or fidgeting
It isn’t that they want to do it: chew their clothes or hate what they have on. There is a reason (there are many). The most common reasons are sensory-related. The chewing may be a way to self-soothe or it might be a sensory-seeking action.
1- Give your child a stress ball. Our son’s teacher did this (because he was mindlessly breaking crayons in his desk) and it has worked wonders.
2- Invest in clothes that are comfortable… down to the socks & underwear! Our son hated certain socks and underwear. I’m not kidding. We had to search for underwear that were soft and had no tags (finally we found some that they love!) and socks that had no “balls” inside (the seams). The underwear that we have is by LuckyandMe. It is 100% organic to super-soft tri-blend fabrics. They are these boxer briefs:
Our sons told me that they “NEVER want the other ones again!” (they only want to wear Lucky & Me from now one. Each of our 3 boys told me this.)
They make ones for little girls, too (like these day of the week ones):
3- Offer a lot of crunchy foods, like carrots. Beau could eat carrots all day long. Apples are another good one.
4- Sugar-Free Chewing gum is a great way to keep them busy. Our son chews a lot of gum. We buy this kind in bulk because he LOVES it.
5- Be sure to provide a lot of time to release energy (playgrounds, etc…)
6- Give him things to push. AKA “Heavy Work”. I remember one of our therapists telling us to give our son a lot of hard physical tasks: Walk on his hands while we hold his feet (“wheelbarrow”, let him move furniture around, build things in the yard, carry the groceries into the house, swing from things, climb ropes, cross the monkey bars, etc… It works out for us because these are things that he loves to do anyway.
7- Use Chewing pencil toppers:
8- Tumbling class. Our son takes a class that is like a mini American-Ninja-Warrior episode.
9- Drinking applesauce and yogurt through a straw.
10- If he is chewing on his sleeves, try shorter sleeves. We’ve seen that this helps.
11- Offer a chewing tube.
12- Get soft clothing. It makes a huge difference. While our son looks ‘dressed down’ most of the day, he still can be fashionable. (Thank goodness UnderArmour, Nike, etc… all love dry-fit clothing as much as he does!)
13- Be sure that they are wearing comfortable socks & underwear before you dress them. I can’t tell you how many times we got to school and he was sockless & shoeless because of this. It was a mess. Make sure that socks and underwear are as comfortable as possible. BoxerBriefs are the best thing for him because the elastic bands around the groin area can be very irritable to them. For girls, wearing a tank top that is comfortable underneath of their other clothes is a great solution. (You can get tank top/underwear sets here)
14- Explain that sometimes, we have to wear what we don’t want to wear. At church, we were nice pants. Thankfully I have found some pants that look nice, but are still soft (not stiff).
15- Give them the right nutrition. Our neurologist was so helpful to us. He suggested we use these vitamins (here is a full post on it).
All in all, try to be patient and help your child. Don’t become frustrated, because as much as he wants to stop, he can’t. It is a habit and it makes him feel better.♥