How do I stop my 4-year-old son from chewing?
November 8, 2007 9:23 AM   Subscribe

How do I stop my 4-year-old son from chewing (on EVERYTHING!)?

So - this started late July - he chews on everything.

(As per my post in another thread - http://www.metafilter.com/66323/Priests-dont-have-Sht-on-China#1904273)

Primarily his shirts from the neck out (this is getting expensive) - but straws, lego, plastic toys are all fair game.

Is it stress? Anxiety? Basic oral fixation?

However - to be fair, I chew on pens, straws and pretty much anything plastic. Should I just give up and let our rodent genes win?
posted by jkaczor to Human Relations (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Does he see you chewing on things?

My kids seem to learn pretty much every bad habit of mine by watching and then doing. This may be happening with your son.
posted by The World Famous at 9:30 AM on November 8, 2007


Explain that the stuff he's eating might be really, really bad for him and make him sick. Scare him out of it.
posted by zeoslap at 9:30 AM on November 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'd guess that stress and anxiety are the cause. My son did this when he was 3, and we worked with him trying to substitute another coping method. We never actually found anything successful to replace the chewing, but we did remove the worst of the stress.* If you can, it might be a good idea to try and reassure him about anything that's unresolved in his life, or figure out what could have changed back in July to start this all off.

Of course, this could have nothing at all to do with stress. Either way, I'd talk to the pediatrician about it.


*It seemed like his stress was coming from our stress during a really hard time (financially and physically) for our whole family. Even though we never directly addressed any of this with him, we think that he picked up on our underlying feelings of tension and worry, and didn't know how to deal with it.
posted by mitzyjalapeno at 9:36 AM on November 8, 2007


Could his teeth or mouth be bothering him?

Maybe give him something safe to chew on (like teething toys for infants?) so he stops wrecking all his stuff.
posted by tastybrains at 9:36 AM on November 8, 2007


Just because he chews things doesn't necessarily mean he's stressed, it could just be an oral fixation - was he weened off his dummy/not allowed to suck his thumb too early?

When I was a kid I sucked my ponytail and my chewed my drawstrings. To this day, I can't keep things out of my mouth. In fact I was chewing a the plastic end of my nail file while reading this question.
posted by missmagenta at 9:46 AM on November 8, 2007


Give him another activity to redirect his nervous energy. In the worst case, give him something appropriate to chew on. Give him more exercise in general. Make sure to reward and praise appropriate activity. Consider spraying some sort of flavored deterrent but understand that this is not a cure, merely an aid. You still need to give him something else to do and teach him that the deterrent is meant as a cue for him to do something else. If the problem continues, see a doctor to investigate a medical basis.

This advice is TOTALLY not taken from dealing with dogs with the same problem.

Alpha rolls and yelling are not effective and just make the stress worse, which can exacerbate the problem.

posted by hindmost at 10:05 AM on November 8, 2007


My daughter's a chewer. It was really bad for a while, and it turned out to be due to chronic ear infections - she was trying to relieve the internal pressure. Later it turned up again as a response to stress. I ended up getting her a children's chew toy, like this and this.

These won't cure the symptom, but they'll give your child something safe and inoffensive to chew on while you address the underlying issue.
posted by lekvar at 10:17 AM on November 8, 2007


I think a trip to the pediatrician or dentist is in order to make sure this is not related to a medical problem. If his teeth or jaw are bothering him he might be getting some relief from chewing.
posted by COD at 11:23 AM on November 8, 2007


Maybe his immune system is just trying to get the proper programming, and you should consider sending him outside to get some good, healthy mud, dirt, and offal into his system.

Amyms made an excellent post just a couple of days ago about the 'hygiene hypothesis', which suggests that "the reason there is so much asthma, eczema, allergies and maybe even childhood diabetes in the modern world is because we — well infants really — live in too clean a universe. What our baby immune systems need is a kickstart by exposure to viruses, bacteria, worms, pollutants and so on. If you don’t get an infant hit from these icons of uncleanliness, the immune system goes haywire and your body over-reacts to all sorts of invasive things that normally could be ignored."

Once he gets what he needs, perhaps he'll stop.
posted by jamjam at 11:30 AM on November 8, 2007


Actually, it sounds like Pica to me. You may find it's hereditary, I did it as a kid, and my daughter does as well.
posted by Fferret at 11:47 AM on November 8, 2007


Is he in kindergarten?
posted by Reggie Digest at 12:37 PM on November 8, 2007


Actually, it sounds like Pica to me.
I believe he'd actually have to be eating the objects, rather than just chewing.
posted by missmagenta at 1:17 PM on November 8, 2007


Wow - it's hard to pick the best answer - they are all pretty good:

- yes, he see's me chewing on things (I have a mangled straw in my mouth as I type this ;-)

- He started kindergarten in September - though he was in pre-school 4-days per week last year, and only 3 now. We figured it was stress-related (OMG - BIG SCHOOL) - but it has continued.

- Activity? More? hahaha - the kid will not stay still for 1 moment. Won't watch TV, movies - nothing without leaping, climbing and running from one place to another. As the old saying goes - I get tired just from watching.

- As to beefing up his immune system? We subscribe to the same theory - why just yesterday I found fingerprints in the toilet... Neither kid has any allergies.

- Was at the dentist 3 weeks ago, no issues noted - though me being "stupid Dad", I forgot to ask about the chewing.

- He was prone to ear-infections when he was younger.

- Stress transference? Doubtful - hell, July+August were one of the absolute best family times we've ever had. Two parents working from home, no money issues, etc. First vacation in years.
posted by jkaczor at 6:42 PM on November 8, 2007


Disclaimer: I haven't any children.

Ever ask him WHY he is chewing whatever?

My gut tells me to ask your dentist (hopefully familiar with the effects of TMJ) and your pediatrician.

Personally, I was an active kid who chewed her fingers, then her fingernails, and always ground her teeth. Granted, I did have an unusual series of upbringings, but I think that some of us are just wired to handle stress--emotional changes or stimuli that are positive or negative--differently.

My face hurts and I'm chewing my lips as I write this.

You sound/read like a great dad, jkaczor. Your li'l man seems to be in an awesome environment and you are concerned enough to ask a wide group of virtual strangers about this.
posted by bonobo at 9:08 PM on November 8, 2007


When you find a way to stop yourself from chewing on things, that same way will probably work quite well for your son. (And if you can't find a way to stop yourself, give him the same things to chew on the you find safe for yourself.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 6:11 PM on November 13, 2007


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