Early development and exploration is all about putting items into the mouth in order to explore the world. Some kids will want to eat everything in sight, despite being well fed with nutritionally sound meals. Why is this?
Having something in our mouth is a very primitive, calming tool. In utero, babies often suck their thumb, and after birth soothe themselves by being bottle or breast fed. But some have a greater need for sucking, mouthing objects, chewing or eating everything in reach. This may be a dummy or bottle teat, a toy or spoon, their own clothes (shirt collars and ribbons/ties are often chewed), and in older children, it might be a pen, or gum.
Chewing is really a way for infants and children to self-soothe, but also a way for them to seek out additional opportunities to get oral information about their environment. Some children have a stronger than average sensory need for this kind of feedback and it is these children who might continue to exhibit chewing, in an attempt to regulate their sensory systems.
Chewing on items also provides a lot of deep pressure and ‘proprioception’ * (sense of body position in space), especially to the jaw and facial muscles. Some children will chew in order to gain this understanding of their jaw’s positions in space, particularly if they don’t get this feedback easily through eating, or if they are not able to tolerate solid food which requires chewing, (due to age or health status). In addition, children who suffer anxiety, and some of those on the autistic spectrum might display a greater need for feedback of oral sensory information than most of the population and in doing so are attempting to regulate their sensory systems or self-soothe.
Furthermore, I have noticed some children can become a bit ‘obsessed’ with food, and tend to over-eat despite not being hungry, looking for anything to eat at all hours of the day. Food seems to occupy their every waking thoughts. They are frequently overweight. Is it possible these children are also seeking extra sensory input through eating?
- Proprioception: body’s position in space as well as the force we are exerting or the speed of a movement. A child that seeks out body awareness information might pat animals with too much force, frequently bump or push other children, or frequently break things by pressing or pushing too hard on them.
What can be done?
If Kids are chewing on a spoon or constantly eating – an alternative might be to replace the object with crushed ice, cubes of ice, or very crunchy, chewy foods, depending on the age and health status of the child.
Throwing items (Casting):
As well as pushing, pulling and squeezing items, throwing items helps provide the muscles and joints with additional body awareness information and proprioceptive input. Throwing toys may give a child an increase in the amount of ‘body awareness’ information through his arms and shoulders, much in the same way other children get this information from running or jumping. If they are not able to run or jump, they might try to attain it through other means. This has implications for the mainstream behavioral management for these children.
Proprioception (and balance) can be increased by:
Weighted products – which may assist in providing additional information to the muscles and joints, providing extra body awareness information.
(Lap buddies, weighted blankets, weighted toys. – but never more than 10 % of body weight)
Vibrating items – this provides input to the muscles – these are often used in therapy or special needs settings
A wobble board
A Lycra suit or wrap gives significant sensory input due to its stretch properties
Lots of cuddles, squeezes and hugs – a great way for parents to help (and you can never overdose on hugs).
Children such as these are not just being “naughty.”
Something to Ponder About